And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow ~ on love and marriage

Then Almitra spoke again and said…
“And what of Marriage, master?”
And he answered saying:

You were born together,
and together you shall
be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings
of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the
silent  memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make
not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between
the shores of  your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give  one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance
together and be joyous,
but let each of you be alone,

Even as the  strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the  hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too
near together.  For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress
grow not in each other’s shadow.

from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet

Lost #5

Lost #5

During the days that follow any memory of my life before the forest leaches away, until I cease to remember what it felt like to have a full stomach, to be comfortable and clean and to have any sense of who I am. Here I am a strange animal, walking on two legs for sure, but acting on instinct and impulse. I eat, not when I am hungry, for I am always hungry to the point of being ravenous, but when I find food. Seldom is it filling or tasty, but I swallow it down and after a few days where I vomit continuously till I think I may die, my body
adapts to the strange food and stops rebelling. I eat whatever is
edible, and no longer question this. Berries, leaves, nuts, grubs and
insects: but carrion is usually too far gone to risk eating, and I
have no means of making fire. A kill is a risky place to linger; the
predator will be close, if the meat is still fresh enough for me to
eat raw.

I drink water from the clear streams that criss cross the forest,
checking the soil by the banks for signs that any animals have been
there recently. At night I sometimes hear cries that tell me that
dangerous animals live too close to me and I shiver in whatever tree
I have chosen for my night’s rest. Sometimes, I find a deep pool and
swim in it, trying to rinse the filth from body and hair. My clothes
have become organic extensions of myself, ragged and dirty, but
somehow holding together enough to give me warmth enough to survive the nights. Gradually I forget that such things as beds exist. I
cannot imagine lying down to sleep; I doze, leaning against a tree
trunk, high up in one of the increasingly massive trees.

For as I journey deeper into the forest, either I have become infinitely smaller or the trees have become far taller than even my now distant memories of trees would have me believe. I have come to an area where the trees seem to have been growing since the start of time itself, and the spread of their branches keeps the forest floor clear of  smaller trees. No one has ever cleared away fallen wood; every branch that has fallen in a winter gale still remains undisturbed, home to a million insects and small mammals. I come to an area where many of the great trees have all fallen, leaving mountains of wood, piled against each other in shattered heaps. The trunks are many, many times my height, and when they stood, these giants rivalled mountains in their height. Once I might have told what manner of tree these were, but now I only know that I must scramble among them, for days at a time, to cross an area that may be less than a quarter of a mile across filled with treacherous heaps of decaying dead-fall and low growing vegetation like brambles.

When finally I get clear of the grove of fallen giants, I find that I am
among their living kin. Towering trunks, their skins rough and
fissured, soar skywards, and I can see only the tiniest glimpses of
sky through the dense canopy of leaves. The tree tops are hundreds of feet above me, and there are no branches low enough for me to climb up into the protective arms of the trees that night.

I shiver and wonder what beasts patrol this area of forest at night. I
must find somewhere to sleep or risk being prey myself when the deep velvety darkness falls and makes moving impossible. Among these trees, the canopy of leaves is so complete that even the sunlight filters through only imperfectly and the forest floor is filled with green shadows and little grows here.

I stand gazing up, mouth open in wonder, and begin to move among the columns of trunks that stretch miles in every direction without
variation, and wonder where I am to sleep this night when the cradles of branches are inaccessible to me.

Dog Days

Dog Days

Where did my summer go?

Lost in a whirl of passing days

Eaten up by anxiety

Consumed by confusion?

Summer ends as it began, silently,

Slowly, the greens fading

From brilliance to buff

Becoming at first tired and jaded,

Ragged at the edges,

The freshness of spring

Dried and hardened to leather.

The sun changes from the silver-gilt

Shining of May-time joy

To a brassy, aching shade

That burns and wearies the eyes.

Fermenting windfalls draw the wasps

Who feast amid drunken butterflies

Gorging themselves on over-ripe pears

And cider-smelling apples.

The harvest is all done;

Rough with stubble, empty fields

Await the blade of the plough

And the screaming gulls.  

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” ~ or why compassion for others may be something only learned the hard way

He jests at scars that never felt a wound” or why compassion for
others may be something only learned the hard way.

I finally had to bite the bullet this last week and face my nemesis. Well,  one of them. This is my fifth season teaching the summer school and until last week I’ve avoided doing a lesson on Romeo and Juliet. I hate this play with a passion. Truly. But the previous day’s lesson could  really only be followed up with a lesson with the theme of LOVE and  inevitably that ends up leading to that play.

I hate it for a number of reasons, and the sheer stupidity of this
fiction that dying for love is somehow supremely romantic is one of
them. I have almost no romantic bone in my body. To me, there is
little more futile than suicide because of thwarted or lost love. I’m
fully sympathetic with those who feel this way; it’s not them who I
have issues with but rather the media and the culture that seems to
glorify this as the ultimate romantic gesture(albeit a truly tragic

The lesson went well. I avoided the bear-traps of sex and the Shakespeare was pleasingly incomprehensible. But one line jumped off the page at me. I’ve not touched the play since university and it isn’t one I’ve ever read for pleasure. But, “he jests at scars that never felt a wound,” from Act 2 scene 2, made me shiver a little, bringing back memories I’d rather forget.

After my own pathetic attempt to take my own life all but one of the people I came into contact with in hospital were very kind to me. The one who was not was a night nurse who disparaged me, to my face and told me I was just another silly girl who ought to know better. She mocked me. Over the intervening years, I’ve pondered why she was so mean towards me.

This line from Shakespeare told me why. Unless you are naturally very empathetic, understanding someone else’s pain can only come from a place of experience. And if you have not experienced something closely similar, then there is a real chance that someone else’s reactions to a heartbreak may well seem silly or over-dramatic. We do not have hearts that bruise at the same rate; what hurts me may not even touch another. What pains you may not even be something I notice.

I took a small risk and very briefly told my students of my experience, at roughly the same age as they are now and how, within weeks of that my whole life was transformed and how. Never give up, I told them, never let go of hope for better. Everyone needs to have their heart broken at least once in a lifetime because it teaches you compassion, I said.

I hope they remember this, if nothing else, from their stay in England.

Lost #4

Lost #4

There are no paths. All around me, endless shades of green, with some brown and red and orange as counterpoint, and no opening, no indication that anyone has ever come this way before. I sag against the trunk of the tree I have just climbed, the memory of those distant mountains burned into my retina like the after-burn of lightning flashes, and for a few long minutes, I want to curl into a ball, and bury myself in the moist leaf-litter and return to the earth.

But somehow I square my shoulders and take a long deep breath. I gaze around carefully and I spot it: not a path as such, just a thread
through the greenery. It’s probably a deer path but it seems to be
going in the right direction at least, so I begin.

The way is not easy; I cannot walk, but rather have to weave myself in and out of fallen branches, over rocks and heavy rotting trunks.
Sometimes, in the soft earth I see the footprints of the deer who use
this trail and sometimes droppings, but they are old, and I feel sure
the deer do not come this way often.

I merge with the forest, my mind slipping into its rhythms as the sun
climbs higher and higher. I sip water from a tiny rivulet that
crosses the path, scooping water into my mouth; it tastes earthy, a
tang of smoky peat teases my taste buds, making me remember something I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s not unpleasant, just odd. I eat leaves, to stave off the hunger, and the occasional berry. In the back of my mind, I wonder how I know whether something is safe to eat or not, and worry that perhaps I do not.

By late afternoon, as the sun has begun its decline to evening, I have
covered perhaps a mile in a straight line and am exhausted and
filthy. I’ve crossed and recrossed the same ground, and it was only
seeing my own footprints in the moist ground my a stream that told me I had doubled back. I never once thought they might belong to someone else. Throughout this great wide forest that seemed from the treetops to go on to the edges of the earth, I cannot sense another human soul. Only birdsong and insects disturb the peace here.

I can sense the sunset even though I cannot see it and I know I must find shelter for the night. I’ve nothing to keep me warm and I am dimly aware that the food I have eaten would be sufficient for a
family of field-mice to live on. Every limb aches with exertion and
my heart sinks because I know that those mountains are still as far
away as ever.

As I climb into a tree and try to snuggle as close to the trunk as I
can, feeling the living force of the sap slowing inside, I ask
myself, why am I heading for the mountains?

But I sleep before I can even start to answer that question.

(for previous episode see:

Meet the Mirror ~ Tip the Time-line

Meet the mirror, tip the time-line

I don’t like mirrors; they show me a stranger who I don’t like or sometimes don’t even recognise. I don’t look the way I think I do, inside, and often the  fact that there is no correspondence between my inner image and what I see in the mirror means I seldom linger at a mirror. I wash my face, put on make up, do my hair and my teeth and hardly look,  because it leaves me so despondent. I’ve never been pretty, but like Maude Gonne (who was a famed beauty in her time and inspired poet WB Yeats to write some very great poetry) I do have my “moments of glad grace” that might pass for beauty for someone like me.

Today I have felt a touch on my left hand a number of times, like a feather brushing my skin, but there is nothing there. At first I thought a hair was tickling me or a fly, but there was nothing. I got a dim impression of someone trying to attract my attention.

Then this evening, I passed the mirror in the bathroom and I saw something else looking back at me, rather than the usual rather tired blonde with a face like an earnest horse that is desperate to show everyone how clever it actually is and I stopped dead for a moment.

Gazing back at me, somehow, was the little girl I used to be and the old woman I will become. They were not phantoms but they were there in my own familiar half-hated workaday face, as definite as my own bones. I saw in my wiry hair the softness of childhood and the spider-silk of old age, all in the same silver gilt my hair is now, poised in its turning to grey. In my eyes, which are the colour of the north sea in winter, changeable and deep, I saw the pure blue innocence of the child I once was and the deep grey green wisdom of an old woman I may yet become.

I paused, struck by something odder yet that the appearance of these two. It was that as I saw them, I could see they were beautiful and yet, seeing my own face, I could not see it in me. And yet, they are me. How can this be, that I cannot see my beauty in this time but in other times, I can?

I’m probably halfway through my life, and yet, what have I done, and what have I yet to do? Both these questions are what my other selves might ask of me and they did not. If anything they just showed me their loveliness that I am unable to accept in myself.

I am not sure what this encounter means but I’d like to share with you a song by someone who expresses it better than I can, this sense of time tipping and the need to mark the passing of time. Carolyn Hillyer writes very beautiful music that sadly I cannot find on
You-Tube but if you visit
you can find samples to listen to and perhaps to buy.  

Meet the mirror, melt and merge there

Tilt the mirror, tip the time-line

Mind the mirror, mind you mark time

Mid-line, it’s your turn to turn time

(Meet the Mirror, from Old Silverhead, songs and initiations of Woman-hood
by Carolyn Hillyer)

I’m feeling very unsettled by this experience and the sense that I am
perhaps running out of time. It seems only a few years ago that I was that child with bright blue eyes, that have long since turned to that sea colour; can it be that it is an even shorter time before I become that old woman?

Lost #3

For part 1 see Lost #1

For part 2 see Lost #2

Lost #3

I sit until my bones become weary and the grass becomes cold and damp beneath me; the glow-worms slowly flicker and fade and I am alone. Around me the trees softly sough in the night wind and I shiver. I am not dressed for this; my clothes seem unfamiliar and I get to my feet again.

The darkness has become less intense and I realise that the light is
starting to return and I scan the sky for signs of dawn. As the black
becomes navy blue and then a grey tinged with pink I can see I am
surrounded by trees which have grown up somewhat twisted and gnarled, their lower branches accessible even to me.

I walk round, my feet leaving a silvery trail in the dew laden grass
and select a tree I think I may be able to climb and find a massive
oak, its bark green with lichen and moss and scramble up into the
lower branches without much problem. Up and up I climb, awkward and inept and trembling at times when I look down.

It’s one of the tallest trees and when I reach the canopy, and have to
stop to catch my breath, I make the mistake of looking down. A tangle of branches weave in and out like a mandala below me and my mind becomes confused by the pattern. I shut my eyes and try to focus.

I open them and steady myself, gripping the wood tightly and shift a
little so I can turn left and right without risking slipping. Over
the sea of greens, the sun is rising, a great red ball that becomes
golden as I watch the mists spiralling up out of the forest. For as
far as my eyes can see, there is only trees, mile upon mile of
forest. I can see no roads or significant clearings beyond some that
seem to be where the more ancient of trees have fallen to their
deaths. I see no buildings or signs of people. In the extreme
distance, I can see the faintest glimmer of a mountain range, a thin
blue line of hummocks at the furthest horizon.

The forest is waking as I stand gazing over the canopy and I can hear birds and other creatures greeting the new day and I can also hear my stomach rumbling.

Slowly I realise that having got up this high, I have now to get down again and after fixing the direction of those mountains in my mind, I begin my shaky descent.

As I climb nervously down, all I can think about is that sea of green
and the miles of endless forest ahead of me.