Maiden in the woods

For years now, I’ve caught glimpses of her when I’m driving down a certain road near my home. Between fields and old farmhouses are patches of woods, and that is where I see her.

I might confess that ever since I was a child, whenever I ride by an expanse of woods, I’ve daydreamed about seeing people amongst the trees as I go whipping past. Maybe people of long ago, making a reappearance on the land where they once lived and hunted. Maybe enchanted people, unable to go beyond some magical barrier, or simply relegated to this place of relative obscurity where they are least likely to be detected. In summer, the woods are full and dark; their secrets are more secret than ever, but in winter, the woods are revealing. So many trees are bare and shafts of sunlight illuminate the papery russet detritus of the forest floor…when I ride past in wintertime, I imagine someone stepping back in the shadows, or bending over a cookpot, or doing whatever it is one would do in a secluded woodland semi-existence.

So, actually seeing this maiden in the nearby woods for the first time gave me quite a turn. Now, of course, I know she’s there. I’ve been trying to figure out who or what she is. Perhaps a dryad (Narnia, anyone?), the shy female spirit of a tree, usually an oak in Greek mythology. Dryads look something like their trees and can live for centuries. Or maybe a hamadryad, a nymph so intimately bound to her tree that if the tree dies, she dies, too (anyone remember the scene in The Last Battle when the beechtree nymph runs to the Narnian king, Tirian, to say the talking trees are being felled, then falling and vanishing as her own tree is cut down?).

Although I could never get a good enough look at this maiden in the woods to decide if she might be a dryad or hamadryad, she didn’t seem “tree-ish” enough. No. For one thing, she wears clothes. A top as blue as the bluest untroubled sky, the kind with no clouds in sight, so blue it imparts an inexplicable ache in the heart. She has a long white skirt and some kind of white headdress. And she carries something red in her hands—berries? Grapes? What IS that, and what is she, and why is she standing out here in these woods?

One day, I kept telling myself, I’m gonna stop this car and get a picture…

And so I did.

Last week I pulled off the road and quickly got my shot… I dared not go too far or get too close, as I don’t know whose land this is and… well… you know… possible enchantments…

She appears to be a young Roman woman carrying a harvest of grapes home from a nonexistent vine. Not a goddess, not a dryad. I can’t discern why she’s here. A puzzle. No obvious reason that I can see. I wonder, too, if she was once pale marble or all bronze or solid gray cement—turned to stone, perhaps?—before some artist, whomever it was, chose to spruce her up with color. No telling how old she is, how long she’s been here, and why, why…so many untold stories…

I bet the trees know all about it. I would ask, if only I understood Tree. For they do speak to one another, you know. They have a whole communication network of their own, underground, in the air…

But I am merely human, and as always, the trees hold their mysteries close.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

The slant of the light

January morning
clear and still
rose-gilded clouds
aflame in the sky
like a royal canopy

fiery pink
presiding over
the stone-gray world

as I drive on
smoke wafts and lingers
after a slow descent
from chimneys

around the bend
a curious slanting of light
from behind me

winter-tilted Earth
catching the rising sun
at strange angles

the treetops ahead
become gold filigree
sun-dipped coronets
adorning bodies
enshrouded with shadow

the road I travel
twists and turns

the slanted light shifts,
striking the tree trunks

turning them crimson

blood-red

like arteries

conduits of life
not competing for sunlight
in this one moment,
just standing transformed
by oblique rays

—I revel
in the winter-slanted light,
thinking of how blood rises
to the surface
and how age-old secrets
stay hidden
deep within.

*******


I couldn’t take a picture of the scene on my early morning drive to work today. I can only try to recreate it with words. The sight left me awed and grieved at the same time: that the slant of the light could turn the treetops to lacy gold, could paint their trunks blood-red, and that these conditions might never replicate themselves exactly this way again.
I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch the haunting colorplay between the Earth and sun.

So much depends on perspective.


Trees know

Yesterday they came back.

Just a few of them.

The others will have their turn, soon. For now they wait in the wings and on the screens…

In a month when masks are normally worn for celebrating, they came masked for protection—of others.

Several of us stood as sentinels in the misty gray morning, waiting, also masked. Gloved, thermometers ready, when the first bus rolled up and its door opened to release three children.

Another bus carried only one.

But when the first child passed inspection and entered the building, the gathered staff cheered. Applauded. Like welcoming a hero home.

They are heroes.

These kindergarteners, these first, second, third graders in their colorful masks, quietly navigating the building, sitting socially-distanced (alone) at lunch… I suspect these images are etched deep in my brain for the remainder of my days.

I saw this verse on a StoryPeople print by Brian Andreas (1993):

When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things that children need.

I think about how trees

help us breathe

cleanse the air

provide refuge

absorb storms

soften hard edifices

beautify

welcome

are calming

are cooling

change with the seasons, yet remain constant

color the world

Tree leaves do whisper. Trees talk to each other (they do). They live in groups and look out for one another.

They carry the stories they live within them. You can read them, in their rings.

I cannot decide which is best, to be the tree with deep roots, waving my leaves at the children on the way to school, singing in their dreams…or to be the child, asleep, hearing the tree-song…

I stand, a sentinel in the gray silence of the empty bus loop, masked, gloved, thermometer in hand, watching bits of red and yellow and fiery orange swirling through the air as if stirred by an unseen hand… tree confetti, celebrating life, letting go in order to hold on through the coming winter, who knows how dark or cold, and I’m seized by the sudden desire to run into those dancing colors…

—I am bits of both.

*******

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the invitation to share on Slice of Life Tuesdays and for also knowing about the things that children need. They, too, carry their stories within them…

Photo: Donnie Ray Jones. CC BY

Social distance of trees

One of the best books I’ve read in recent years is The Overstory, Richard Powers’ novel of the American chestnut blight that wiped out almost all of those beautiful trees by the end of the 1930s. Powers wraps stories of people’s lives around that core like concentric rings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on April 15, 2019, a year ago yesterday. Author Robert Macfarlane’s enthusiastic praise of the book led me to read it and to plunge deep into the secretive, endlessly fascinating world of trees. They communicate with one another. They have memory. Maybe they are whispering their secrets to us … This week Macfarlane shared an article on Twitter about the social distance practice of some trees, the phenomenon known as crown or canopy shyness, their treetops (“overstory”) not touching in order to survive in the competition for resources like sunlight. That was the clarion call to me: Write something. About trees and how they do this. But what? How? Then I stumbled across a different article about the Fibonacci sequence of trees, oaks in particular: as their branches grow, five branches to two spirals, a pattern is formed. Could I combine these ideas, somehow?

Doesn’t poetry always make a way?

A Fibonacci poem on the social distance practices of trees:

Trees
keep
distance:
crown shyness,
their overstory,
shared but not touching each other.

Photo: Old oak. Dave Parker. CC BY.