"As far as my memory can stretch back, I have always loved trees. Trees to me are God's sentries placed on earth to show the way to heaven. Like mankind, they thrive on light and grow more magnificent in nourishing soil when they receive daily confirmation that they are truly loved. Like every growing child, pat it regularly and never keep it short of hugs and it will grow ever stronger. Indeed, caressing and hugging arms are the homeland of trees.
My love of trees started when I was laid up in the side room of Batley Hospital as an 11-year-old boy, having had a serious traffic accident and wasn't expected to live. All I could see as I drifted in and out of consciousness was an oak tree in the grounds outside my window. When I eventually managed to survive, the very first thing I saw upon opening my eyes was the oak tree outside, moving in the wind. I cannot tell you how good I felt to see that tree swaying in the wind; how good I felt to wake up, alive. From that moment on, trees have always been synonymous with the oxygen of life and I have always needed them in mine to feel fulfilled.
After leaving hospital after nine months with a spinal injury that left all feeling beneath my waist lacking, I was told by the doctors that I'd never walk again.Three years later, my walking mobility was restored and during my time away from school, I would frequently walk to a place called Bluebell Wood, about two miles from Windybank Estate where I lived. I frequently walked the two miles to keep an appointment with my oak tree. Those walks were ever so slow, but ever so precious to me. Getting better and resuming a more normal life after my accident, took lots of patience and self belief. My walking gate was never again upright, as I now had one leg a few inches shorter than the other and occasionally I might stumble as I walked across the fields of Green Lane towards Bluebell Wood. It was at such times that I reflected that a tree falls the way it leans as I tried to walk more upright.
As I approached Bluebell Wood, my heart beat quickened with excitement. I knew that I could never walk through the wood without beautiful thoughts of Nature's wonderment descending on me and I also knew that one hour later, I would feel totally relaxed. When I reached Bluebell Wood, I would make my way towards its centre, where stood a magnificent oak tree. Upon reaching my favourite spot I would lie down at the base of the tree in the lush expanse of grass that surrounded its trunk, close my eyes and relax. During my three years of being unable to walk, I had learned to access the power of my imagination and had become a disciple of meditation, learning to totally relax.
Looking up through the branches above, I could see the sunlight percolating its way back down towards my hands and face below and pleasurably warming me. Listening to the silence and noises of the wood, I could hear birds and other woodland creatures far clearer than I'd ever heard them. I could hear the ripple of a nearby stream, slowly meandering its way across the small stones and boulder which blocked its path. I allowed my body to sink into the ground beneath me and to become one with the earth as I relaxed and gradually drifted off to sleep.
Over the years that followed, I became one of the country's noted Relaxation Trainers. In my 30s, I had a health scare when I was admitted into hospital for a week to undergo cancer tests. It was then that I realised that if I died, I would not have left on record, my knowledge of Relaxation Training. Upon leaving hospital, I spent a few thousand pounds and two weeks in a recording studio to make a special Relaxation tape to help people establish a good sleeping practice. For the imagery of that tape, I drew heavily upon trees and especially my earlier experiences relaxing in Bluebell Wood as a young boy. Anyone wishing to access that tape can do so freely by following the link, but please understand that the tape recording is now forty years old when comparing the quality with recordings made today:
Roots, family trees and Nature are one and the same to me. To me, I could cry when I read about the wanton destruction of the rain forest, our natural medicine chest, and I frequently wonder that were we to see trees bleed and hear them scream as they were being cut down, would we be so cavalier in felling them for furniture and land clearance? In this age where often people have no sense of belonging, trees help us keep us grounded, and in touch with our family roots and who we are. They remind us that we are all fashioned from the same wood, grown by the same woodsman. Unless we hold on firmly to our roots, how can we ever know that we are anymore but dreams? A history of family is the best means of assessing ourselves and it pays to remember that whatever else changes, we start and end with family.
I will take with me to my grave, my love of family, my love of history and my love of trees, and if there be a heaven where I am fortunate to go, I pray God that it is the greenest of places where I can rest beneath an oak tree. I give you a few lines from a poem by one of my favourite writers, William Wordsworth, 'The Tables Turned.'
'One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the ages can.'
Growing up, my mother frequently reminded me when I was prone to hit out, 'Billy, it is wrong to hit out, but okay to hit back.' When I think of some car accidents, I must admit that I never heard of a tree hitting any car, except in defence, did you?' " William Forde: August 27th, 2016.