Friday, February 29, 2008

The Healing wild wood – North Norfolk

Thursday February 21, 2008:

The sharp wind had turned damp in the night. Clouds now eclipsed the moon as the sun had done before dawn. It had rained but was holding off now. We walked softly on the moisten muddy earth between old and wild trees.

This land, held in memory of a dead child, lay adjacent to a river. The earth sucked at our feet as we crossed small streams and rivulets which criss-crossed the land. We were looking for a rare black poplar.

And there she was, standing tall and furrowed on a small island surrounded by the little streams. There was no way over. It seemed as though she had barricaded herself so as not to be disturbed.

I could only stand helplessly on the other side of the water and imagine her, Hecate’s tree, and old and rough, oozing amber tears. I imagined her, an ancient raven, feathers matted and slightly ruffled, old beyond time, watching over the dark moon, the winter and death. I bowed to her and moved disappointedly away.

Walking along beside the reed beds, we slipped and slid over narrow bridges until we came face to face with a bird cage cherry, the great alder next to her entwining as though to hold her back. Sturdy cherry branches thrust themselves down into the ground, only to spring up in new growth again. Spider-like, she surreptitiously inch her way across the wood, spreading out as she went, like an irregular wooden web.

Passing an impenetrable blackthorn thicket, old and unkempt, it reached out a twisted limb and snatched my hat. I bowed to it, laughing as I carefully rested my beret from its grasp. I moved on, entering parts of the wood where deer had been recently, their musty smell lay thickly upon the air.

In front of us an ancient beech stood; great skirts columned about huge elephant-like feet. She/he towered over us as though to bar the way. Her gender a mix of male and female with his massive size and her curves, she/he was very queer indeed. The scent of deer here was overpowering and I felt the presence of the stag especially at her great base where deer were wont to lie sometimes as though they were an offering to the fierce god of the woods. I bowed and we moved on.

And now before us, a neat hollow oak tree stood, inviting a woody embrace. I squeezed in and was held by folds, bulges, columns and smooth curves, its ridges pressing into me. Reluctantly easing myself out, we moved on through the woods till we found, in a little flat place, an ancient field maple tall and bulbous and rather crusty. I climbed and explored the extraordinary shapes, complex and purposeful as a carefully calved sculpture, yet somehow ravaged and mauled by the passing years and beautifully natural.

So many trees and so little time. I was tired. I flopped down to rest on a fallen ash tree. Laying my hands flat upon her roundness, I allowed myself to feel the rhythm of her wood. Although she had fallen long ago, she still offered the creatures of the forest a haven in which to live. I thanked her for allowing me to sit dry and comfortable upon her.

Sitting still, I allowed by senses to hear the wood in all its rustlings, rattlings, shrieks and thumps. Imperceptibly at first and then more strongly, behind the musty orange sweet dark smell of the deer, the other forests smells eased closer. The resinous, leafy tang of crushed grasses and leaves mixed with the pungent mouldering soft flat odour of fungi, were held against the damp deep muddy dark perfume of the soft wet earth. I breathed deeply, filling my lungs with the exquisite odour and was calm.

I was filled with sudden joy and love for the wonder of the earth. I seized a small branch and began to beat a joyful tattoo upon the yielding earth. I raised my voice in thanks to the lord of the wildwood, he who protects the wild places and all who dwell in them. Keening into the wind, I called him to protect this place, a living breathing memorial to a little boy who lost his fight with Leukaemia and a place where sorrow walks with acceptance and finds balance and comfort.

The earth beat back our rhythms and the trees tossed my voice back to me. Somewhere, not far away, I swear I heard his footfall, his great presence, moving in and out of the dark trees. Turning, I bowed and then moved on.

A lightening tree awaited us nearby. Fifty years or more ago, an old ash had been struck in a great storm. Seemingly dead, the tree still lived in places. I touched her broken places, the angled trunks that had once been hole. Kneeling by her, I offered a prayer of healing to her.

Old customs said that if a sick child was passed through a split ash, she would be healed. My small self really wanted to crawl through. I saw her, red pyjama clad and frightened in the dark and knew that I had to do this for her. Carefully, I squeezed my way through.

Goddess help me remember the frightened little girl and forgive my adult self,” I whispered to the listening tree, “let her feel safe at last”. As I gave my prayer to her, something inside me shifted, and I felt lighter. Stroking the great split trunk, I whispered my thanks and gently scattered an offering of dried petals at her base.

AS I turned to move on, my companion suddenly cried out. She reached down and picked up a slim straight hazel bough lying at her feet. The staff she had looked for had found her!

The forest had given us many gifts this day. Deep in thought, we walked softly on the land between the trees, back across the slippery narrow planks spanning quiet streams. All around us, the forest sat, beautiful, wild and tangled, offering in its wildness, a loving watchfulness.

“You can never be lonely in a wood,” I said half to myself, as we walked back to the car. “Thank you goddess for the standing people.”

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