Not far from here there is an old cinder track. It follows a line of trees between the railway and the pits, and is a place where we have often walked. Some years ago, maybe even a decade, the council came and cut back the shrubs and bushes that crowded the track on either side. They turned the track from one that had weaved its way through the greenery, into something wide and straight. It seemed brutal at the time, a sledgehammer to crack a nut. But, in doing so, they exposed the cow tree.
I spotted it one Sunday and lifted up the first of many small children to see it. It became one of the sights of the walk. The playground, the level crossing beside the five bar gate that the kids would hang off, Railway Children style and now, the cow tree. Much was made of who would be the first to see it – the cow tree never seemed to be in the same place twice.
It was the stump of a branch that had been left with the appearance of horns and ears, a long-suffering expression and the biggest loveliest cow eyes you have ever seen.
It wasn’t just the children that sought it. I did too. I loved it, and the calm expression. Stoic, silent and bovine. I even considered cutting it off and bringing it home, but that would have denied other children from spotting and saying hello to the cow tree. Had anybody else noticed it? Was it just me and the children I walked with?
Over the years the green edges grew back and softened the bare path as nature reclaimed its position and restored the track’s character. The cow tree became hard to find in the summer and, more than once, I feared that it been cut back, or rotted away into the leafy mulch or, worst of all, taken by another! I had begun to ascribe importance to the cow tree.
And then, two summers ago and perhaps inevitably, the council returned to clear back the edges. I was confident that the cow tree would escape the hacking and slashing blades of the power tools – it was set too far back. Except that it wasn’t. As soon as they had finished the work I walked down the cinder track, this time with a new and tiny hand in mine – another generation of cow tree aficionados. And for the first time in a decade, I couldn’t find the cow tree, nor even be sure of where it had been. The landscape was unrecognisable. I was bereft.
I carried on looking for months and even took to rummaging through the great piles of the stuff that had been hacked back. It was a lost cause. There was no sign of the cow tree and no longer was I able to thrill apprehensive children (“a cow tree?”) with our secret bovine friend. The children are growing up and would no longer be interested in the cow tree, but I will always look for it, secretly hoping that what was once there will one day return.