When I decided to take archery seriously, I started to train on my own, at a large covered shooting range over the border in Armagh, at a place called Kilmore. Every Tuesday I would take the long drive through rich farmland and the little villages of Donaghcloney, Magheralin and Moira, crossing the Lagan where it runs through a magnificent, unspoiled river meadow lined with a row of oaks hundreds of years old.
It was a drive which always got me in the mood for archery, but the best part was when I drove up the last stretch to the centre, which stands on a slight hill from which you can see all over Down and Armagh, and right to the Sperrins in the North West. On this last little stretch of road there stood a silver tree.
It must have been some kind of birch. It had pale green leaves, but when the wind blew them up, the underneath of the leaves was silver. In pale sunlight it was the most magically beautiful thing I ever saw.
In winter, of course, it was bare. So when spring came along, I watched eagerly for it on the side of the road as I drove along. It is a strange place anyway, hens wander casually on the road, and on the hedgerow banks peacocks stand looking into the car as you pass, giving their exotic cries.
But the best of all was the tree. But how come I could not see it? Everything has burst into leaf in Ireland over the past two weeks, and the hedgerows are snow white with hawthorn blossom. But no silver tree.
So yesterday as I drove up for training I looked more carefully, and there was the silver tree, sawn up into logs, lying on the side of the road. It had been felled to make way for a gravel path. It must have only happened a day or so ago, for its lovely silver foliage had just come out.
I was devastated, it ruined my day. I am sure it did not do much for the tree's either. I shot well, though; I imagined the target was the dufus who cut down such a beautiful growing thing.
Tolkien hated the destruction of trees with a passion.
'No-one cares for the trees any more!' cries Treebeard, but it is Tolkien who is talking. The Lord of The Rings, with its Elves haunting magical forests, is all about trees.
In The Silmarillion, two magnificent trees stand at the dawn of creation, giving light to the world; white Telperion and Laurelin the Golden. Telperion, like the lost tree of Kilmore, had leaves green above and silver below. Who knows, maybe it was a long lost descendent?
But even in the time of the Elves beauty was vulnerable, and Ungoliant destroyed the Two Trees even though they were the greatest creations of the Valar.
But evil cannot triumph forever; a line of white trees were created that were images of Telperion, and one of their descendents was Celeborn. (no, not Galadriel's consort, a tree) and from Celeborn came Nimloth, the White Tree of Gondor.
And we know that although the White Tree in the court at Minas Tirth seemed to be a dead tree, Aragorn found a sapling from it and brought it back so the court of the King again had the White Tree, and there was continuity right back to the two trees of the first creation.
I put the thought of the lost Silver Tree out of my mind, because I was taking part in the British Open Archery Championship at the weekend. It was being held on an estate owned by Lord Dunleath in the Ards Peninsula.
The public are not usually allowed into this part of the Lord's properties, a forest which was almost untouched. The wild rabbits were quite tame. It was a tough course for archers, and lots of my arrows whizzed off into the undergrowth. (no I wasn't trying to hit a rabbit) I had to go looking for them, and as we pressed deeper into the forest we found ourselves in an avenue of massive beech trees. The road they lined had disappeared under grass and ferns, and only this great green cathedral of mighty trees was left, filtering the spring sunlight onto a deep mossy floor scattered with wildflowers. If the wood at Loughbrickland was the Shire, this was Lorien....It couldn't bring back the silver tree, but it was some consolation....