March to Birnam Wood

"Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him."

In 2005 we were able to spend some time in Scotland during the tour of a play in which my husband was performing. One rainy morning while we were in Perth, several members of the acting company decided to make a little pilgrimage to find the Birnam Oak, the last remaining tree of the forest whose branches were used to disguise Malcolm's soldiers in Macbeth.

We made our pilgrimage by bus. From downtown Perth to downtown Birnam on the #23 took about half an hour, and we got out near the hotel there.

"Near Birnam wood
Shall we well meet them; that way are they coming." V.2
Each bend in the path offered something striking for the eye, but we were rarely sure if apparently ancient sights were what they seemed. This small tower on the hill, for example. Is it "real" or is it a Victorian folly?
"Make we our march towards Birnam." v.2

The path continued until it opened out onto this view of the Tay River. It reminded me of the Gatineau Hills, near Ottawa, where I grew up. Everything was softer, though, and more lush. We walked through a dream of home, mixed with images from The Scottish Play.
Turning from the water's edge, we saw a leafless, hulking, almost human presence. Could this be it? Bending down to retrieve a few leaves to press, I noticed that they were all maple. Oops.

We continued our little march a few metres along the river.

"As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
The wood began to move." V.5

And THERE it was! A plaque helped us to confirm its identity this time, and sure enough, the fallen leaves surrounding the tree were oak. The crutches supporting its limbs only added to its anthropomorphic qualities. If trees could walk and talk, this one would certainly be marching along with them, sharing tales of its long life.
"Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root?" IV.1

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