Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The laughing willow– Hampstead women’s Pond

Sunday April 27, 2008:

The best time to be with the trees if you want solitude on Hampstead Heath is on a rainy Sunday morning. In search of a peaceful willow, my companion and I trudged through rain smeared paths towards Kenwood Ladies Pond. Though there may well be some hardy amazons swimming on this day, they would probably not bat an eyelid at two middle-aged, oddly behaving women loitering damply under a convenient tree. We would find our place of peace in which to connect with Lady Willow.

Since I’d last been at the women’s Pond, the powers that be had fenced it off. Now the waterside trees were separated from the bumpy green grassy field that enclosed it. Gone was that peaceful and secluded meadow with pond, that green and watery haven so beloved of women everywhere.

We stalked the perimeter looking for a likely tree. Nothing offered itself to us, whole and unimpeded. There was a beautiful specimen, complete with leafy dangling branches, casting its frail shelter over both bumpy grass and reedy water. This was the willow tree by water I had been dreaming of and searching for all month. Alas, the fence prevailed and no amount of surreptitious casing of the joint to look for a way over, offered itself.

A beautiful tree, it stood on the pond edge, bowing elegantly over the water and the field, its feet in reeds and a clutch of lively ducks frolicking in the nearby water. Pouting, I sat down and cast the circle.

The wet wind shook the leaves and we were showered with cool raindrops. Beyond the fence, amongst the reeds, a duck quacked and something splashed, subsiding into gentle ripples. Lavender and white sage entwined in the breeze curled around us. My rattle, its insistent gentle shu-shu-shu-shu-shu-shu-shu filled the leafy canopied space in which we sat. Softly, I called the spirit of the willow and whispered my intention this day.

“I journey to meet my healed heart and to know what healed it.”

The water was cool on my warm naked body. Cleaving through its cold cleanness, I struck out into the middle of its green grey opaque silver stillness. I was alone under a pale grey sky, watched only by the new green graceful trees.

Underwater, the banks were dark and dotted with what appeared to be the mouths of tunnels, two small for a human. The grey green world was shadowed with moving shapes, framed by the dark weeds and reeds. I floated to the surface and breaking it, gasped great lungful of fresh morning air.

I rolled over onto my back, stretching out my arms and legs and floated. I drifted slowly until I lay under her canopied green shelter. She bowed over me, dipping her lacy fingers in the water, trailing her fronds tenderly across my naked stomach. I had nothing to do but to be, and to submit to her and to the beauty of the water.

Cradled in the rocking water, its cool tongue licked my thighs, as it embraced me tenderly. I drifted into a still reverie, my mind calm.

Suddenly the stillness exploded. Under cover of a cacophony of quacks and feathery splashes, the pond erupted. Ducks swam around me until I was ringed with their damp feathery cheerfulness. I rolled over onto my stomach and, quacking enthusiastically back at them, dived under the water and away from their enclosing circle.

Turning as I surfaced, I saw the little armada making its way swiftly towards me. Again I was surrounded, again I dived and again, they followed and caught me. WE swam round the pond in this fashion for some time until surfacing once more, I found myself surrounded by a circle of upended ducks; their tails in the air!

Wondering why ducks did that, I upended myself gracefully and peered through the green grey water at the blurred shapes of the upside-down ducks around me. None the wiser, I rolled over and, breaking the surface of the water once again, saw ahead of me, the graceful willow tree. She was moving back and forth, her green leafy trailing branches flapping all around her. Was she laughing at me? She seemed to be rocking with uncontrollable mirth!

I began to laugh. Then I began to cough and splutter. It’s never a good idea to give in to hilarity when one is up to one’s neck in a pond unless intent on drowning. The ducks righted themselves and began to circle once more, a chorus of quacking filling the air.

Sage drifted on the soft breeze. Something was dripping down my neck. My left leg had gone to sleep. Beyond the tree amongst the reeds in front of me, a riot of splashing and furious quacking broke the peace. I quacked back, bowed and blew two kisses to what I was sure were two ducks, come to visit the curious tree worshippers under the Lady Willow.

“So that was how my heart was healed,” I mused, sitting quietly under the gently dripping tree. I struggled to my feet and reached out to touch the bobbing branches.

Wishes are granted by the willow tree if they are asked for in the correct manner, I remembered. Forming my wish, I took a tender tendril of leaves and stroking them, explained my desire to the tree. When it seemed that I had said enough and that she had heard me, gently, I tied a loose knot in the silky shoot I was holding. Softly I kissed the knot, and bowing I thanked her and the ducks and the water for their teaching this day.

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