Monday, July 02, 2007

The veiled rock

Saturday June 16, 2007


In the corner of the orchard grew another old olive tree, younger than the grandmother olive in the courtyard. Yet she was still magnificent with her curving snake-like trunk and round inner chambers carpeted with dried leaves.

I stood before her and admired her beauty, palms brushing her trunk and exploring with curious fingers her crevices. My hands found a deeper hole, a bowl curved and round with the inner tree twisting within like a snake of rope. I trailed light fingertips across it, stroking the dried old leaves away before plunging my hands, knuckle deep into the leaves.

I had had too much of the sun that day. I needed cool shade in which to doze the afternoon away. I lay down on a blanket at her foot and cast a circle, inviting into my dreams any beings of the place that cared to show themselves to me.


I felt very small, or was it the tree that was big. Anyway, it stretched and curved above me, its rough bark offering me many footholds as I began to clamber up. What a long way it was, but here was an opening, a round bowl in the trunk, blanketed with dried leaves into which I rolled.

Light shafted into my dark and cosy little hole from a second opening higher up. I climbed up and peered out onto a grassy slope rising up in front of me, bisected by an avenue of tall trees. The sun shone brightly and the grass though rough, looked soft. Squeezing out of the hole, I began to walk through the avenue.

The sun rose higher as I toiled up an increasingly steep hill. The avenue of trees and the grass gave way to smaller fruit trees, increasingly bent and gnarled. Soon I was stumbling through scrubland and then dried dusty boulders with low rough bushes, in time giving way to bigger rocky outcrops and the occasional twisted old thorn tree clinging tenaciously to the mountainside.

I climbed on past a blank windowed ruined old tower pointing its solitary finger towards the sky. Wondering briefly what it had been, I toiled on, until, sweating and breathless, I stopped to rest.

I turned and looked back. The mountain fell away dizzyingly and the whole world curved below me, green and brown, grey and white edged with the blue, blue sea. I had come a long way but there was still further to go. I got to my feet and climbed on again.

The sun was moving below the mountain opposite as I heaved myself up a precipice onto a rocky ledge in front of a dark cave. At its mouth sat an old rock, rough hewn by the wind and rain. In the changing light of the setting sun it looked like the figure of a veiled sitting woman. Awe struck, I prostrated myself before her, as this seemed the right thing to do just then.

All was quiet. After some time I raised my face and looked up at her. She moved slightly and it seemed to me that she was inviting me to sit before her. Sitting up, I gazed in curiosity at the indistinct contours of her face, masked by the rock veil.

I sat quietly and began to reflect upon the journey I had just taken. I had come so far but was not at the summit yet. It was a long way back and the way forward, the smoothes sheer rock face above the cave looked equally intimidating. I needn’t go on today. There was time yet.

As I looked around me, I wished I was a bird and could just spread my wings and fly. And as I thought this, I found myself climbing to my feet and standing, toes over the edge of the ledge with the mountain plunging giddyingly down below me. I raised my arms and dived.

I was flying! Swooping and soaring, I circled the mountain shooting past the veiled rock, nodding my thanks and farewell to her as I plunged down, down, down the rock face. I skimmed across the rocks, over the tops of the gnarled and twisted fruit trees. I flew through the straight avenue down to the old olive tree where I settled on a high branch to survey the quiet orchard, rose-edged and shadowed by the evening sun.

A sharp little breeze buffeted my cheek. I felt small against the flatness of the earth, my body cushioned by the blanket on the rough grass. I stretched and yawned. In the distance, a clocked tolled six. I sighed and rolled over and got up.

Unsteadily I made my way to the tree. Reaching up, I stroked her trunk, following her contours with my hands, seeking out and finding the hollow. My fingers told my thanks as I acknowledged the beauty of this place and her presence. Closing the circle, I bowed to the tree, picked up my blanket and began to make my way back across the orchard.

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