Sunday, April 27, 2008

Willow woman’s wisdom – Stanborough Lake, Hertfordshire

Wednesday April 16, 2008:


The earth felt warm. The sun peaked through the trees skirting the lake, stretching between the river and the railway. The park was quiet, save for the occasional angler and a small group of canoeists at the near end.

I walked upon the springy soft grassy earth with my companion. I wanted a willow over the water. I wanted to sit at her feet and be near the soft ripple of a river or lake.

We passed a goat willow, low and bushy, her tender silver pussy paws velvety, and her new leaves feathery and delicate. A willow dripping with golden catkins, lent over on the wrong side of the softly flowing river. WE walked on, searching for the perfect willow, a quiet place in which to be.

The ground beneath our feet gave spongily, thick mud sucked softly. We stepped over moss covered dark logs, bent beneath rough barked branches as we followed the stream.

There amongst brambles and fallen trunks, stood a misshapen old tree, bent, jagged branches like gnarled fingers pointing. Another one, humped and wide girthed and stunted, offered a green mossy platform for anyone who would climb it. WE walked on.

At the apex of a piece of land formed by two streams meeting, we found a tall grey-white willow, her bark deeply grooved, flaking and rough. She stood watching over the waters. WE sank down at her base to cast our circle.

The riverside was quiet and still, save for an unknown bird singing in the distance. I walked across the spongy damp ground, following the river. The grey sky shone in the rippling water, edged by darker shadows that were the trees on the bank.

In a small clearing nearer the water’s edge, stood a squat humped tree, bent and wide, with twigs like tangled hair, jagged branches her bony fingers, pointing this way and that. As I looked, she shifted, her grey bark glimmering greener, her branches swaying stiffly as though riddled with arthritis.

Movement amongst the brambles in front of me caught my attention and I saw something scuttling along, dart out into the open in front of the tree and dive between her roots. I crept closer and saw it was a little brown wild rabbit, curled up between two roots, his ears alert and twitching.

Was that a branch moving in the breeze or was she beckoning me. I watched and waited. The branch moved again and I stepped cautiously out into the little clearing and stood in front of her.

Close up now I could see how her body was misshapen and twisted, how her skin was scarred and her hair dry and tangled. Yet her face, lined and bony seemed kind; the dark eyes shadowed by wild hair might, I thought contain a glimmer of humour. It was as though she were saying – in a hoarse old lady no-nonsense South London accent, “I aint no oil painting matey, but I got my dignity, I’ll ‘ave you know! ‘Oo d’yah fink year starin’ at?”

I shuffled from foot to foot, embarrassed. Muttering apologies under my breath, I could feel my ears burning. I felt like a naughty seven year old.

“Speak up gel; I’m a bit mutton you know!” I swear she growled, though it might have been the wind rubbing two old branches against each other. I crept forward and knelt down beside the resting rabbit and began to talk.

I talked of my dreams and of my disappointments, of my victories and my fears, of my impatience and my routines. Creaking slightly, she listened, her breath like the crackle of twigs. And when I had done I reached out and touched her rough bark, gently stroking the ridges and grooves and I heard her breath deep in her throat like a rumbling growl. She was talking to me.

Actually, she was lecturing me. She was giving me a right talking to! I sat and heard her out. Went she had done, I reached and stroked her once more and lent my cheek against her rough bark. Softly I said,

“Lady Willow, I promise to listen to my body. Thank you.”
Somewhere nearby, a bird tittered merrily. His song a cascade of cheerfulness woke the quiet riverside. Reaching out, I stroked the tree against which I sat, climbed awkwardly to my feet and turned to bow my respect to her. The sun on my cheek, a slight breeze ruffling my hair, I turned in the direction of a singing bird, (a coal tit according to my companion, who knows these things) and bowed in acknowledgement of his beautiful song.

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