Monday, 24 April 2017
The Solace Of The Trees
We prefer the winter months; the bleakness; the despair, it’s as if God bleached the colour from the world.
The family has lived by the railway tracks for forty years now and rather than see it as a distraction we have learned to incorporate it into our lives and the trains are now part of the weft of our routine. There is something precise and methodical about living by a railway line; the cold precision of the wheels on the tracks, it has an almost soporific effect, it seems to heighten the feelings of helplessness and alienation that we have grown to love.
On the other side of the tracks stands a wood, bereft of leaves and colour this time of year. I have often found that Silver Birches and Beech trees become ghosts in the winter, their wraith-like appearance frozen in fear or sorrow. I have taken many walks through the woods and have found answers to a great many questions whilst staring at their emancipated forms.
Further on is the older part of the wood; here the trees are ancient, tall and majestic; proud in their suffering, limbs contorted. Some are several hundred years old and have seen much of the world pass by them. Fashions come and go, world wars and births, trauma’s and oh, so many deaths.
People come to pay homage to these sentinels, seek out the solace of the trees. Some have travelled many miles for the answer to that final question and they never leave disappointed. And we have been appointed guardians; pickers of those strange fruit that hang so tantalisingly just out of reach.
We did not seek such an honour, we are far too humble to presume so much, it was bestowed upon my Grandfather on his first walk through the woods as a child. Our family moved here for solace and to find meaning in a world filled with mediocrity, and the world delivered; starting with my Grandfather, it gave us a purpose.
What a sight met his eyes that evening, I can not begin to wonder. I, like my father before me, have grown up humble to the ecstasy. We see no pain or fear in death, just relief; the release that only the acceptance of the end can give.
But for my Grandfathers twelve year self it was awe that captivated him and held him in its sway as the wind gently moved the young lady’s body. There were no signs of force, no mutilation to her fragile beauty, just a pair of well worn steps resting on the trunk (well worn even then; we have since replaced the steps twice, once in my lifetime). My Grandfather still talks of that time, of her timelessness, china-doll innocence –something that he has never seen the likeness of since (and in my more sanguine moments, I wonder whether my Grandmothers countenance bore similarities.)
How long he was captivated by her I will never know, time stands still for the dead, and it was then that he understood why he had been brought to her. It was not solely to hold vigil but to treat her with the reverence she deserved.
Carefully he cut her down; inch by inch, lowered her on to the leafy eiderdown beneath her. He took the rope from around her neck like she was a lost sister and there was not a mark on her body save for the ligature abrasions. He then ran to the house and returned with a single shovel. Her body was surprisingly light and he carried her yet deeper still. How did he know to start digging? I can only say that from my own experience it felt right. One just knows; when one is in tune with the world then one knows the feelings. One just knows.
He made the hole deep, at least six feet, and it took hours but he took consummate pride in everything he did, ensuring that she was correctly and comfortably laid out –why, she could surely have been sleeping. When the hole had been filled there was no marker left; leaves and loam were carefully laid over the site and there was no way for anyone else to tell who slept there. But he knew, and we know – just as we know that we were not the first to have such a responsibility; just as we will not be the last. It is an honour that is handed down generation to generation.
You may think then it heartless to deny people the chance of finding their loved ones –their son or daughter; husband or wife. But tell me this: had the person wished to be found then would they have chosen such a final resting place? Why would anyone come here to die if they wished to be found or rescued? They come here to die; for final reconciliation, almost as if they were aware that they would be looked after –sometimes to a greater degree after death than they ever were in life.
We do not advertise what we do –I doubt very much that anyone would understand our compunction to do right. Yet how is it that many of these poor souls have left money or gifts for our services? It is true that we seek no payment for what we do and have never thought to rob the dead –for that would be repugnant- but we have found on many victims two bronze pennies in the left hand and two silver pennies in their right. For the bronze pennies it was easy to ascertain the meaning, but why would there be two silver pennies; so tightly held on to, if not as a sign of respect and an understanding of what we endure.
It is a blessing to receive such gifts, we treasure the crossing of each person and we hold all of them in our hearts and minds for they chose us.
I will teach you the ways so that you may understand and revere their passing too, my son. And when it is my time to come I trust that you honour my request and lay me amongst those who will be waiting for me on the other side.