Let me tell you a story. Long, long ago, the Pelasgians, a people who lived in Thessaly, planted a forest grove in honour of Demeter – the goddess who breathes life into seeds, who makes young leaves unfurl, who unclenches the grip of winter, who taught humans how to bind straw into sheaves. The forest was so dense, so close-packed with elms and apple and pear trees, that you couldn’t shoot an arrow through it if you tried. Demeter loved the place beyond almost any other.
But one day, a king called Erysichthon brought 20 men to the forest armed with axes. The first tree that was hacked by a bronze blade was a tall, elegant poplar. That tree screamed in agony.
Demeter heard and she came straight away, disguised as her own priestess. “What are you doing to the goddess’s sacred grove?” she said. “Stop this now – or Demeter will be angry.” Erysichthon just glared at her. “Get out of my way,” he said, “or this axe won’t be just chopping down trees. I need this timber to make a roof for my new banqueting hall.”