Friday, November 21, 2008

Hollow Oak – Waterlow Park, North London

Wednesday November 19, 2008:
I stood on a hill overlooking the park and sniffed the air. Wood smoke danced on a stiff breeze. The sun warmed my cheek. Robins quarrelled in the trees edging the grass nearby and the ducks quacked and paddled contentedly on the little lake.

The park, neat and organised with its rolling lawns, clumps of interlaced trees and small lakes, spread like a miniature county between the cemetery and the main road. As yet, only a handful of souls wandered the meandering paths. We had the place almost to ourselves.

Leaves crunched beneath our feet as we strode about. The Pungent sharp odour of rotting wood, leaf-mould and fungus assailed us as we walked down the hill, an exotically sharp stench, yet bitter, needing only a dash of vetivere or green tea to be a modern adult fragrance. Almost overpowering, its acrid perfume waltzed along with the wood smoke and the soft green tang of crushed grass, the quintessential smell of autumn.

I inhaled deeply, allowing all my remaining senses to open up. And I marvelled at nature’s constancy in her renewal of leaf and bud, in the cycle of decay that transforms beauty into death and death into life again. ON a day like today, I could begin to believe that although the spring is a winter away, it would return.

Elder, holly and yew lay in each others arms. Willow and Alder watched by the water. The humble trees of Britain sat side-by-side with exotic specimens from warmer climbs. And above it all, a pale winter sky was softly blue and the audacious sun, bright and persistent. WE walked on and I admired vicariously, (for it was beyond a railing) the fallen tree carved into a curving and lovely mermaid, the waters of the year softly rotting her away as she lay on the land.

Now here the park was quieter. No one strode along the curving paths; no one stared curiously as they passed by following their purposeful dogs. We crossed over a bridge and down another curved path. Beyond another neat metal railing sat a hollow oak. Could I climb over? I remembered my arthritic hip and disappointedly moved on.

“Ah, and here’s the fence again but don’t you think it is a bit lower here?” Asked my companion. And indeed it was. In a trice, I’d clambered over and was sneaking illicitly along the side, heading back to that tree.

An old stout thing it was, half hollowed out, big enough for two and more to stand up in and be. My friend retreated to a sunny bench and I settled down to be with the tree.
Wood smoke slipped in from across the park, mixed with the damp smell of old leaves and the wood itself. All was cool and dry, still and silent within. I sat on the ground and allowed the earth to support me.

A deep growling voice came to me from the earth, from the tree and from within me. A growling, not unfriendly rumble as though huge rocks had rolled over in their sleep and the oldest of trees had creaked stiffly as it bowed to a passing friend. A courteous yet doggedly persistent rumble, without exertion but with force. I listened and tried to make out if there were words or not and before I knew it, I too was growling from my belly.

“Deep within the earth, deep within the tree,
Deep within the earth, deep within me.
Sleep within the earth, sleep within the tree,
Sleep within the earth, sleep within me”

I settled down as my voice settled into my body and listened to the tree rumbling and mumbling as I rumbled and mumbled into a gruff kind of singing that felt older than words themselves. And I was happy and I felt sure that the spirit of the tree quite liked the duet we were singing together.

Deeply I breathed as I sat solidly on the quiet earth. And a peaceful stillness came upon me and I felt my body relax as my head dropped upon my chest.

It was dark. There was a dancing fire and something else I couldn’t see, moving about in front of me. Where was I? I was sheltered but outside. I reached out to touch dry wood, carved and ridged, smooth and soft yet hard as hard could be. I was inside a tree, sheltered by its embrace, yet exposed to the warmth of the fire on the hill below me.

“Rest, rest, rest”, a deep voice repeated over and over again. I breathed and leaned back and allowed the earth and the tree to hold me. “Nothing to do but be here in a tree” I thought as the wind brought me more sweet wood smoke and the sound of the traffic on the road below. Beyond my sanctuary, a crow cawed.

Something creaked. Something else scratched dryly. A splitter splatter of moisture plopped onto the dried leaves and then something scurried busily away. The tree was alive and a home to others too.

“Hello” called my companion from the other side of the fence. I reached up and stroked the tree, whispered my thanks to it and climbed out into the sunshine.
Turning, I bowed low to the tree and followed my companion. We found the perfect sunny sheltered bench and sat down. Just the right place to sit and write, to think and dream. I turned my face up to bask in the warm winter sun. And in my mind, that dark voice growled on, “just be, just be, just be, be here … right … now … right now.”

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