Like a Tree in November ~ stripping the soul bare

Like a Tree in November

 

One by one I will let my leaves fall

All those things that hide my true being:

The words, the smiles, the clothes

Those outward things even I think are me.

Each one detached and falling

Slowly like petals from the cherry tree,

Surrounding my feet, shifting in the breeze

Before settling to begin the slow transition

To mulch and worm food and raw earth.

Then I shall stand naked, stripped bare

Like a tree after November gales.

You will see my true shape unmasked

By pretty colours and shifting shapes

And the confusion of shimmering sunshine.

Then we will see who I might be,

Beneath this coat of many colours

These tales of a thousand nights

And my Scheherazade soul

Who would spin out yet another story

To keep you entertained and distracted

From the true business of staying alive,

Will be faced with the final question:

Who am I?

Tree Gods

 

Tree Gods

 

They wait, these trees.

Slender children of older gods,

Mighty as towers but long gone,

Fallen to ruin and leaf mould.

They wait, these trees.

Winters pass like melting snow;

The glades grow dense, with brambles

Hiding their burrowing feet.

Moss-furred stumps,

The bones of their ancestors

Remind them of past glories.

They wait, these trees.

Summers pass like blooming flowers.

The dells ring with song

And deer run in hidden paths

Of dappled sun and shade.

They wait, these trees.

The tiny child grows up,

Grows old and passes on,

Houses rise and houses fall

Towns boom, towns bust,

Kings and queens come and go.

The trees alone remain.

 

Heartbeat of the Earth

It’s a glorious day in England and the late spring is rushing along as fast as it can go. I keep looking up at the sky to see if I can see a great cloud of volcanic ash heading this way but all I see are white clouds scudding along like frisky sheep.

I walk, fast enough to keep warm, because the wind is still cold, blowing in from the north east and bringing the smell of the sea long before I reach it. Sometimes I stop and talk with other dogwalkers; we admire each other’s animals and talk dogtalk. There’s a great camaraderie among dogwalkers and it’s probably a measure of my slightly sick mind that it occurs to me that using the cover of dogwalking might be a great disguise for a serial killer. We greet someone who we don’t know like a long lost relative simply because of their canine companion.

The beach is bracing, the wind whipping the waves into fine spume that makes you wet if you walk too near the shoreline. I feel sand seep into my trainers. Back up and head towards the wood again as I run out of beach. The nudist beach is no more, as much a result of coastal erosion as it was of county council statutes; but few naturists felt the narrow stretch of rough shingle was worth the pains of visiting any more.

   I return via another belt of ancient woodland, taking a short cut across a vast meadow and then back into tree cover again. I love trees. The dog trails behind me, following her nose where it leads and when she does that I stand and wait for her to catch up and feel the sun and the breeze on what little skin I have bared. It feels good. Back into a grove of trees, I remember my days as a warden on a nature reserve, working as education officer and I take a sneaky look around to see if I am watched before pressing my right ear to the nearest tree. A distant hint of moving liquid sounds inside the trunk, faint but distinct. This one is too big. I try a sapling and the sound is thin and thready, like the pulse of a dying bird.

Moving on I reach the final open space of the walk and a parade of trees greets me, spaced out across grass studded with wildflowers making up for lost time. These, like Goldilock’s porridge, are just right. Not too big and not too small. I lean my face against the first, feeling the bristle of lichen like kissing a man unshaven on Sundays. The trunk is warm from the sun and the lichen crackles and shifts as my ear finds the sweet spot. Like a river, the heartbeat of the tree thunders away and the tree seems to lean against me as the wind catches it, like a Shire horse will lean on the farrier as it is being shod. It feels strange, a great affectionate gesture from a loving stranger who has become a friend in the space between one heartbeat and the next. I stand, my cheek against this tree before moving to the next and repeating the experience. Four trees  later and I have moss and lichen in my hair, making me look like a slightly stout dryad, if dryads are allowed to wear combat trousers and National Geographic Buffs.

I cut down the field and back into the first belt of woodland, and stop amid the grove of chesnuts, where the bats inhabit a hole in one trunk and woodpeckers rear a nestfull of chicks every year in the hole below it and here, I stop for a moment and listen to the sound beyond the song of birds and the wind in the trees and further beyond the traffic on the A12 a few dozen yards away now.

So distant that I may well be imagining it, I hear another heartbeat: the earth’s. It might be my own magnified by my melancholy and sensitivity, but it doesn’t matter. Just as the trees leaning into me like horses comforted me, so too does this notion or perception. The earth is herself alive, and sentient and that comforts me beyond anything. Humanity may be doomed but the earth will recover.

    I go home, feeling tired and a little sad but not despairing. That’s as much as you can hope for some days.

The Great Forest

This is the Major Oak; thought to be well over 900 years old. It needs a little help these days.... 

 

The Great Forest
 
The Great Forest begins
Where my garden ends.
I dare not go there
Except by deepest night
When I take to the skies
Amid the hunting owls.
By day, I see nothing
But the odd glimpse
Of miles of woodland,
Dense and secret
Beyond the wooden fence.
If I approach, come close
And look beyond the barrier,
It's only another garden,
Wild for suburbia
But tamed nonetheless.
The Great Forest haunts me,
Living in snapshot moments
When I sense it's there,
Unseen by others,
Invisible by daylight,
Waiting for nightfall
And those who leave behind
Both bodies and bedrooms
To enter its borders,
Trembling with fear
And the sense of coming home.
The Great Forest lingers,
Hidden in scrubby thickets,
And litter-strewn copses,
In untended gardens
Reverting rapidly to wildness,
And in the ancient memory
Of huge and silent trees,
Of sun-filled clearings
Paved with wildflowers,
In prison-colony plantations,
With larch and pine
Chained in dead-straight rows.
The Great Forest lives on
In the green-scented breeze
On a summer's evening,
Blown from far away,
Bringing scents of woodland,
Musk of deer and boar
And the forgotten bear and wolf,
Making us shiver as we sit
In tended gardens by candlelight,
Clutching glasses of foreign wine,
And struggle to remember something
That is lost in these moments.
The Great Forest still stands
In every persistent sapling
That cracks walls to grow,
In every clipped and shaped yew
Bent in ornamental servitude.
It lives on in the waste-ground,
In forgotten corners of gardens
And in ancient churchyards
Guarded by yews of such age
That they seem like living stone.
I stand at my window
And seek the Great Forest
Beyond my garden fence.
In every green breath I draw,
I smell the heart of the forest,
And beyond it, the Sea. 

 

I wrote this poem some years ago when we lived not too far away from the great Sherwood Forest…Our garden was an acre corner of the original eight acre rectory garden and on a summer day, looking from an upstairs window the trees melded and blended till you could imagine it went on forever.

Sherwood Forest is a tiny remnant of old growth forest that once covered much of the English midlands up into south Yorskhire. You can still get lost there if you try hard enough…

The Peach Tree

I woke up this morning remembering the peach tree in Ely.

I’ve lived in many places in England over the years but from 1997 to 2003 we lived in a small village in the heart of Norfolk. England is a small country but within it, each area is very distinct and different from each other and Norfolk is famous for a number of things: being totally flat, inbreeding and the Broads. I grew up in East Anglia so the flat landscape has always been a familar one to me. We currently live in a town that is referred to as The Gateway to the Broads and for those who don’t know, the Broads are a watery landscape of slow moving rivers and marshes, very popular with boating holidays and nature lovers. I’ve only ever been on the edges of the Broads; the landscape and the type of holiday it promotes has never appealed to me.

When we lived in Norfolk, the village we lived in was so small there were only about 300 people eligible to vote, our nearest shop was in the next village two miles away and the nearest town was almost seven miles away. It was very peaceful and a good place for my daughter to grow up. Living so far from any sort of civilisation meant that you had to plan shopping and things like dentists and so on, as well as keep a fairly well stocked pantry and freezer. Our nearest town was the little market town of Downham Market and for most things, it sufficed but if you wanted anything a bit more exotic, you had to got further afield to King’s Lynn, Norwich, Swaffham or Ely. Ely was about 20 miles away, all through the Fens and at one time before the draining of the Fens, much of this landscape was waterlogged and impassable for the winter months. The Romans began the draining of the Fens and it continues to this day with a landscape of ditches and dykes cutting across the countryside and making it useful farm land. Once, prehistoric forests covered the land before being swamped and lost; bog oak is hauled up every time some farmers plough and a friend used to use my Landrover to go and collect loads of iron hard ancient wood (like ten thousand and more years old)for her fire, that had been ploughed out and left for anyone who wanted it at the side of the road. It took days to saw into manageable chunks and the wood burned very slowly and gave off both heat and a weird blue light as it burned.

It was a lonely life in some ways. I’d not got into the Internet when we first moved there and indeed, even when we left we were still on dial-up. So a trip to Ely, my favourite of our local towns was a treat we would enjoy and extend beyond whatever business we had. My husband used to take me on his day off, and we’d often have a pub lunch. On  Saturday there was a superb Craft market(Thursday was ordinary market day) that meant you could find interesting clothes and so on.

Our favourite pub was quite unpromising until you found the garden. It was just a fairly ordinary pub, about ten minutes walk from the Cathedral and it was only the notice that announced a secluded pub garden that drew us in the first time. This was our summer pub; we went to another in the winter, within a short dash from the Cathedral. The garden was lovely; well tended but not overly manicured and the food was nice standrad pub grub, not expensive and not too fussy.

One of the lovely features of the garden were the trees. Whoever had orignally planted the garden had chosen well; smaller trees that would not shade too much but give dappled shade in the summer heat. One tree attracted me greatly because my own had recently died; a peach tree. Mine had been in a pot, so it could be moved in harsh winters, but it had been attacked by a parasite and had succumbed.

One day in late summer we had lunch at the pub and the peach tree we’d seen bloom so marvellously in the spring was so laden with ripening fruit is seemed impossible. Pound after luscious pound of golden peaches hung from the boughs; the tree seemed to be groaning with the weight of its fruit. It’s rare for a tree like the peach to bear much fruit in our cold and unpredictable climate and I commentd on it to tha landlord.

“Oh yes,” he said. “It’s always been very fruitful, that one.”

He didn’t seem to think anything of it. That was our last visit of the summer and it was mid spring before we were back and I had a shock.

The peach tree had been pruned to almost nothing. Stumps of its branches remained, sprouting leaves but nothing more, I was horrified and I asked about it.

It turned out that the previous year when the tree had been so laden, it had been too heavily laden and the main branches had been beginning to split and break off with the sheer weight of fruit. A tree surgeon had been called in and had recommended drastic action. Amputation of the major branches was the only thing that was going to save the tree from literally splitting itself in two. This had been done and the tree, though looking sorry for itself did seem to be recovering but it would be some years before it would be able to bear fruit again. I’ve not been back since 2003, when we left the area and I do hope the tree has begun to bear again.

Sometimes it’s possible that we bear too much fruit from our creative lives, so much it drains and exhausts us. Perhaps this explains things like burn-out and writer’s and artists’ blocks. We have maybe given too much away and need to draw in our energies and let our strength build for future efforts.

I wrote 8 novels in four years. Maybe it’s time I allowed myself some rest  and stopped expecting myself to be able to work like a machine and churn out stories constantly. Maybe it’s time, like the peach tree, I was given the space to recuperate from being so very, very fruitful.

Tree Mandala

vivs-drawings-and-paintings-031

 

I had a time some years back where I experimented drawing mandalas; well, sort of mandalas. I would meditate for a while and then begin to draw. I’m not an artist at all, and doing these drawings was about freeing something inside me, rather than trying to capture an image or scene. I’d been thinking about trees, obviously, and their place in my life, when I did this mandala.

I used the same design to paint on a medicine shield that now hangs in my study.  I know it doesn’t look like any tree on earth, but then it wasn’t intended to!