We all find our places of escape where we can. Having grown up in the Evergreen State and not far from both the vast forests of Mt. Rainier and the green refuge of the Olympic Peninsula’s rain forest, I have always found trees and wooded places a comfort and a place of safety and reassurance. No matter how deep the sorrow and pain, I have found strength returning to me and a gentling of the spirit poured on my woundedness in those times spent in the protective forest greenery. When I can spend time among the trees and relish their distinctive and individual beauties, I find myself rescued and my hope renewed.
To the Woodland
Cedar, bless me with your resinous breath,
And oak, stretch down those knotted arms to me
And close me in, so others cannot see
My sorrow as I stand so near to death—
I come here to the woodland for relief
Among the leafy shadows of the glade,
Hoping to leave my sadness where I’ve laid
It here, a monument in shade to grief—
Sweet birches, bend your green to veil my tears
And weep with all the willows, as I do;
Great trees, for graces have I come to you
Each time that I grew mournful through the years—
I come here to the woodland for relief
And leave a monument, in shade, to grief.
This mottled darkness will give way to sun
Anon, as time flows on, and so shall I;
The dead still sleep, no matter how I cry,
And I must live, or my own death’s begun—
And I’ve much yet to live, and purpose find
In bringing others light who, too, repine
That have no pine-groves filled with peace like mine
As balm and rescue for a troubled mind—
Who know not aspens’ kindly whispered care—
Should all seek peace and comfort in the wood,
These mercies surely better us, their good
And healing gifts send us renewed from there—
So we’ll go to the woodland for relief
Here in the shade I need no shades. Every corner of the copse is cool and watery green, the shoots of grass streaking up toward those glints of sun that peep between leaves, sparkling without heat and calling me to rest. The world outside can keep tearing around like a cyclone, overheating and undermining calm and joy and peace of mind, but here in the clearing, in the sweet gloaming, I can ease back and close my eyes, and all that is, was and ever shall be washes over my memory and my soul. Shuttered thus from sight, events and people and places and gifts pour by like rivers, refreshing and kind, and in my mind I am rejoined with all that I have ever known and been. Accompanied by the delicate bubbling sound of their passing flow, I return to myself, my full self, whether with my eyes closed or open, glasses on or off–because everything I need to know is right here with me, here inside the deepest cool green shade.The temperatures have returned to their normal just-this-side-of-hell Texan summer levels, the hot flashes are not cured, only moderated, and I shall just do my best to keep fending off the heat with a modicum of inner cool. It’s the only place any of us can hope to keep well in the shade anyway. Now shoo, go on, y’all, and let me chill down a bit.
Though he may well have sprung from the roots of ancient earthbound deities, the Green Man remains alive and well and, at this season, inhabits garden and woodland alike, filling sun and shadow with his mischievous magicks. And this presence is a very welcome thing indeed. Few things can compare with the appearance of those tender sprouts, however miniscule and vulnerable, that bring new signs of life to the winter’s loamy floor, unfurl their banners on the tiniest twig of the smallest shrub. The mere sight of one small tip of leaf can bring an upsurge of life to the dormant veins of even a hardened person who’s waited through the dark and chill for newness to arrive.
Did the long freeze of January kill that little sapling that I found? No, here’s the faint, alluring swelling of a bud, the blushing edge of a leaflet, soon to open wide in exuberant yellow-green shouts of Spring. Has the ice of the short days and long, long nights wholly buried and killed my favorite herb, both branch and root? No, I see a hairline stripe of promising verdure in the bony bark of its woody little stem. Life is a bold, determined act, and with its brazen call brings out the denizens of Earth, first the bud and then the bloom, one small broken seed shooting out a multitude of growing things at the conjuring wave of the Green Man’s hand. Like him, I cannot help but grin when the world begins again to wake in leafy laughter.
It dances across my imagination, rain. It is flowing and musical and magical and, most of all, it catalyzes cleanliness and growth that reawakens the graces of the living world in ways that very few other things can possibly do.It is what I think of as the soundtrack to my dreams, rain. The softly bubbling, rippling, tuneful and prayerful sound of rain in the background, after even the slightest dry spell, is as lovely in its way as a kindly lullaby, as the warbling of some exotic winged thing in a woodland on a magical evening, perhaps even as a gentle reminder that the creative spirit of the universe weeps both with sorrow and with joy in harmony with all her creatures.On every greensward, in every park in Spring, the land smiles with contentment even while the rain still falls, when rain is in its right place. This is a gift happily awaited by all who thirst–every creature and all the sweet, sweet growing things that fill our garden world. Whether it is thought of as saving for a rainy day or being saved by a rainy day, as much as I bask in the sun at every opportunity, there will always be a part of me that relishes and desires the generous presence of a kindly rainfall.
(I’m pleased to say that it has been raining here for the last number of hours. Life is good.)
Yesterday after running errands, we were reluctant to head directly home and do serious Work on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so first we took a couple of brief driving detours into the surrounding ranch-lands and enjoyed a uniquely lush and verdant north Texas spring outing, luxuriating in the marvels of denser woodlands, fuller runoff creeks and richer grasslands than we’ve yet seen since moving down here. Needless to say, we are reveling in the wealth of meadow and pastureland in the surrounding counties, as are all of the horse and cattle herds that didn’t get sold off or butchered outright to evade starvation and thirst in last year’s drought. It’s a beautiful prospect, this well-watered magic we have right now, and inspires the poetic in one’s spirit no matter how it defies other work.
Far back among the rolling hills, Where prairie grasses sweep and bow
And the sweet wildflower spills Pour down the slope, the Angus cow
Set farthest back along the line Draws up her calf to join the herd,
Slow-swaying, toward a stand of pine; The rancher there, without a word,
Appears to bring an evening feed, And all the cattle on the clock
That balances content with need, Some time before, began this walk . . .
The faintest glint of sidelong rays Begins to tint the brush with gold
The way late Spring colors her days, As if instead of growing old
She’s only burnishing her tone The more to show her graciousness,
Inviting birds that fly alone To join a choir whose notes confess
A radiant love of living things, Of all that’s sweet and warm and new,
Of leggy calves, of seed that brings That grass now banking up the slough . . .
The cattle walk, now, in their line, Their black flanks shaded in the dusk
With blue-tinged shadows, as a fine Light scent arises like a musk
From all their footsteps tapped in clay, Veils of the thinnest dust laid low
Between the sorghum rows’ array And that tall hayfield yet to mow,
And not one calf among them all Drifts off the center of the trail,
Because they sense their supper-call As sure as seasons never fail . . .
I never tire of fantasizing and imagining my ideal. But some days it’s really hard to decide what would be better. To be slung sidelong over a rocking chair in the wash of yellow afternoon, watching the lift and ruffle of wisteria where it is teased by currents chasing around me on the old screen porch, drinking Blackberry Acid and reading Evelyn Waugh while the sound of Gershwin laughs its way out the door to shake the sleepy cat into a semblance of watchfulness? Or perhaps I should the rather be curled in a high-backed leather wing chair with Zola, maybe Garcia Marquez, a faint dark stain of Verdi’s Requiem insinuating its way slowly through my brain, the lamp turned barely high enough to read so that it doesn’t fade the firelight or those lights fourteen stories down where the city shimmers below, and with the scent of Boeuf Bourguignon drifting into the paneled room from where it’s simmering down the hall?
Yes, I say, sometimes it’s hard, so hard to choose which I should prefer. Would it be finer to be wandering up a quiet path in checkered green light, perfumed with the heady incense of cedar and douglas fir, emerging from their shadows into meadows lapping with avalanche lilies and paintbrush and gentians at my feet as I climb up higher, drowsy with the sun and hypnotized by the river crashing away, just out of sight, to my right, and stopping at last to rest on the stony shore of a glassy lake and slake my thirst, assuage my hunger, with a crisp sweet apple and some salty well-aged cheese? Or should I better like to stride out through wildly waving waist-high grass onto the dunes just as the lowering sky with its mass of high black clouds starts spitting a sand-fine mist of icy rain, but bundled so warmly to the eyes that only my cheekbones feel the chill, and watching the storm blow up a wave so high it seems to engulf the top of the sky before it shatters to smithereens on the bouldered bulkhead there–and just as that cloudbank starts to split to disgorge its mighty gout of rain, tearing up the beach to the safety of the white-painted cottage, where I peel off the layers of storm-proofing down to my jeans, drag the little table to the window to watch the show, cracking the Dungeness crab that I bought at the shop today, to drown it in butter while watching the shoreline also drown, and eat crab sweetness messily to the tune of pelting rain and smashing sea?
I suppose if all else fails I could simply ask my butler to make the selection, you see. No, this one I know: I’d rather ask my love, since whichever it is, it’ll be that much better a dream if he will only share it with me.