Monday, July 02, 2007

The Grandmother Olive (Andalusia, Spain)

Thursday June 14, 2007

I had swum and breakfasted. My limbs, warmed by the sun, felt relaxed. Life was good!

I sat on the lap of the old olive tree and listened to the waters of the weekly irrigation running across the grass. The whiskery old lady, (she is said to be a thousand years old) seemed to me to be breathing raspingly, her rough old bark snagging my bare shoulders. I lent back into her, and closing my eyes, raised my face to the dappled sun.

The world spun round and in another time and place I was on the side of a valley, sitting under a mature and curving olive tree. All around me, the ground sloped down, half hidden by fruit trees, standing in the water that was the Moorish irrigation system flowing across the valley. I got up, stretching, turning to stroke the tree under which I had been sitting and then moved off.

Under my bare feet, the tuffety grass between the trees felt course but not harsh. The water licked coolly between my toes. I walked down through the orchard, turning back from time to time to see the sturdy squat solid tree watching me.

Starlings and sparrows quarrelled above my head. Not far off, a pigeon cooed. In the distance a goat bleated and its mother replied.

Snaking back through the trees, I returned to the olive tree. I knelt before her in thanksgiving, for here surely was the goddess in her hard olive wood and solidity, in her curves and platted maturity.

Footsteps moved hurriedly across the grass. An old man’s voice called “Ola! Ola!” Suddenly my hands were seized by hard calloused ones and he held and squeezed them. The old gardener, normally quite taciturn was positively effusive. Freeing one hand, I stroked the crumbling bark of the ancient, magnificent and ever-watchful old tree and said “Gracias, gracias”. “Old tree”, he said, slapping her flank affectionately as he turned to walk away. We understood each other, the tree, the old gardener and me.

I climbed to my feet and stood upon the bench carved from her bulbus trunk. Reaching up, I put my arms around her great swollen body, lent my cheek against her roughness and was still.

I breathed in her musty old smell and felt at peace. My mind wandered back to the day I had heard of the suicide of my dear friend. I had gone to the tree and she had held me in quiet dignity whilst I grieved.

I thought of the white-haired, whiskery old man who had been my father. His thin and frail body such a contrast to this more ancient and robust being. The tree seemed to groan slightly and shift in the breeze and I knew she understood. I was comforted. Time moved on and I was in danger of being late for a class. Reluctantly I climbed back down and stood in front of her. I bent my head and folded my hands. “namaste grandmother” I whispered.

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