I WAS stopped the other day by a leaf.

I had been walking in a sombre mood, my head weighed down with too many thoughts about the state of the world, when suddenly the small oak leaf came into my view. It was lying on the pavement, lit up by the low-lying winter sun, with a hint of shadow; a tiny and beautiful fragment of nature.

I stood, looking down at it for a few moments, marvelling at its delicate form, its perfect shape, the veins which had once given it life clearly visible. I had my phone with me, so I took a photo. A woman was passing by and was curious as to what I was looking at.

“I’m taking a photo of this leaf,” I explained.

She looked at me quizzically, then peered down, and her face softened with a smile.

“Are you an artist?” she asked.

East Lothian Courier: The oak leaf that stopped Tim in GullaneThe oak leaf that stopped Tim in Gullane

“Not really, I just notice things sometimes,” I replied. She took another glance at the leaf, looked up at me again, gave another smile and went on her way. She was nice, but I think she may have thought I was a bit strange. Maybe I am.

I wondered which oak tree the leaf had come from. It was its delicate beauty, even in death, which caught my attention, but it seemed to tell a story.

Although I’m not an artist, my daughter Morvern is, so I shared the photo and moment with her, thinking she would understand how a tiny leaf could have such an effect on the soul.

Of course she did, but in discussing what the story of the leaf could be, she reminded me of an old legend: the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King. It was a wonderful moment when my daughter became the storyteller rather than me.

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It’s an ancient story rooted in pre-Christian tradition, in which the Holly King represents winter and the Oak King represents summer. They duel each other for dominance as the seasons change, the Holly King ruling the dark, cold months, while the Oak King reigns during the time of light and warmth.

Although it’s winter now, and the Holly King still rules, the winter solstice has passed, so his power is waning. In contrast, the power of the Oak King is growing, as each day has more light. There will be setbacks, when winter seems to have regained the upper hand, but slowly and surely, the light and warmth of summer will return, when the Oak King will be dominant once again.

In some versions, they appear as brothers, who fight but eventually accept each other’s turn to rule.

East Lothian Courier: The Holly King and the Oak King, by Morvern GrahamThe Holly King and the Oak King, by Morvern Graham

“Would you like to use my illustration of the two kings, dad?” she asked.

Morvern has become a storyteller and writer in her own right, as well as an artist. She illustrated one of my books, and her first book The Huldufólk is beautifully illustrated and written by herself. So I waited with baited breath for her artwork to download.

And so, with her permission, I share it here. You can imagine my reaction when I saw it: the Holly King and the Oak King.

For a moment, I wished I’d kept the oak leaf and framed it as a reminder of that moment when its beauty pulled me out of my negative thoughts, telling me that light would return, that life was a cycle and small things could be big things, if you took time to notice and appreciate them.

But a story is often the best way to honour something and so I have made that little forgotten oak leaf part of a story. The leaf also gave me a wonderful conversation with my daughter about the ancient legend and its meaning, and it gave you the gift of her art on this page.

As I said, small things can be big things, and to the woman who talked to me on that day in Gullane and asked if I was an artist, I’d like to say thank you for being my witness to that special moment when I was stopped by a tiny, fallen oak leaf.