Amongst the cypress and pecan, hidden between the oak and sweet gum, shadowed by the cottonwood and elm, there stands a place known only to me. Within a refuge shared with none save the creatures of the forest and lake, the rightful inhabitants who bestow upon me special consideration, I take leave of the world as I enter this realm both magical and removed. Stepping betwixt two trees appears a mundane event, but nothing could be further from the truth. A world lies just beyond the one we know, a landscape shrouded by limbs both ancient and new that resists the commotion of progress. And therein I find escape.
No one but I dares enter, for no one else may know the path to and from, the path that carries my tired soul. Troubles melt from me there like winter’s ice bathed in spring’s warm sunshine. Even the single step that transports me sheds from my mind and heart all worry, all trouble, all concerns. It is a bathing…a baptism. Guardians of forever tolerate no disruption, so I think cares must be left behind to enter. Am I thankful for that?
When the world crushes in on me and threatens to overwhelm me, I run to this place with abandon, like prey followed by predator. In my own urgency I sometimes stumble and fall, but a gentle hand always reaches out to help me regain my footing, for that which lives outside this place envies all who enter it, and their jealousy and want can never overcome their desire to see its splendor realized.
Anxiety dares not invade this place. It could never withstand the defenses of those who protect it. Tempests cannot find me here. Although the heavens rest above, the sky is forever restrained from offering anything less than its best. Should snow fall or rains blow, time for such indulgences remains limited. Offer what drinks you will to the earth, bathe all life in refreshing showers, and blanket the landscape in your icy best, but forget not that you too must adhere to the spirit of this place. Its tranquility will not be violated.
Would that the inherent beauty and magic wind their way into the spirit of others. Yet a small degree of selfishness wishes to keep it all to myself. Perhaps nature, too, feels as I, that to welcome more interlopers would be to invite harm and discord. Too sacred it is for such a thing, I feel. Listening to the soft rustle of leaves and swaying of branches as trees, the still watchers, dance with gentle breezes, I know they feel what I feel, that they wish to veil this world from humanity’s prying eyes. Fear of our kind is palpable.
So I rest my weary bones against the eldest oak who caringly offers its safe haven only to the kind, to the respectful. I watch its brethren as they watch me. Together, one man and nature’s bounty, we find peace and calm in each other’s company.
I stretch my legs out before me and lean back against a timeless being. Its rough bark cradles me softly. Quietly—so quiet, in fact, that I think I might be dreaming—quietly the tree begins weeping, a sound whose depth is felt more than heard. Great rumbling sobs tenderly shake the ground on which I sit, and I turn, rest a hand upon its trunk, and I inquire: “Why are you sad?”
“For you,” it replies. “My tears are not for me or my kin. They are not for this place or the lives we protect. They are for you, for your troubled spirit and aching heart.”
It is then I too begin to weep. My head falls slowly until it rests against the tree’s bosom, and there my tears join with it, falling endlessly on its skin and tracing paths toward the earth. For I feel it as well. Setting aside my anxious thoughts when entering has always been my way. Only now do I realize I have denied the strength of those who welcome me, the love and cradling arms that for too long have been given all but the best of me while longing to support the weakest of me.
Far off in the distance, a bird calls out. I do not recognize its voice until it draws nearer. Then I realize a mourning dove approaches. It flutters overhead, flits about in the air above for a brief moment, and finally comes to rest in the branches under which I sit. There, no more than an arm’s length away, it perches in the branches of our mutual friend, the tree, and it looks at me. When it calls out again, the lamentation in its voice cannot be denied.
And the tree answers, “Yes, dear one, you may cry with us. Help us carry this burden.”
[photos are of mourning doves (a.k.a. rain doves; Zenaida macroura); cross-posted on The Clade; based on something I wrote two years ago]