On the recent jaunt to Kinloch Rannoch we diverted down to Fortingall to see Europe's oldest living tree, the Fortingall Yew. The trunk used to be 52 feet in girth and the tree has been around for 3,000 to 5,000 years. It sits at the end of a long country road that runs through a glen and the night we went to see it was sunlit, silent and still. We stood for a while wondering at the long human story witnessed by a tree that was there at least since the Bronze Age. The Exodus was still a thousand years away when this seed germinated; it was already two thousand years old when Jesus called Nathanael from his contemplative siesta under his mature fig tree; and around two thousand five hundred years in the growing by the time Columba's coracle bobbed up on Scottish shores.
The path leading to the tree is like a time line with several engraved slabs reminding those who walk therein of the human achievements and changes over centuries. And I guess standing on a sunny evening under the shade of a tree that has witnessed so much of the human story you are left to wonder, and ponder, at the miracle of human lives and the improbability verging on impossibility of the coming and going of the human story. I found this particular stone deeply moving in its simple witness to the humanising and civilising power of knowledge, learning, understanding and wisdom. In the celebration of wisdom in Proverbs 3 such life applied scholarship is described in an arboreal metaphor "She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her."
This ancient tree has outlasted around 70 human lifetimes of three-score years and ten. That longevity and 'still thereness' kind of puts the rest of us in our place. The connection between the tree with deep and ancient roots, human scholarship and accumulated wisdom, and the way we live responsibly now, came as a gentle nudge on a summer evening, in an old graveyard,at the end of a Scottish glen, looking at a winding path that led to this ancient witness to life as gift. And perhaps wisdom is knowing what to do with the unique privilege that is our own, individual, unique, precious life.