‘A strong emotion is like a storm. If you look at a tree in a storm, the top of the tree seems fragile, like it might break at any moment. You are afraid the storm might uproot the tree. But if you turn your attention to the trunk of the tree, you realise that its roots are deeply anchored in the ground, and you see that the tree will be able to hold. You too are a tree. During a storm of emotion, you should not stay at the level of the head or the heart, which are like the top of the tree. You have to leave the heart, the eye of the storm, and come back to the trunk of the tree…’
(Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Master)
THE TREE stood on its own in a shallow dip, holding on, quietly. We passed it twice as we tramped the well-trodden path from the Brontes’ family home in Haworth, towards the ruined farmhouse of Top Withens – supposed inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The day was unusually still and bright – for this early in April; for this high up on the Yorkshire Moors.
“I wonder if Emily knew that tree?” said my companion. “I am sure she must have – it looks more than 150 years old.”
It was a strange and thrilling thing: to be here, looking at this shabby, crumpled tree, covered in lichen, bent over at the hip, as if crippled with arthritis, but still standing, weathering all its storms – and to stare into the face of history.
I have written about the Brontes before, here. The world is still obsessed with them: their gothic excesses, their prodigious, precocious talents. And Emily, wild child of the moors -dead at just 30 years old, in 1848 – was the most extravagant and untrammelled of them all.
The Japanese seem particularly enamoured: old wooden way posts to the Bronte Waterfalls and Top Withens are marked both in English and Japanese. It seems incongruous – too exotic by far – for such a quintessential Yorkshire scene: bleak and bare, even in the happy sunshine of our April visit.
The heather was still dry and dead – the path still waterlogged from winter storms and rain. There were certainly plenty of walkers about. Much happy chatter – dogs running, children shouting. But beneath it all: a well of silence. A quiet expanse of emptiness. And the blunt and beautiful Yorkshire moorland caught me, as it always does, and made me stop in my tracks, hold my breath.
In the middle of it all – unassuming, hanging back from the crowd, just as Emily herself did, according to sister Charlotte – was this solitary tree. A little anchor between past and present. Between the living and the dead.
I think Emily DID know and love this tree, as she loved everything that moved and grew on the moorlands where she lived and roamed. I am sure it gave her solace, in the middle of her wild wanderings – her desperate escapes from the difficult and suffocating life she lived, as an unmarried woman, in a Victorian time, in a buttoned-up country Parsonage. And if she didn’t, it doesn’t matter. Because I love this tree now. For the moment of sweet anchor it offered: on an ordinary day, in a perfectly ordinary life.