Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tribute and promise

Tuesday February 17, 2009:

During the afternoon it has rained. Sawdust is smeared across the garden, even the leaves of the choisia are coated with it. I crouch down and touch the assembled logs, reach forward and meet the tree stump with gentle fingers.

The trunks lean together as though for warmth, their smooth surfaces soft with the wet sawdust, their still ivy clad bark rough and dry to the touch, despite the rain. My hands trace their sturdy shapes, the strong thick branches curving and dividing in an elegance of symmetry, leaning precariously against each other and the now exposed ugly wire fence.

It’s as though someone has taken off the sky. Under this great emptiness above my head, lies the garden; vulnerable and defenceless like a bareheaded frail old man on a cold winter’s day.

I sink down onto the low edging of the shrubbery, am enfolded in the fragrant choisia, my head in my hands, shoulders bowed in despair. I sit silently with the fallen tree. Where is its spirit now? What has happened to the creatures that depended upon it for sustenance and shelter, I wonder?

In its relatively short life, this dear tree happily hosted the ivy, allowed the pigeons to roost, and accepted the webs of the garden spiders, surrendered to the wood lice, slugs and snails. Tolerantly it permitted me to dress it, stroke it, sing to it and hug it. Always, it gave comfort with its solid cheerfulness, its quiet ever-present dominance in this little garden.

In spring, its light leafy green helped the dark holly - its near neighbour - to shine. In summer as its leaves patterned and darkened, it added to the opulence of the fertile garden. In autumn it shone golden in the western sun before letting its leaves drift gently on the autumn wind.

Never again will it reach out its arms to protect this garden. Never again will it shine in the early morning sunlight or glitter and glow at days end, lit by the western sun. Never again will its leaves tremble and shake as a tough little easterly comes searing into the garden, or its leaves tremble in the rain, sheltering all who stand under it from the storms of autumn. It is gone, it is gone, it is gone!

I remember the promise made beneath the nearly budding branches of my rowan tree on Imbolc Eve, at the start of my tree pilgrimage last year.
“I pledge to love and protect the trees, for without you all, all humankind is doomed. “

So much for my promise, I think angrily. I’ve failed. I failed to protect a tree I had responsibility for and now, every time I walk in the garden I will be reminded of that failure.

And at last the tears come. Great hot rivers of grief course down my face. My breath, caught in my throat, shakes with the long withheld sobs. I surrender at last to the pain, the guilt and the misery.
In time, I grow quiet. I get up from under the choisia and crouch down before the trunks. Touching the stump, I whisper.

“I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I will build you a beautiful memorial. I will make a sheltered habitat for the garden creatures to nest in and to play in. You will never be forgotten for, in your trunk and branches lies a reminder of your glory. And the ivy will march determinedly upon you. The birds will sit and feast and sing and crap upon you. I will decorate you with whatever takes my fancy and the folk will dance about you as you grow and change.

I will sit beside you and dream. As the years turn, others who come to the garden will watch you evolve, grow weathered and decay until you are ready to return into the earth from whence you came. And other organisms will come and feast upon the soil you have enriched. Other trees and plants will grow where you once were. Who knows, in years to come, another generation of hornbeam may stand here proud and sturdy and strong. Another tree lover will sit beneath it, hold it in her arms and sing to it, as I have done. Someone else will find pleasure and comfort as I have in you.”

I struggle to my feet, walk slowly round the garden to stand in front of the rowan where my pilgrimage began. I will return one more time to close this pilgrimage, to give thanks for the journey I have been on and all that it has done to move and change me, but not tonight. Tonight, I morn the loss of a beautiful tree, acknowledge my part in its demise and my responsibility in the world to protect and nurture the trees.


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