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April 6, 2018

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Hand tree

April 6, 2018

I approach down muddy paths; the black March mud holds loose footprints having frozen and thawed and frozen and thawed all winter.  The path shows pregnant in patches where boots have avoided deep puddles and worn new routes up the edges of the banks.  Shoots – alexanders, nettles and lacey-edged cow parsley – line the walkers route and in places the earliest signs of bluebells can be seen breaking the ground.

The hand tree waits at the edge of the field; part of an old boundary.  Did I say waits? The hand tree does not wait for me.  The hand tree lives her life here.  As I draw closer, I find it is me that is waiting to be with her and as I wind up the bank, slipping between holly and hawthorn, I touch my hand to my heart in greeting as we meet again.

The hand tree is pollarded; maimed years ago for men to show ownership of the land. Farmer or landowner took saw to her limbs and made her a temporary cripple.  It was customary and showed the extent of their land.  She, along with others on the same boundary line, stretched new limbs from the stump; first a puff of sticks and leaves and now five strong brown branches, reaching up and out from a flattish base: the hand tree.

I touch the bark, fissured and knarled, feeling for the particular ridge that I use to hoist my body off the ground.  Bringing up my right leg I use the healing stump of a broken off branch as a foot hold and from this raised position haul my body onto the palm of the tree.  Un-flat, un-comfortable – and yet stress immediately leaves my body as I shift and fidget to settle my contours to the contours of her rising branches.  I sink back; the fingers grow up around me.  I am held and feel invisible to the rest of the world.

Stretching my gaze out to the edge of my vision: in the distance the far field boundary frames a furrowed field; the tired, over-used earth still baring the stubbly traces of last year’s crop.  Barren.  No sign of early spring here.  The field, stripped of native plants, awaited the hand of man to bring green to it.  Along the edges, though, grass point greenly to the grey sky and more lacey leaves emerge.  Grey-brown of the winter hedgerow all around the edge and in one place, a farmhouse, smoke curling greyly from its chimney to the grey sky.

I stop.  This is it.  I stop moving.  I stop waiting.  I listen to the tree:  I start being.

Time passes and the world carries on. 

Rooks – cawing and calling to each other. 

A robin.

Gulls making their arcs in the sky.

No rich depth of nature in this manipulated landscape but sparks of treasure nonetheless. 

The rabbits bob out to taste the wet grass.

Voices in the distance – two dog walkers coming near.  I merge with the tree, making my invisibility complete – even the dogs don’t sense me as they pass with their humans.  Last night’s TV, school reports, varieties of dog food, not looking up, they dodge the puddles and call their dogs to them as their voices fade into the distance.

Sit Spots are unpredictable.  They don’t have the shape of a narrative with the introduction of characters, plot, or development.  I tune out of my thoughts and open my senses to the passing world: the wind on my face, ruffling my hair; the hard oak against my spine and buttocks; the movement of a dried up brown leaf – leftover by the autumn winds and dancing its victory dance in the breeze.  I notice the quiet – the rooks have settled – I try not to wait for something more.  In squirrel mode I follow the branches from their fat base to the spindliest twig.  I imagine a route and slither from one branch to another and onto an adjoining tree.  A squirrel comes and does it for real: using the invisible highway that only squirrels know.  I give myself to the breathing of the tree, slow and without expectation.  The time passes, and I am unhurried.  I slide onto my belly and slip back down the tree, hugging her as I do so.  As I return, back along the path, away from the boundary of oaks I feel the deep breaths of the hand tree in my body.



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