Saturday, June 09, 2007

Her Bench

Figures leaned busily over the bench, gladly cleaning away the effects of a year’s weather upon varnished wood. Fingers picked and probed between the slats, nails scraped at the inscription, hands rubbed and scrubbed until the wood shone light and clean once more.

The breeze twisted and entwined the scent of sage with the damp sharpness of the wood as the seat was smudged. Candles placed in a circle about the bench flickered palely. A stone was set at the north and a bowl of water at the west. Soft curling delicate rose petals scattered across the seat, trembled in the breeze. The rattle’s sharp staccato cut through the quiet air as the circle was cast.

Voices, ragged at first then growing stronger sang.

“I am a tower of strength within and without,
I am a tower of strength within.
All burdens fall from my shoulders,
All anxieties fall from my mind.
All fears slip-away, slip-away,
All fears slip from my heart.
Let every shackle be broken,
Let every shackle be broke.
I am a tower of strength within and without,
I am a tower of strength within.”

Into the silence of the ending of the lovely Judy Small chant, birds sang high up in the wood’s canopy. On the other side of the playing fields dogs barked and owners commanded. Somewhere in the distance the London traffic rumbled. The group round the bench stood and remembered, and then as one, moved over to the great copper beach.

I was alone now. I sat down on the log at her feet which had been flattened into a convenient seat or was it an alter? I leaned against her skirted shins and breathed in the scent of the wood.

She towered over me, her great branches canopying me. I closed my eyes and allowed the sounds and smells, tastes and touch of the wood to hold me in a gentle light slumber. I felt safe and protected. Was this why she loved this tree so much? I hoped so.

The low warm sun streamed gold through the trees. I walked between them, following the path that snaked its way along. How fabulous to have the woods to myself!

Here it was cool and quiet. I felt softly regarded rather than overtly watched. I walked with a lightness and a gentle awareness at the edge of my perception. There was nothing to do but just be here now.

As I turned a corner, the western sun touched my cheek with its warmth. And there, in its full light, was the bench.

She lay stretched out, her head twisted slightly, her glasses awry, the book she had been reading loosely held in one limp hand. She was fast asleep, peaceful and relaxed.

I stopped, my stomach lurched, tears pricked at the back of my eyes. I called her name, started forward but then she was gone. In her place, a young man, eyes closed against the light, head thrown back to greet the sun, sat basking in the warmth of the evening sun, his dog asleep at his feet.

The light shifted and the figure on the bench was an old woman, her head nodding gently as she dozed. Then she was a contentedly absorbed small girl, legs dangling, feet hardly touching the ground. Now she was a man in a business suit, a woman with untidy hair and baggy old jobbing bottoms. The seat’s occupants moved and changed with every gust of the little breeze that was beginning to blow.

I glanced down the path and saw at the foot of the nearby hornbeam tree, a figure, sitting quiet in reflection, prayer or sleep. Moving through the wood, I saw that each tree had someone at its feet and each bench, its quiet occupant. The wood was simply being and allowing the humans to be too.

My hands touched the curved truck. My fingers followed the drapery of her gown. I stood up and began to explore her. I reached up and stroked curves and crevices, buttocks and breasts, cleavages and cracks. The tree patiently aloud my loving touches and I remembered the first time she had been introduced to me and by whom.

She towered above me, this copper-haired enchantress, her skirts flowing down to the ground, her roots burrowing deep into the moist earth. She threw her branches out, as though to hold up the sky, dappling the light, sheltering me as I moved around her.

I leaned against her, resting my cheek on her rough bark and breathed deeply of her woody warm smell. There was no way to say thank you other than to silently appreciate. This, my dear dead chosen sister had brought me to. Her dying had changed me forever. In my grief I had turned to the trees and found the goddess and for this, I was profoundly grateful.

Reluctantly, I moved away from the tree. It was time to leave. I walked carefully across the circle where we had scattered her ashes. The kind afternoon sun licked comfortingly at my cheek, and the trees softly regarded me as I moved back towards the busy world outside the woods.


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