Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Spring Begins

Spring begins early, with nodding daffodils …


… then cherry blossoms …


… and other blossoms I do not know the name of—though they are no less beautiful for that—all a-buzz with bees …


… and delicate white blooms.


There are wattle flowers, like tiny yellow pompoms …


… and more pompoms …


… and violets in our garden.


I am trying to take it all in, for I know that soon enough the many petals will fall, like windblown snow, or confetti thrown, and spring will be over for another year.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A Writer in the Mist

After the sharing of The Pear Tree last week, I will now be taking a short break from blogging, to catch up on reading that I have fallen behind with, and to dedicate some extra time to the pursuit of other literary and artistic ideas, in this time of almost-spring. 


In the meantime, for those of you who have not yet heard, a feature about why I am blogging was recently published on Writers in the Mist. You can find it here.

A member of my writers’ group, Jane Lingard, has also written a post about why she is blogging, which you can find here. On her blog, Musings from the Mountains, she writes short posts twice-weekly about writing as well as life in the Blue Mountains; and like me, she is using blogging as a way to fuel her creativity. It certainly does! Do take a look at her work.

For now though I will wander off into the mist in search of spring stories and blossom magic, and begin gathering up fresh green ideas with which to fashion my next post.

Friday, 12 August 2016

A Story: The Pear Tree – Part Five

This is the conclusion to my story, The Pear Tree. Please click here to read Part One, here for Part Two, here for Part Three, and here for Part Four.

The Pear Tree
Part Five

… Each day we journeyed onwards, through the tangled forest that we had entered, not worrying that we were hopelessly lost, for in each other’s company something had been found, and as the days went by we began to realise that our hands were starting to feel less stiff, more moveable, and our vision was improving more and more. 

The forest looked new and green, full of growth and slanting sunlight, and I also saw that Tom was beautiful, despite of, or perhaps because of, his silver eye and awkward hands, and his wild tangled hair, stuck with leaves. He had become wild and wonderful in his freakishness, as had I. 

There was beauty everywhere, even in the places you least expected: in a blind eye, in a hand that holds a bird, in a long red scar, and in the darkest corners of the forest, where moss and toadstools grow, hidden from the sunlight. 
After many days with Tom I woke one morning as a fine, rosy dawn broke and it suddenly dawned on me—I loved this man. I loved his curving fingers, his mysterious blind eye, the way he softly stroked the crows when they wanted attention, the knots in his hair, his gentle ways. He was not a monster, and nor was I; we were wounded souls, transforming our guilt and regret and learning how to live once again. I could imagine him asking me, though I had never heard his voice, Do you love me? And under my breath, with barely a whisper, I could answer that question, the forgotten question that had been put to me in a dream so many weeks before: “Yes. I love you.” 

My voice had returned.
Tom woke and looked blearily at me, smiling and yawning, getting up to light a new fire. My voice was raw and faint but I looked at him and said, “I love you”. Without thinking he answered, “I love you”, and immediately started at the sudden and unexpected return of his voice. 

At this turn of events, the restoration of our speech, we could do nothing less than dance and whoop, the crows joining in, perched on a branch above us. We held hands and danced in circles, new hands which were no longer crippled, but capable of touching and holding and gesturing, and we saw clearly for the first time in our lives, our blindness gone, a world of colour opening to us, making us reel, intoxicated by the potency of it. We were still wild creatures, dirty and tangled and smelling of earth and leaves—and we would not want to be anything else—but we were whole again, repaired and reanimated. 

When our crazy dance finally came to an end we looked into each other’s eyes, and I saw that Tom’s healed eyes were brown, hazel and chestnut like the wood his father had worked, and I knew mine were green, green and verdant as my grandmother’s garden had been. 
After some time sitting together, feeling gratitude for what we had regained and discovered anew, and using our voices to say nothing more than I love you, I love you, I love you, for there was nothing more to be said, we decided that our path was still leading us onwards towards some new gift. We walked through the forest, now hand in touchable hand, with the crows following us, flitting like dark shadows from tree to tree, until we stepped into a round clearing. Standing in the centre of this circular space was a pear tree, bathed in golden sunlight, its fruits like golden bells glimmering, ringing their own splendour. We both reached out and grasped the same pear, gently pulling it from the tree which gave it freely, and we shared bites from the sweetest and juiciest fruit we had ever tasted. When we had finished eating I took one seed from the core, without Tom noticing, and I made a silent wish before I put it in my pocket. 

We knew we had to keep walking so we reluctantly left the clearing and the beautiful pear tree and walked on until we unexpectedly came to the edge of the woods, the exit from the green shadowy place that had brought us back to life. Down in the valley, below the rolling hills, was my town and my home, my grandmother’s cottage which now belonged to me. 

Now there was no need for hesitation. We stepped out into the open, in sight of the human world once more, and we began the descent. The crows came after us, breaking free of the trees and rushing into the air, cawing as they went, flying away to freedom, and we waved them off, sad to see them go, but happy that their wings had healed and they could start a new life together. 
This time I didn’t mind if people saw me and stared at my threadbare clothes and matted hair, for I felt complete and alive in a way I had never felt before. Tom and I walked together confidently, straight up to the front door of my house. With a deep breath I opened the door and stepped over the threshold, and I felt all the ghosts of my dreams fly past me in a rush, out and into the road and away. We stepped inside, ready to begin again.
That night we slept together in a bed piled high with pillows and blankets and all the comforts that we hadn’t realised we had missed, enfolded gently in each other’s arms, dreaming of a pear tree covered with golden pears, ringing like bells. But when I woke the next morning, the sun streaming through my bedroom window and the birds outside singing purely for the love of it, I realised that my arms were empty. 

Tom was gone. 
I knew what I had to do, for I had wished for this, wished on a pear seed from a magical pear tree, and so I found the seed I had stowed in my pocket and I walked outside into my grandmother’s garden. Though still full of weeds and dead leaves, the garden looked expectant, waiting to be reawakened. I found a space in the corner and I pulled out the weeds and gently scooped some earth aside with my fingers. I placed the pear seed in the small hole, smelling the sweetness of the soil, watering the seed with my tears—tears for the loss of Tom and for the loss of my grandmother and for all I had now gained—and I covered it with earth. 

*

I spent a year rebuilding my life, dividing my time between working in the garden and working at the library, making sure that I spent more time tending to the leaves on my plants than reading the leaves in books, and finding a harmony between the two. 

I bought seven new brown chickens and replanted all the vegetables that my grandmother had always grown, and some new ones, and I pruned all the fruit trees and added to the compost heap which swarmed with worms. Things began to be green once more, and the pear seed that I had planted sprouted and grew into a small sapling faster than I had thought possible. 

I found that with time my thoughts turned naturally towards the growing things, reaching out with exploratory tendrils, and I didn’t have to consult books on horticulture to know what to do. I knew, somewhere inside of me, what the garden needed from me, and I found myself humming as I worked, touching plants, enjoying their fragrance and colour and form, and cooking up meals that nourished me and made me appreciate the garden even more for what it could provide. 

My life was simple, yet it was lived deeply, in full awareness of the life around me, and in gratitude for what I had discovered because of six dreams and a journey on foot. I knew that it is as important to live stories as it is to read them, and slowly but surely the red scar on my chest began to fade and I no longer felt hollow inside.
One day as I worked in the garden, turning the soil to prepare for the planting of some new seedlings, two crows flew above me, cawing and swooping, and I looked up at them and then over at the young pear tree in the corner, realising with surprise that it had produced a single perfect pear, a golden miracle in the sunlight. 

I knew the day had come and I walked into the house just as there was a knock at the front door. I swung the door open in anticipation and there was Tom, his brown eyes smiling, holding out a perfectly carved wooden pear, smooth and golden brown, the work of an artist.

“Come and see my garden,” I said. 

(Wikipedia Commons) 
*   *   *
I hope everyone who made it to the end enjoyed The Pear Tree. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Also, I made the painting above specially for this story. Being out of practice, art-wise, I wasn't sure I would be able to paint anything I was satisfied with, but I am more than pleased with the image I have created. Please head over to my RedBubble portfolio to take a closer look at it, and to see more of my art.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

A Story: The Pear Tree - Part Four

This is the fourth instalment of my story, The Pear Tree. Please click here to read Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.

The Pear Tree
Part Four

… I stayed with Ruth for a week, regaining my strength, listening to her many stories, and learning about how to find wild food. She took care of me as if I were her own daughter, and in the time I was there my hands began to feel less stiff and my right eye began to see more clearly, with faint colours seeming to appear in my vision. I couldn’t speak though, yet that didn’t matter, as Ruth always seemed to know what I was thinking and she answered all my questions without my even having to ask them. She also took care of the crow, whose wing seemed to be mending. She could now flap about, yet she never flew far from my side. She liked to sit on my shoulder, pressing the warmth of her small body against my head.
I found myself feeling immense gratitude and affection for Ruth and her friendly dog, and I was reluctant to leave the safety and comfort of the little camp, but she told me that I needed to continue on my path, for there were more things that I needed to learn. She also told me that losing my mind was the best thing that had ever happened to me, for it made me step outside my front door and walk into my life with a boldness I had never felt before. I had reclaimed my freedom, and my mind had immediately been restored. 
So, after our goodbyes, tinged with sadness, I walked on, the crow on my shoulder, back into the hills and towards solitude. I was now better able to find food and sustain myself on my journey, and as my vision seemed to be improving, the world looked so much more beautiful. I was glad to be walking again, moving forwards into an unknown future. 
Each day I rose to watch the sunrise, with its faint glow of rose and gold, and then I walked onwards, only stopping again to sit and watch the sunset, gently red and orange, then indigo as night fell, before falling asleep, the colours becoming more vivid to my sight each day. I was starting to feel more at home in the world, more aware of my small place within it. I loved the solitude, yet I never felt alone, for I had the crow, and the passing birds, and the creatures that came to investigate my presence, all participating in the vibration of life around me. 

I felt safe walking along empty paths, sleeping on the earth, tangling myself with the brambles and trees until I felt thoroughly wild, and I did not miss my books at all. I had not even given them a single thought since I had left my home for I was now dwelling within a story of my own making, and I was more entranced than I had ever been by a book. I forgot about my blind eye and crippled hands, even my stolen heart, and I had no need to speak, so I was content. 
I even forgot about the human world, that is, until one morning when I was walking along a road and a shadow reared up in my vision. Someone was on the road ahead of me. A man. I froze and so did he. 

I was suddenly afraid. Not only did I not want to be seen, but as a young woman all alone I was also scared for my safety. It was too late to run away though, and there was nowhere to hide. I had seen him and he had seen me and we looked at each other guardedly. He wore a long dark overcoat and there was a strange shape near his head, but he was still too far away for me to see clearly. I decided that I should just walk past him, calmly, steadily, and hurry away as soon as I could, so I began to walk towards him and he began to move towards me. As we got closer I realised what the dark shape near his head was. A crow! There was a crow perched on his shoulder, just like mine. I was even more bewildered to see that this man had a silvery left eye, crippled hands, and a beard and long matted hair, stuck with burrs and leaves. 

We stood before each other, two wild creatures, staring, and there was a flutter of recognition in the empty space in my chest. It was like looking in a mirror.  
After what seemed like an eternity we finally came to our senses and shyly looked away from each other. The man bent to pick up a stick with his inflexible fingers and clumsily scratched into the dirt of the road his name: Tom. I took the stick from him and did the same: Sarah. After our meagre introductions we went to sit down on the grass and try to make sense of the situation, but as neither of us could speak we sat beside each other feeling self-conscious and awkward. Our two crows jumped from our shoulders and started to clown about together, and we both smiled. At least they did not seem to have the same inhibitions that we humans had. Yet, despite our silence and reserve we somehow communicated to each other, whether by expression alone or some other form of wordless magic, that we should travel together, and we got up and continued to walk, our crows seated on our shoulders once more.

It was a strange journey, the two of us unable to speak, walking in silence, but feeling companionable all the same. Eventually, we turned onto a path that led into the woods where it was darker and harder for both of us to see, yet we both felt the need to enter the shelter of the trees. 

We stopped some time before dusk and Tom cleared a small space, collected some twigs and small branches, and lit a fire with matches he had in his bag (something that I had not had the sense to bring with me when I had left home). Now that my colour vision was returning the fire looked particularly red and golden and it provided a warmth that induced a sense of calm between us. We fell asleep, close to each other to share our warmth, feeling enclosed in the midst of the darkness of the forest.
That night I dreamed a dream about Tom and how he had come to be blinded, crippled, mute and heartless like me. 

Tom’s father had been a cabinetmaker of the highest order, producing work of unrivalled quality and craftsmanship. He knew everything there was to know about timber, what was best for what use, and how to transform it from growing tree to a beautiful piece of furniture or art which would be treasured and marvelled at for many decades, even centuries, to come. He wanted, above all, for his only son to follow him into the craft, to learn the ways of wood and carry on the traditions. Yet Tom wasn’t interested. His head was full of numbers and dreams about money, rather than the smell of wood and furniture wax and the whorls of woodgrain. 

While his father earned good money for his work, he could sometimes take months to complete a piece, so his income was sporadic. Tom hated this. He wanted a life of security, a steady income, money to spend, success to revel in. He refused to look at the beauty, the artistry of his father’s work, and instead got himself a job at a bank, aiming to move up the ladder of promotion into positions with higher and higher salaries. He wanted money and a big house, an expensive car. Success. But then his father had died, and all his wood-wisdom had died with him, gone forever, and Tom realised that he felt guilty that he had not at least listened to his father, or looked closely at the wonder of his work. He had shut himself off and entered his own world of sought-after wealth, which in the end had not made him happy. That’s when the dreams had started for him. Six dreams over six nights, and he had fallen apart.
When we woke the next morning we looked at each other with new eyes, now more capable of true sight. It was clear that we had both neglected depth, coasting along in lives that we thought we wanted, but had actually led to our ruin. 

We had no need for words, for the dreams had told us everything about each other, and we were overcome by our own personal shame. How misguided we had been, how selfish and single-minded and senseless. We deserved to be blind and crippled and voiceless, and we deserved the empty hollows in our chests most of all. How had we been so indifferent to the people that we loved and the things that mattered to them? 

Yet something else began to stir within us. We looked at each other with a sense of compassion and understanding. We both had the same scars, including the long red scars on our chests indicating where our hearts should have been. We were both damaged creatures, like our crows with their injured wings, and we were both on the same journey to regain our lost lives, to rewrite our stories. 
In Tom’s silvery eye I saw myself reflected, as if he carried an image of me within him, and I could feel his image inside myself. Two freaks, two monsters, wounded by our own hollow lives, and brought together at last to make amends. We both cried and reached out to each other, disregarding our crippled hands, embracing in our shared realisation of what we lacked, what we had neglected, what we had lost …

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A Story: The Pear Tree – Part Three

This is the third instalment of my story, The Pear Tree. Please click here to read Part One, and here for Part Two.

Over the Hills and Far Away, 2006
The Pear Tree
Part Three

I didn’t know where I was going, but I tried to convince myself that I did. I walked and walked, into the hills, as far away from human habitation as possible. I wanted, above all, not to be seen. I had never been much more than plain, but now I was ugly, and I wanted to hide from inquisitive people who would point and stare and perhaps even fear me. 

I was a freak of nature, and nature was my only home now, but I didn’t yet feel welcomed. I was moving through a grey world that I didn’t recognise and could hardly see. 
The first night I slept under a hedge and woke the next morning covered in dew, my hair matted and messy with leaves and twigs. I was cold and shivering and hungry, but there was nothing I could do but get up and continue on my way. I stopped every now and then to clumsily pick some berries or leaves to eat, peering at them with my one poor eye and hoping that they were not poisonous. 
I walked each day until my legs could go no further and then I would sit and watch until the sun set, in all the shades of grey, before I curled up under my blanket, under the protective branches of a tree or against an old crumbling wall. Some days I dimly saw buildings in the distance, barns and farm houses, and I was careful not to get too close. I wanted solitude and hills and empty roads ahead of me. 
I walked many, many miles through a grey landscape, barely seen, but after about a week something strange began to take place. I started to feel giddy, lightheaded. I thought at first that it was caused by a lack of food, or just a symptom of my insanity, but it seemed to be something more than that. I started to smell things, to hear things and feel things intensely. It was as if ripening fruit was being held right under my nose, or newly cut grass, or winds from exotic lands scented with spices. I heard birdsong that was more beautiful than I had ever heard before. I was aware of the buzz of bees and other tiny insects, and the sunshine felt golden, though it just looked flat and white to me. I started to feel a certain pleasure in being alone, in walking through the world. It didn’t seem to matter that I couldn’t see it well, for I could smell it and hear it and feel it, and the berries I ate tasted sweet. I even thought that I saw a faint pinkish glow as the sun rose, as if my coloured sight was returning. 
One morning as I walked I came across a crow with an injured wing, lying on the path in front of me, half-dead, with her left wing stretched out, limp and useless, and I felt a flutter of wings in my hollow chest. I had never known what to do with animals in the past, how to approach them, and I was wary, but it was clear I could not leave her there to die. So I gingerly lifted her and cradled her in my claw-hands as I walked. She didn’t seem to be afraid of me at all, perhaps because she recognised in me a fellow damaged creature. Her body warmed my hands as she nestled down, making them feel less stiff than usual, and over the day the bird seemed to revive, becoming more alert. In the late afternoon I stopped to rest and the crow leapt from my hands and started to peck about on the ground for insects and grubs, her black jewel eyes uncannily bright in the fading light of approaching evening. I was relieved that she could at least feed herself. She slept by my side that night, staying close to my warmth, and occasionally uttering a small sound of contentment. 
The next day the crow seemed stronger, though she still couldn’t fly, and she perched on my shoulder as I travelled. I felt less alone now, happy that I had managed to find a nonhuman friend to be my companion, as I was still intent on avoiding the human world. The crow helped me to identify what berries and leaves were good to eat, and hopped about playfully on the ground, making me soundlessly laugh. And over time I began to see shadows taking shape and moving around me, which I eventually realised were animals: a hare watching me curiously, a fox skulking away, and many birds flying overhead. It was as if my crow friend made the animals less wary of my humanness, and they came closer, unafraid. 

But, even with the help of the crow, as the days passed I realised that I was becoming weaker and more exhausted, and unless I wanted to collapse and die, I would have to find help. It was as I thought this that I saw some smoke rising ahead of me, in the corner of a field. As I approached I saw a wagon, no doubt the home of some gypsy, and a dog began to bark. I was frightened, and wanted to turn back and hide, but an old woman appeared from behind the wagon who silenced the dog with a word and beckoned to me.  
“I’ve been expecting you. I’ve made some soup. Come and sit down.”
The smell of the soup which simmered over the fire was potent and my mouth watered in expectation. I had not realised how starving I was. 
“Your bird is welcome too,” she said as she looked me up and down, peering slowly at my silver eye, and then my lame hands. I had the feeling that she was looking straight through me, into the heartless hollow inside, appraising me, seeing what I was made of. Her eyes were grey and kind, but I thought they flashed green in the light of the setting sun. She was familiar, somehow.
I sat down by the fire and tried to motion with my hands to communicate that I was unable to speak, but she told me she already knew, she was expecting me after all. How? I wanted to ask, but it was as though she could read my mind. 
“I knew your grandmother. I was at the funeral. Don’t you remember? Many years ago she told me this day would come, told me to wait for you. I know you think you’ve lost your mind, but believe me, girl, you’re more sane now than you have ever been in your life.”
I looked at her again. I vaguely remembered an old woman at my gran’s funeral, someone who had kept their distance, who had been on the edge of vision. A mysterious presence who came and went and was immediately forgotten. 
The dog came and sat beside me, looking up at me with a bemused look on his face, as if he knew more than I knew, and he was probably right about that. The woman handed me a bowl full of steaming soup and a hand-carved wooden spoon, and I ate, awkwardly but greedily. The taste reminded me of Gran’s soups that she made throughout the winter months, warming and hearty—and no doubt filled with love, and I couldn’t help shedding a tear at the memory. 
When I had had my fill the woman spoke: 

“My name is Ruth. I knew your grandmother since we were girls and a wiser and wilder woman I have never known. Ah, the stories I could tell you. We used to travel together, until her path took her to one patch of land that became her own, that she could never leave, and that is good and wise, putting down roots, though I’ve never had a taste for it myself. It was when we travelled together that she met your grandfather. They had a passionate affair but he left before your mother was born, as travellers are wont to do, and she never begrudged him that. A little bit of love, if it’s the right kind, can last a lifetime. But she wanted to settle down, once she had the baby, and the cottage on the edge of town called to her, so that is where she spent the rest of her life, getting to know every inch of ground, every blade of grass there, until she could dream the garden in her sleep. 
“As for your mother, she grew up loving that garden, but she had her own life to live, once she found your father. I suppose you want to know about them too? It was a case of star-crossed love. His family didn’t approve, thought she was beneath him being the daughter of a former traveller, as everyone knew your grandmother had been, for she never hid from her past, but he loved her so much he didn’t care. That’s what made the tragedy so much harder to bear, them dying so young, broken-hearted as much for having to leave you as they were about each other. 
“So, you’re the granddaughter of an old gypsy who stopped rambling to tend a garden, and the daughter of parents who loved each other so much they couldn’t ever be apart. There’s tragedy and heartache, to be sure, but they followed their paths and lived and loved deeply, and that’s where you have gone wrong, my dear.” Ruth stopped and looked me in the eye. “Your grandmother knew this, from the time you started to become obsessed with reading, she knew. You were living a shallow life in stories rather than diving deeply into your own. She didn’t know where she had gone wrong, for she tried her best to guide you, but sometimes tragedy has a habit of setting the future in motion, for better or worse, putting kinks and bends into your path, until you take a wrong turn and there is no way back. No way back until it is time to change though, and then the lessons come thick and fast. The dreams come, as they do for all who lose their way, though many ignore them, and now you just have to keep walking until you find your way again.”
By this time the sun had set and the fire flickered warmly. I looked at Ruth and I thought that her eyes flashed amber in the firelight, but I couldn’t be sure.  
“Anyhow, it’s time you got some rest,” she said, and she led me into the wagon and onto a narrow bed. It was so soft after all my nights on the hard ground I felt like I was floating in a cloud. But though my mind was whirling with everything she had told me, I was suddenly concerned about the crow, who had settled on the ground beside the dog, as if they were old friends. I started to point out the door, anxiously, but she just smiled and said, “Your friend is safe with me.” Within minutes I was asleep …

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A Story: The Pear Tree – Part Two

This is the second instalment of my story, The Pear Tree. Please click here to read Part One.

The Pear Tree
Part Two

… I didn’t think that things could get any worse, but the next dream came swiftly, unexpectedly, to destroy the small amount of hope I had left. In this dream I was asked a question. I can’t remember what the question was, but I know it was hugely important, and when I tried to answer I couldn’t speak. No sound came out of my mouth. I tried coughing and swallowing and clearing my throat, but nothing worked. My voice was gone. 
When I woke I knew what to expect. I tried to speak, to make a sound, but silence was all there was. I had lost the use of my hands, lost my sight in one eye and only saw in monochrome with the other, and now my voice was gone too. I thought about calling work again to say that I would need to take leave, but then realised that using the phone is pointless when you can’t speak. I couldn’t even have called the doctor, and there was no way I was walking into town looking like I did.
I stayed in bed. It was too much effort to get up and get dressed with my useless hands. I couldn’t brush my hair so I had to leave it to knot as it pleased. I wasn’t hungry. I knew I deserved whatever had come to me. I had made a promise to my grandmother, the woman who had raised me from the age of five, and I had broken that promise. I had ignored all that she had to teach me, neglected to listen. Now, without a voice to speak, all I could do was listen, remain silent, crippled and half blind and alone.
I didn’t want to go to sleep that night as I was scared of what my next punishment would be, but I couldn’t stay awake. I had to accept whatever came, I knew that much, and so I dreamed of hundreds of beautiful birds, all caged, all sad and silent. Birds that could not fly and could not, or would not, sing. 

My next punishment was a loss of freedom. I was now caged in my own room, too ashamed to leave the house with my strange milky eye, damaged hands and tangled hair. I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t speak to explain myself, and I couldn’t even read a book. All the meaning that I thought had existed in my life dropped away, instantly. 
I got up the next morning and looked out of my window, over Gran’s garden, now grey and seemingly lifeless. The phone rang but I ignored it. It sounded like something far away, that didn’t exist in this world anymore, just an echo. (I wondered whether I was losing my hearing as well.) I didn’t know what to do with myself so I paced up and down my room, glancing now and then at the small pile of yet-to-read books on my bedside table, now pointless collections of pointless words. The day passed, slowly, torturously, as I dwelt on my guilt, knowing that Gran was far more disappointed in me than I had realised. The morning was grey. The afternoon was grey. The grey sun set in a grey sky and then the grey became black. I fell asleep.
The fifth dream was more disturbing than the others. In this dream a black, formless shape advanced towards me, smothering me like a thick blanket, like a cloud of acrid smoke. I couldn’t breathe. There was a tearing sound and a terrible pain and I looked down at my chest to see a gaping hole, dripping blood, with the splintered cage of my ribs exposed, and an empty space where my heart should have been. This black being had taken my beating heart right out of my chest and I felt cold, lifeless. My heart looked red, brighter than any red I had ever seen, but I was nothing but grey now, and without a sound the black figure consumed my heart, surrounded it with darkness, and was gone. 
This time I woke up in a panic into the grey light of dawn. This was bad, worse than all the rest. I scrabbled at my chest with my clawed hands, trying to rip open the buttons of my pyjamas. On my chest was a mark, a long scar, where my chest would have been opened, had my heart been removed. And it had been removed. I could feel it, a hollowness inside. My heart was gone. 

I sank back into bed and sobbed, although of course, no sound came out of my mouth. This was too much. How could I live without a heart? How could a dream do this to me? Would my kind-hearted grandmother really punish me like this?
A newly-made monster of my own creation, I lay in bed. This was all my fault. If only I had paid attention to what Gran had said about the best time to plant tomatoes, when to pick the plums, the songs the beans liked her to sing, the power of the moon. I had selfishly surrounded myself with books, an imaginary world of my own creation, when I should have spent more time loving my gran and the world outside the back door, where the bees hummed and butterflies came to visit and things blossomed and fruited and grew. And now I would never be able to redeem myself, not with disabled hands completely incapable of work, with eyes that couldn’t tell beans from peas, plums from apples, a voice unable to call chickens to me or sing the songs for fertility. Perhaps I had been blind from the start, so hard and stubborn that I would not allow the garden into my thoughts, into my heart. And now I had no heart.
I knew what the next dream would be, for in many ways it had already happened—that night I lost my mind. 

I thought with perfect clarity, at first, but when I looked down at my handless arms, through my failing eyes, and saw the scar on my chest, which felt hollow and cold inside, I started to wail, soundlessly, manically, beating at my face with my severed stumps, tossing my body from side to side. All was chaos now and not a clear thought was in my head. I wanted to beat myself senseless, cover myself with bruises, scream silently until all my breath left my body. 
I woke well before dawn and I knew what I had to do. Something crazy, senseless, for I was no longer sane, and I couldn’t stay here, a prisoner in my own home. Eventually someone would come to find me, the librarian I worked with, a neighbour, and they would see me in this state and I couldn’t have that. If my gran was a witch I was now worse than that. I was a monstrosity, torn apart by guilt and nightmares.
I got up and packed a bag, with difficulty, with whatever food I could find and a thin blanket. I knew I didn’t want to attract attention to myself, so I slowly and awkwardly put on some of my gran’s old clothes, things that would make me look more like an old homeless woman than a young girl-freak. Old fuzzy grey woollen stockings, a greenish skirt and a worn brown jumper that gran had knitted in the evenings of one winter long ago (although they both looked grey to me), and Gran’s old boots, scuffed and worn, which fitted me perfectly. With my knotted hair I certainly looked the part. I would leave town and stick to the backroads and sleep under hedges. I couldn’t stay in this house, insane with remorse. I had to leave the neglected garden behind. I had to leave behind my storybooks and start to live my own story.
So I did the hardest thing I had ever done. I stepped outside the front door with a bag on my back. I broke away from the imprisonment that had been bestowed upon me by my dream of caged birds, and shadowy birds swooped in the grey morning light as I hurried away from the town, along the backstreets and into the countryside before anyone woke and saw me. I was far from free though. I was cursed, cursed to spend the rest of my days alone, a freakish vagrant, living on berries and wild mushrooms, and only seeing in black and white. 

*

Monday, 8 August 2016

A Story: The Pear Tree – Part One

Is a story really a story if it isn’t read or told? Is it really alive if it is not shared?

I had to think long and hard about whether to make this story public. Initially I was excited about the idea … but, as often happens, I started to have doubts. I thought that perhaps it was too flawed, too immature. My writing has improved greatly since I wrote it over two years ago. Yet, it embodies many of the themes that are still important to me, and that continue to emerge in my work—gardens, growing things, healing; and it was my first long story, at around 8000 words—a very significant achievement at the time. I remember writing the last line and feeling absolutely elated. 

For all its imperfections, the many things that I would probably write differently now, I am still proud of it. It shows part of my development as a writer. So I decided, in the end, that it was worth sharing, so the story can live, as stories so often want to do. 

The Pear Tree is about a broken promise, a journey in search of healing and redemption, and finding—in fact, creating—a meaningful life (which is your very own story). And though I did not set out to write a love story, it became that too. 

Due to its significant length, I am going to post it in sections over the next five days, which should make it more manageable (and less overwhelming) to read. 

Enjoy!
(Wikipedia Commons)
The Pear Tree
Part One

It started with dreams. More like nightmares really. There were six in all, six nights in a row, in the week when I fell apart, piece by piece. 
In the first dream I lost my hands. My wrists were tied with rope and I was led towards a chopping block on which my hands were held down. A big man, wearing a black mask like a medieval executioner, and holding a huge axe, then chopped them off, the axe swinging down and slicing with a thud. I remember screaming as the hot blood spurted from my severed stumps. But when I woke in the morning it was already half forgotten. The early sun was shining through my window, the birds were singing, the world was waking, and the dream had flown. 
I got up and dressed, ate a hasty breakfast of toast with butter and strawberry jam, and caught the bus to the library on the other side of town where I worked as a librarian’s assistant. It was a day like any other, so it wasn’t until my fingers started to ache that the events of the dream flashed back into my mind. My hands started to feel cold, cramped, unmovable, and I became more and more clumsy as the day wore on, dropping books, struggling to place them back on the shelf. By the time I arrived home that evening my hands resembled claws, my fingers curled and awkward. I fumbled through making dinner, and took about half an hour to undo the buttons on my blouse, and another half an hour to put my pyjamas on. The half-remembered dream about losing my hands seemed like a cruel coincidence, but nothing more than that. I hoped my hands would return to normal by morning and I went to bed.
The second dream was more vivid than the first. I was on a dark hillside with a storm swirling around me. Thunder rumbled above and wind buffeted me. I felt terribly exposed on that hill, and I noticed with horror that my handless arms were still bleeding, dripping blood onto the dark and wet grass. Then there was a sudden flash of lightning, and the immediate alteration from darkness to bright white light blinded me with glare. I rubbed my eyes with my bloody stumps, expecting my eyes to recover from the shock, but all I saw was blackness.  
When I woke the next morning and slowly opened my eyes my sight seemed dim, blurred, and there was a pain behind my left eye. I got out of bed, noticing with irritation that my claw-like hands had not improved, and I walked over to the mirror. I was aghast at what I saw. My left eye was silvery, clouded over, and I realised with panic that it was completely blind. My right eye looked normal, yet everything I saw with it seemed drained of colour, like I was in a black and white film. I ran to the window and looked out over the garden. All the green was grey. Everything was grey. I staggered back to the bed and sat down. I was shaking and felt sick to my stomach. This could not be a simple coincidence. 
I called in sick to work once I had calmed myself and worked out how to grip the telephone and press the necessary buttons with my ineffective fingers. I had turned into a freak overnight, so I couldn’t face going to the library, or even leaving the house. 
I couldn’t help thinking that this was some kind of punishment. You see, I inherited this house, a small cottage on the edge of town, from my grandmother who had raised me after my parents died when I was just five. My mother had cancer and was dead within three months, and my father followed two weeks later, from a broken heart, Gran said. I was sceptical about whether it was actually possible to die from a broken heart, but Gran was always adamant that that was the way it happened, and I liked the fact that it sounded like the kind of thing that happened in fairytales. I liked fairytales. In fact, I liked stories of any kind. I was obsessed with books from the time I could read. And perhaps that was the reason for my punishment now. 

My grandmother was old-fashioned, self-sufficient, growing a garden full of vegetables—potatoes, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, kale—and a number of fruit trees from which she made exquisite jams. She also kept seven brown hens for their rich, golden-yolked eggs. Her garden constantly produced abundantly, as if it loved her and always wanted to please, and the hens always clucked around her ankles. She talked to the beans, hummed to the peach tree, caressed the hens, and liked to chant spells over the compost heap. Naturally, she had a reputation about town as being a complete loony, or a witch, but that never really bothered me, after all, I kept to myself. My gran was my mother and my father and my friend. She took care of me, fed me with love, and always provided for my needs. 
However, her great disappointment was that I never took much interest in her plants. She tried to teach me about gardening, about how to sow seeds, how to tend them, and when to harvest, but I never really paid attention. Of course, I appreciated the food that she created from her home-grown harvests, and I always had a healthy appetite, for omelettes and colourful salads and peach cobbler with thick cream, but I was never drawn to the world of growing things. I was drawn to the leaves of books rather than to the leaves of trees. 

I preferred to spend my time in my room with my head buried in a novel than outside in the garden. It wasn’t that Gran disapproved of books or reading. In fact, she had her own collection of books on an old shelf in the sitting room (and I had read them all by the time I was ten), but she believed the world outside was important too. She believed in relationships, in love—real love that consists of actions and devotion, not just storybook words. She always said, Books can teach you a lot, but they’re no comparison for dirt under your fingernails

She tried and tried to encourage my curiosity in the garden when I was young, but I rebelled against dirt and worms and pecking chickens, and once I reached my teen years she gave up. I was lost to the world of books and she could no longer reach me. 
When I was nineteen I was offered a job at the local library and obviously I was thrilled. I could spend all my days surrounded by books, by stories and knowledge. My life felt complete. But while Gran was happy for me I could see a faint look of disappointment in her eyes. 

One day, after I had been working steadily at the library for four years, she called me outside and told me that when she was gone it would be my responsibility to take care of the garden, to water the plants, pull out the weeds, feed the chickens and sing to the trees. She said that she didn’t want me to just throw my life away on other people’s stories when I should be creating my own, when I should be loving the world instead of just loving books. She was still in good health so I had no reason to think she would die any time soon. I promised, rather absentmindedly, that I would look after the garden and the chickens and that she didn’t have to fret about a thing. I thought I would worry about all that later, when I was older. Much older. 
Then Gran passed away in her sleep, without warning, only two weeks after that conversation, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by all the work. I had no idea what to do. I had never understood the love that Gran felt for the growing things, never understood her dedication, her seasonal rituals. I didn’t know how to build up the compost heap, when to harvest the kale, and I was terrified that I would forget to feed the chickens and they would starve to death, so I gave them away. I neglected the garden and it started to run wild with weeds, full of dead flower heads and fruit gone to waste, rotting in sickly sweet piles under the trees. 

I felt dreadfully guilty that I hadn’t fulfilled Gran’s wishes, but I was out of my depth. All I knew about was books and the library, all I knew about was living in stories, and so that is why these afflictions, my crippled hands and blinded eye, seemed like punishments. I hadn’t bothered to put my hands into the earth, so now I couldn’t even hold a book, let alone turn the pages. I hadn’t bothered to see the beauty of the garden, the beauty of life and living things, so now I could hardly see, let alone see the words on a page. I hadn’t done what my gran wanted, and now I was paying the price. 

I started to think that perhaps she really was a witch and that she had come back to curse me, a full year after her death …

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Imbolc and the New Year

I’ve always been something of a contrarian—that is, if everyone else is doing something, I generally don’t want to have anything to do with it (see my poem ‘Wedding,’ for instance). Perhaps that explains why I feel conflicted about New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

Speaking about the New Year at the beginning of August may sound a bit peculiar, but allow me to explain.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about belonging, due to my European ancestry (as well as my related interests in certain cultures, aesthetics, landscapes and folklore), I sometimes feel as if I have a northern soul residing inside my southern body. Though I live in Australia, it is the seasonal symbolism and traditions of the northern hemisphere that make the most sense to me. The problem with this is that if you simply overlay the northern (Western) calendar onto the southern one, everything ends up topsy-turvy: Christmas/Yule and the New Year (winter festivals) fall in summer, Easter and Beltane (spring festivals) take place in autumn, and Samhain (an autumn festival) ends up taking place in spring. Thus, the meaning and symbolism is turned upside down. 

Though I cannot escape all mention of the New Year in December–January, and changing to a new calendar is still something of an occasion, I do try to ignore it as much as possible. All the summertime festivities and fireworks seem brash to me, not in keeping with what is required. And people often joke about how they make resolutions, only to break them within days or weeks. I’ve never seen the point. What’s more, I am not one for big parties or crowds, and I dislike fireworks. (I remember my first experience of them was when I was about three, and I found them frightening, too loud, as most small children would, I suppose. I’ve never liked them much since. For all their colour, they are, after all, explosions!)

For me, the dark, introspective period of winter, with its gradual passage into spring, is far more suited to reflection on the year that has been, and transitioning into the new life of the next. That’s why I feel like my New Year (or a new beginning, at least), should happen now.

It has become important to me to pay attention to the seasons, in order to ground myself in the place where I live, and to come up with my own way of marking important points in the year’s turning, so I have reversed the northern wheel of the year so that it makes sense here. This has been partly inspired by reading Jane Meredith’s book, Circle of Eight: Creating Magic for Your Place on Earth (2015), and learning about her own frustration with books about pagan festivals and the like, which are so often written from a purely northern point of view, failing to address the fact that things are different ‘down here’ (and different again in the equatorial and polar zones).


Hence, today I am marking Imbolc—pronounced i-molg—a Celtic celebration of renewal, fertility and the coming of spring. The word is said to mean ‘in the womb/belly,’ in reference to the ewes who would be pregnant at this time of year; though also, I think, referring to the earth herself, who is clearly full of imminent life about to burst forth. 

Most sources say that it is celebrated around 1st February in the north, so the corresponding date in the south is 1st August. However, the Celts didn’t have a calendar as we do, and their concept of time was more elastic. Though the solstices and equinoxes, as astronomical events, occur on definite, though slightly differing, days each year, the dates of the cross-quarter festivals are less certain. Some suggest that calculating the exact middle day between the solstice and the equinox would be how the day was decided upon; but it’s also possible that the Celts, as venerators of the lunar cycle, would have marked such celebrations at the new moon closest to that middle day. 

That is why I am marking my own personal version of Imbolc today, to coincide with the dark moon.

Though at the same time, Imbolc, for me, is not a single day, but a longer period of time, perhaps several weeks—and also a feeling

The days are getting imperceptibly longer, and the sun is arcing ever so slightly higher in the sky, and that means spring is on the way. Though it is still cold—we’ve been haunted by fitful winter winds, and now rain and gloom—and it will be some time before the full seasonal transition takes place, I can feel it coming. The air will soon begin to take on a different quality. It will have a smell. Whether this fragrance is related to the increasing warmth or sunshine, yet to come green shoots or blossoms, I don’t know, but it will be noticeable, and welcomed. It is the heady perfume of spring.

Spring has always had a powerful impact on my mood, and often an energising effect too, and I have begun to notice this over the past week or so. I feel tingling with possibility. For, after writing last week’s post, which came about specifically because I had been unable to write, I did feel enlivened. My creative wellspring began to flow a little more, and I wrote another piece I needed to get done, and completed a short story that I had started a few weeks before that. Then, as the idea of Imbolc began to seep into my consciousness, I was inspired to start work on this post. Who knows what will come next!

It seems fitting, therefore, that my New Year begins now, with the upward swing of the wheel after the lowest point of the winter solstice; with the gradual waxing of the moon after its dark phase; and with creativity growing in me, just as it grows in the earth. 

It seems there is indeed something in the belly.
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