ROUTE & BRANCH – THE SCRIPT
Based on material devised by the cast.
Action takes place in an open space at one end of the hall and extending out into the middle, audience seated at one end and on two sides. Forest scene has been created during ‘Act 1’, through dance, music, poetry. During the interval a few musicians and dancers continue, encouraging the audience to join them dancing in the open space. ‘Act 2’ follows:
Baron Grim Mud and crew arrive to build motorway, clearing everyone off the stage, except Forester.
Grim Mud: Get back, out of the way. We’re building a road through here, a new motorway. Out of the way now, get back. All these trees will have to be cut down.
Forester: You can’t cut down these trees. That stand of beeches was planted by my grandfather. Those hazels over there are hundreds of years old, harvested every seven years to make hurdles for fencing our land and gardens, spars to help thatch our roofs, walking sticks to support us on our way into old age.
Grim Mud: Walking sticks! Do you know who I am? I’m Baron Grim Mud, of Grim Mud Castle! That castle up on the hill, dominating the landscape (points to image of castle, visible in the distance) … An important person like me should have a fine big castle. I have decided that we need a new road through here, from the castle into town, and the Department of Transport have kindly designated it Trunk Route 93 OX 44 Q. And you talk to me of walking sticks?!
Forester: Listen – these oaks, when mature, can make homes that stand for centuries, not like those breeze block cubes they build sterile estates with. We could be warming ourselves from this firewood long after the oil and coal are all used up. Craftspeople make their livelihood from our timber, satisfying work, not like on a conveyor belt or in an office block.
Grim Mud: Old forester, I’m fed up with the slow old fashioned ways, not to mention the boring winding back roads. They take so long. It takes a quarter of an hour just to get into town. I’m sure I could walk it quicker! But once we’ve got the motorway, it won’t take more than ten minutes. That’s a 33% efficiency saving.
Forester: What about the wildlife? Foxes and badgers breed here. Dormice nest here even though they are dying out all over the country. It’s home to nuthatches and tits, crossbills and greenfinches, owls and woodpeckers. Are they all to be sacrificed just so you can get an extra five minutes in front of your telly?
Grim Mud: That’s all well and good but dormice and nuthatches don’t get the bills paid. You’re talking idealistic nonsense that doesn’t match up to economic facts. Now clear off!
Forester: Clear off, eh, we’ll see about that. (Turns to leave). I’m going down the ‘Green Man’ pub, to let people know what’s going on.
Road crew sets up equipment and fences.
Engineer arrives with machinery.
Grim Mud: Ah good, let’s get on with the job. It’s this big tree over here that’s the main problem.
Engineer: Right boss, we’ll have that down in no time.
Protesters arrive carrying placards: ‘TREES NOT ROADS’, ‘EARTH FIRST’, ‘GRIM MUD IS A GREMLIN’ etc, also musical instruments. Witch is amongst them – sits up in a tree.
Protester: You’re not cutting down this tree to build your motorway.
Grim Mud: Get out of my way you bloody nuisances. There’s a job to be done here, and you’re just trying to make a political issue out of it. I bet this is some kind of publicity stunt.
Male Protester: It is a political issue. The construction industry, car manufacturers, haulage contractors and oil companies all depend on building new roads for their profits. With their bulldozers, they destroy everything in their path. And they have gone too far. In effect, they’ve secretly declared war on the people and on the environment.
Female Protester: Every day, 12 people are killed and over 140 others are seriously injured by motor vehicles in Britain. The slaughter inflicted on our wildlife is incalculable. Something has to be done about our roads.
Male Protester: There are no less than 480 new major road schemes planned in Britain at the moment. Of these, so the papers say, 243 are certain to provoke local or national controversy, and 118 will inflict damage on designated landscape, wildlife or heritage sites. The total cost of the work will be 23 billion pounds.
Female Protester: There’s already too many vehicles, too much noise, too much pollution, too much ill health and too much congestion. Even government scientists admit that things are getting worse. It has to stop, before there’s no space left for wildness anywhere.
Grim Mud: What good is wildness to us? God gave us this planet to tame, and to use to support ourselves.
Protester: We need wildness. Without the natural wilderness we create our own – drunken fights at closing time, broken homes, rape, despair; or we create it using drugs, hoping to flee the nightmare we have created only to find we have compounded it. Soon there will be no room left for magic; the spirit of the land will leave, and the land will die.
Attempt to stop road works by direct action: protesters sit down in a line in front of the tree, blocking the path of the road works. Singer/drummer in centre of line leads singing of Theo Simon’s motorway song:
“ … You can fuck your motorway.”
Grim Mud gesticulates to Security Guards, points at singer. Security Guards and workmen hustle protesters off stage.
Grim Mud: I’m going to make sure the magistrates deal with these people severely. (Follows protesters off to court).
One workman left on stage, starts humming tune and clearing up site – drum, placards, branches etc. Finally looks at World Tree.
Witch appears from tree, left on stage with workman.
Engineer not involved in conversation, tinkering with machinery on the other side of stage.
Witch: I don’t think you have any idea what this tree is, do you? Have you ever heard of the World Tree?
Workman: No love, can’t say as I have.
Witch: Are you religious at all?
Workman: Me? Religious?
Witch: No, I thought not. OK, so you’re not going to understand if I say this tree is the centre of my religion.
Workman: This tree? (Makes ‘loopy’ motion in aside to audience). Can’t say I’ve ever heard of your religion then. Tree worship, is it? (Laughs).
Witch: We have a story, that the Goddess made a key to the world, and hung it on a tree, where people could see it, and want it, and eat it, and then they would know. But she hid the key in an orchard. The question is, has anyone found it yet? (Now addressing audience):
There are some who know of its existence. There was one I heard of who was thwarted in her attempt to pass on this knowledge. Her novice bit into the apple, and entered the trance of the Underworld Initiation, but she was disturbed by a passing Prince and some other little men, and got sidetracked into marriage, so the secret died with her stepmother.
I remember there was a war fought because of this apple once. A young man caught it, but alas allowed himself to be distracted by the Goddess of Love. He gave Her the apple, never once tasting it himself, and so failed of course.
There are stories that it is to be found in Avalon, that famous apple orchard which may or may not lie in the Underworld, or even in Somerset some say. There is little difference. People are drawn by its mystic aroma, the promise of sacred knowledge, and then they climb up a hill looking for a thorn tree.
SHE is disappointed. There are a few, in each generation, who see the fruit, and want it, and eat it, and know. But many are the stories throughout all of history and in every mythology – written, unfortunately, by those who never found it, but had heard of someone whose granny once did.
Workman: Very good, but this isn’t an apple tree, is it – what kind of tree is it anyway?
Witch: This tree is all trees. It is the World Tree, the tree that connects our Earth with the Underworld and with the astral realms above, and if you cut this down, then the whole world falls with it. All of it. Everything you know, everything in normal everyday life. Your cornflakes for breakfast, the petrol in your car …
Workman: Ah, got you there, I ain’t got no car. Got a motorbike, me.
Witch: OK, the petrol in your bike. (Sudden interest). What sort of bike have you got then?
Workman: Suzuki GT 650 GS.
Witch: Oh yeah?
Workman: Yeah. Used to be into old British bikes, but my mum threatened to throw me out cos it was always in bits on the kitchen floor, so I’ve got one that actually goes now.
Witch (impressed): Yeah, bet it does go an’ all.
Workman: What about you then love (leer).
Witch: Really, we worship everything that has life, everything natural. Spirit resides in everything you can see – all this (indicates forest/banners), the natural world around us.
Workman: In everything? Wow.
Witch: Yes, you and me as well. My body is a temple to me …
Workman (aside): I’d like to worship at your temple …
Witch: And so is yours. We worship the godhead in each other as God and Goddess, in many different aspects.
Workman: Go on.
Witch: And this is where we do it. It’s a sacred place.
Engineer (to audience): The way these types carry on, you’d think the whole world was a sacred space!
Witch: But it’s more than that. It’s not only special to our group.
Workman: Hmm. Well, I’d like to know about this worshipping the Goddess in your body sort of stuff. What exactly do you do? I mean, can anyone join in?
Witch: No, ‘anyone’ is not allowed, you have to be invited …
Workman: Tell you what, my bike’s parked down the lane a bit. Why don’t you come for a spin with me and we’ll have a pint down the ‘Green Man’. I’ll buy you lunch and you can tell me more about all this.
Witch (aside): Who would dare to enter my secret orchard, guarded well with monsters, dragons, serpents and small children? Who would dare to pluck forbidden fruit, guarded well, always offered freely, always just beyond grasp? Who would dare to know forbidden secrets? … Step this way. (They exit together).
Machinery prepares to excavate
Noise combines with Omming coming from tree
Workmen: “Did you hear that?” etc.
Witch reappears with workman, plus Forester and tree spirits. Music.
This is our garden, these are our trees,
These are our flowers, these are the leaves,
This is our Sacred Earth, our Sacred Mother,
She who has given birth to sister, brother.
She has created beauty
To love her is our duty
All our lives
When you’re learning to love (x 2)
And to feel spririt move deep inside
You’re learning to love (x 2)
You have first to be silent
There’s nothing of you that can hide
Learning to love (x 2)
When there’s nothing to hide
Spirit moves deep inside
And you’re learning to love (x 3).
Workman (penny drops): Here, you’re not trying to tell me you’re one of these witches are you? I read about them in the paper a coupla weeks ago.
Witch: That depends on what you mean by a witch. I don’t ride around on broomsticks or turn people into toads. Don’t need to, some people manage to do it all on their own, like your boss.
Workman: You may have a point there.
Witch: But yes, I suppose some people would call me a witch.
Workman: So you’re telling me that this here is where your witches’ watchamacallit meets, coven or whatever?
Workman: What, now?
Witch: Why do you want to know?
Workman: Well … thought maybe I’d like to watch, you know. Check these newspaper reports are all a load of lies. See for myself.
Witch: I told you, you have to be invited. We don’t just let anyone come and watch. You have to be part of the circle.
Workman: What does that mean then?
Witch: You have to be properly prepared, and you have to know what you’re doing, and why. (Pause). I could teach you maybe, if you really want to know. But you’d have to promise me that you wouldn’t chop this tree down.
Workman: Not chop the tree down? But I’ve got me job to do you know. No job, no money … no more buying lunch for you down the pub. I can’t just down tools, now can I …
Tree Deva: Breathe. Breathe deeply young human. Breathe in the power of the trees. The prana whence comes all life. For great is the power of trees, and each one heals in its own way. The breath of each tree has its own unique healing qualities. So much does mankind depend on trees, yet so easily does he forget to take care of us, to protect and nurture us.
Workman: Yeah, that’s all very well, but I’ll be back on the dole. And I’ve just bought my new bike, on the never never. I won’t be able to afford the payments.
Tree Deva: You massacre the forests, the very source of your future survival, because you have not understood, or you do not want to understand, that without trees you will not be able to sustain life on earth. You are so restless, you humans, hurrying from place to place in machines that poison the air.
Workman: Look, I can’t handle this. I see what you mean, but I don’t know what to do. Don’t you understand, it’s not just the job – my whole life would change. I’d be one of them … weirdoes … all my mates would think I’d gone off my head.
Tree Deva: Do you not see that there is a way you can each partake of the living life of trees and of all living things, so that the whole of mankind may be transformed, and your way of life would serve a healthy future life for the Earth and all that lives on her. Let each one discover how he may live harmlessly in harmony with nature.
Witch: step forward, brother. Speak with your body, not with your mind. Breathe deeply, and join us, in this mystery of the forest.
Workman steps forward and joins circle.
Circle joins hands, with witch and forester facing each other from opposite directions.
Engineer decides to take a tea break.
Protester creeps onto stage during the following, puts sugar in machinery’s fuel tank.
Witch: A woman is like a tree. Becoming a woman is a long process of growth rings, of good years and bad years, winter frost, storms and wind, drought in summer, cooling rain and the saprise of Spring.
Tree Deva: When is a sapling a tree? When it fruits. When there is seed-bearing, the first flowers of blood emerge, the soft pink petals inviting pollen. The maiden is a straight young sapling, simple in form, and beautiful, but the full majesty of the mature tree is many years away.
Witch: Becoming a woman takes time and endurance. A mighty woman breathes life from every pore; she can feed, shelter and protect; or she can stand alone against all the elements. She grows from Earth. She renews Air. She regulates Water. She gives Fire. All of creation is contained in a woman, and renewed yearly, and each year she is more.
Forester: A man is like a tree. My family has worked with these woods for generations. My blood is intermingled with the sap pf these trees. In protecting these trees I protect the lifeblood of our village. We don’t destroy this place, we care for it. When we are sad we are healed by it. Lovers come here in the spring. Children play here in the summer. We gather fruits and nuts in the autumn, and firewood in the winter. They must not be cut down.
Machine will not restart. Engineer frantically trying to get it going.
Grim Mud reappears: Right then, how are we getting on with clearing the site? Where’s the foreman … Oh … Oh yeccchh! He’s turned green! Well, what about the machine? Is it ready to go?
Engineer: It won’t work boss. Something’s happened to it. Won’t work at all, it just stopped, as if by magic …
Grim Mud: It can’t just stop, Ipayed thousands for this machine, let me have a go. (Tries to start machine, which makes excruciating noise and dies). (To engineer): You’re fired!
Exit Engineer, grumbling profusely.
Grim Mud turns to look at tree. Witch and Forester are standing in front of it, the rest of the circle to either side.
Grim Mud: Clear out of the way. This tree has to be demolished.
Forester: You must not touch this tree. My family have worked these woods for generations upon generations. The trees are the very life of our community.
Grim Mud (pointing): See my castle? My family’s been here for generations too, and I have bought this land. This tree must be cut down.
Grim Mud: To make way for the motorway of course. The contract’s signed and sealed (produces papers). Work must start today, on schedule. This tree must be cut down.
Witch: What for?
Grim Mud: We need the new road for the traffic. Haven’t you seen the traffic flow projections? (Produces graph: Number of Cars – UP). There will be plenty of employment for local people … But this tree must be cut down.
Grim Mud (angry): Because it’s in the way!
Witch and Forester step to each side, holding onto the tree with one hand and holding hands to form a semi-circle with other members of the group. Villagers, protesters etc appear in the wings.
Witch: Baron Grim Mud, it’s your castle that’s in the way. It is built on the roots of this World Tree; they are its foundations. Cut down this tree, and your castle comes down too. There will be nowhere for your traffic to flow from.
Grim Mud: Rubbish. My castle’s miles away, it can’t come to any harm. Now listen, I own these woods …
Forester: The woods belong to the people! (People start circling round).
Grim Mud: … And I intend to get rid of this tree! If no one else will do it, I’ll cut it down myself. (Picks up axe).
Hits tree with axe. Gong. Tree pain noise and screaming from circle.
Tree Deva: Your castle is crumbling … Ah, you of little understanding. Can you not feel the pain you are inflicting? Do you not see that you are wounding yourself? My roots are your foundations. There is but one source of all life. I am the protector of your domain. Without me you cannot survive.
Rumbling in background as castle begins to crumble.
They all look, including Grim Mud who stares in disbelief. He is now in the centre of a circle thronging round him.
Grim Mud (distressed): My castle! What’s happening? What’s going on? My machine has broken down, my workforce is on strike, and now they’re even trying to destroy my castle. It’s not fair! Why can’t I do what I want? I want a road through here! It’s my right to build a road through here! Who do these peasants and protesters think they are? … I hate them …
Looks round at encircling ‘peasants and protesters’, and stops dead. Silence. Circle moves to outer boundary. Witch and Forester come forward to complete their ceremony. She places an apple on the ground, centre stage.
Forester: This is the Apple of Avalon. This is the Apple of the Ancients.
Witch: This is the Apple of Knowledge. This is the Apple of Power.
Grim Mud: Apple of power indeed! I’ll give you apple of power. (Picks it up). It’s just an ordinary bloody apple. I’m going to eat it – so much for your power! (Bites aple).
Gong, plus sounds of changing consciousness. Grim Mud staggers backwards, merges with tree.
Witch (continuing ceremony): I can offer you thorns, white blossom, red berries.
Forester: Mine are the white berries, she bears the black.
Witch: Hawthorn, mistletoe, ivy; midwinter at midsummer and the sea rises and the sky falls and the ice melts and the world eats pain on a plate.
Forester: Find me the apples, food of love, gold on a bough.
Witch: Choose the Goddess. Follow me west to the Isles of the Blessed.
Tree Deva: There is a pool at our roots, and in it the masks lie rotting. This is wisdom. This is true healing, to know that we of earth are one in mind, body and spirit, supporting each other, protecting and nurturing each other, sharing the beauty that is all around. For I who am tree and you who are human can join together to turn the tide of ignorance and heal the disease of blindness that afflicts mankind. Let us celebrate the joy of life itself.
Grim Mud begins mouthing the words, and then joining in so that the words are his.
Song. Everything ends happily.
Forester: Our rite is nearly over; we have seen the problem, the World Tree is threatened, the forests are still being cut down. We have told our story, celebrated our trees, but the energy is still in the air, in our circle. Now we must put that power into the ground, take our struggle into the world to protect our planet. By earth, by water, by fire and by air, make the World Tree strong!