Deep Roots


Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf published her first poetry book last year. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the seventh of a series of articles, Jean – who celebrates her 90th birthday this month – shares a photo of herself in Wanstead Park in the 1950s

The ‘merry month of May’ is my birth month, and this year is a special one as I will celebrate my 90th birthday. May is also one of my favourite times of the year, when nature has sprung into life, the weather is warm, the garden is full of flowers, and summer is on its way. 

May is also my favourite time to visit Wanstead Park. I have loved going there since I was a little girl, when my mother used to take me in the summer and we would meet my Aunt May and cousin Audrey for a picnic of sandwiches and rock cakes. Audrey and I used to climb up a little hill we called the ‘mountain’. This was part of the landscaping of the original grounds of Wanstead House when it was a stately home. I also remember, of course, the Grotto, which is the ruins of the old boathouse and the lovely old Chalet tea house, which sadly burned down.

Later, as a teenager, Wanstead Park was the place where we girls would go for a romantic evening walk with our boyfriends. However, we had to be careful not to stay out too late – the park keeper locked the gates in the evening and we would then have to climb over to get out!

When I had children of my own we would often go there in the summer for a picnic with our wicker picnic basket, a big thermos of tea, sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, and later, we took our little granddaughter. The poem presented here is about the first time she came to Wanstead Park with us and hugged her first tree.

Wanstead Park in May is bursting with fresh new life. Everywhere are the ‘darling buds of May’, the lacy white froth of cow parsley, the delicate bell-like flowers of wood anemones, furry grey catkins, ferns unfurling, brimstone yellow flag irises by the fringe of the lake. The birds are singing their hearts out and “the green woods laugh with the voice of joy.”

But above all, the park is at its loveliest in May when the bluebells are flowering. There is something almost holy about the bluebell woods, which reminds me of the feeling one has when entering a cathedral. The peace and stillness, the tall tree trunks soaring up to the heavens like stone columns, the soft shafts of light filtering through the leaf canopy, and the bluebells in azure drifts of hazy smoke-blue, giving up their fragrance to the air like incense. And, as in a place of worship, I sit quietly, drinking in all the beauty around me, and feel very close to God, who has created it.

Take and Give
by Jean Medcalf

Last Sunday afternoon we took a walk
My family and I
Plus, for the first time, Victoria.

We fed the ducks, then walked into the woods.
I found a chestnut tree – as is my wont
I put my arms around it for loving help.
It took from me my fears and uncertainties
And gave to me tranquillity and love.

I said goodbye and turned to walk away
And as I did I saw my actions copied.
Like a small bright butterfly clinging to the trunk,
Face pressed to the bark, a small girl
Laughed in imitation of her grandmother.

She took nothing from the tree
But gave to it her sparkling love of life
Her joy and champagne laughter.

She was so small as to be near the roots.
Her brightness will be stored
In readiness for future visitors
Seeking hope, and calm, and love.

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£4.75). Visit wnstd.com/jean