Friday, 7 March 2014

A Tree for Philip Wren

Wren Memorial Tree, and Harry Dog

On Thursday, in the corner of a sunny field alongside the camino, me and Paddy dug a hole.
It was not easy. The soil here is dark clay, but we´ve had enough rain lately that we could break the surface. We used a primitive sort of mattock to break it up, and shovels to clear out the chunks. It was hot work under bright sun. We stopped digging before the hole was very deep. We could not remember just how big the hole had to be.
We were peevish and hungry. We put the shovels in the back and went home.
We were peevish again today. 
Finally, at 3 p.m., the tree arrived. Paddy was deep into his siesta. The delivery truck followed my van up the camino to the edge of the field. The driver opened the door and jumped out to help me unload. The driver  was a very small woman, the same one who´d sold me this strapping young chestnut tree at the nursery earlier this week. I´d expected a big burly delivery man. I sighed. The lady never blinked an eye.
Between us we wrestled the tree off the back of the flatbed truck, onto the ground, over the ditch, up onto the field. She stood up the castañero next to the hole. It towered over her. She looked at the tree and the hole.
"That hole´s not big enough," she said.
She swarmed back up into her truck and headed back to Palencia. I made the hole bigger. I poured ten liters of water into it, and threw in the thawed carcass of a hen who conveniently passed on a few days ago. I put some sand on top, and spit in it, because that is what you do when you plant a tree. And then I went to put the tree into the hole.
It would not move. It would roll, it would tip over, but it would not come out of the big black bucket that covered the roots, no matter how I pounded on it.
I looked around. The tractors crawling over the fields were occupied by the neighbors I usually ask for help with this sort of thing. Paddy, at that particular moment, was not an option.
So I looked over the camino, and I said, peevishly, "Godammit, St. James. This tree is a memorial tree for a pilgrim who died on this road. I need some help here. Send me a pilgrim, please. A big, healthy one." 
I sawed away part of the bucket and got the roots nearer to the hole. I thought of the pilgrim who´d died, a pilgrim who´d stayed at my house, a pilgrim I actually knew.
He was a gentle man. Not a peevish bone in his body. I took a deep breath. 
"Phil Wren, pray for me," I said. "It´s your tree. Do something."   
And that is when the men came rolling up the trail, two tipos from Barcelona with backpacks and beer-bellies. Big men in bright blue and lemon-yellow quik-dri t-shirts, their faces smeared with sunscreen. I hailed them in my bad Spanish, asked them for a hand, told them this is a pilgrim tree.
They stepped right up, peeled off their packs, pulled up the tree trunk so I could free it from the bucket. They dropped the tree in the hole, helped me stand it upright, helped me line up and pound-down a pilgrim staff alongside the trunk. They snapped pictures with each other´s cameras.
I did not have a camera, but I will post a photo of the tree real soon.
I do not know the names of the pilgrims who helped to plant Philip Wren´s tree, but I kinda think Philip knows who they are. Maybe he´ll keep an eye on them from where he is.
They were godsends, after all.

The Wren Memorial Tree was funded by contributors from all over the world who were encouraged by the Rev. Philip Wren, an English pastor known affectionately as "Methodist Pilgrim" on the pilgrim forum. Philip walked the camino several times after diabetes cut short his career as a parish pastor. He died in May 2013 at the municipal pilgrim albergue in Logroño. 
A slate marker will be added to the base of the memorial tree once the soil settles around the roots.


Tracy Saunders. said...

I will always remember "M.P". We never met. Sadly he died before that meeting had a chance to take place. We communicated several times: mostly on the Camino Forum, occasionally via e.mail. He was the voice of reasonableness, calm ... "The Middle Way". I am deeply saddened I never had a chance to tell him how much his branch of sanity meant to me. I believe on his last journey he was on his way to meet me, finally. I would have liked that: he had much to teach. Thank you, Rebekah and all concerned for struggling with his tree with so much hope and faith. He was watching you for sure. One day I hope to visit and sit under his tree. Maybe then we will finally meet.

Grayland (Ed Tennyson) said...

Good on ya, Reb.

I know Phil would be honored.
This story helps us keep him in mind. said...

What a bastard that husband of your is.

Perry said...

On 27th February it was snowing & yesterday, bright sun.

What is the perfect temperature for the planet?




EileenHamer said...

You should write a book of devotions. i.e. "It's your tree. do something." Perfect.

t2andreo said...

Outstanding! Simply brilliant! You, of course, know the two sayings that apply here:

1. The Camino provides; and,
2. St. James works in strange ways...

You just have to know how and who to ask. You asked for help and you received it timely.

Oh ye of little faith!

I am proud to have been even a little involved in making this happen. See you soon.

Warren said...

God seems to want to show a believer to keep believing.. So you can then tell all of us to remain Faith-filled and Prayer-filled. Tis a true story now. You should thank Paddy for being AWOL. Now your tree has a wonderful story too. I look forward to visiting it in May 2015.

A Catholic by conversion recently, I never 'got' Lent. This one is different. Your simple stories are resonating. My selfish request is to never doubt your abilities or the value you bring in throwing words out into the universe unanswered. We're listening. God is watching.

K Samulis said...

A spreading chestnut tree, what a perfect way to remember such a lovely man. He really was one of the sweetest voices on the forum. Can't wait to see pics of the tree itself!

Jonathan Wren said...


On behalf of the Wren family in England we would like to humbly thank everyone involved in the effort to plant a tree in memory of my father Philip. His mother has asked me to say many thanks to those who have donated, help plan, plant or in anyway helped to make this happen. The things said of him on the forum and anyone we have been contacted by have always been in the highest regards and we are truly blessed to know that he has touched so many peoples lives. I cannot express anymore gratitude just that this is truly a blessing and that in a way it's comforting to know that he has left a part of his legacy here with us. I hope pilgrims who pass by stop and take in the beautiful scenery and will find there own way.

Jonathan Wren