The forest had been on the horizon for some time. It wasn’t always visible but it was always there. If she looked at her feet, and concentrated on each step, the present could momentarily mask the future, but it could not stop it, could not slow it. The forest was coming and there was nothing she could do.
Along the path there are distractions. Tall grasses grow at the edges and she runs her fingers through them, soothed by the softness of their seed heads and the sea like lullaby of their wind song. Butterflies, wings of silken paper, flit to and fro iridescent in the sunlight, carrying her eyes, and her thoughts, away to the blue beyond. But such moments are temporary. A leaf blown across her path, a root to trip her underfoot, are all it takes to remind her to look up. There it is, the forest, waiting.
After months of walking, the forest is so close that she feels that she might touch it. But whenever she stretches out it slips away, just beyond her grasp. Now, when she wakes, her first thought is ‘This will be the day that I reach it’. Every night she sleeps, relieved not to have arrived, but uneasy in the knowledge that the time must be nearer, that the delay cannot continue.
And then, suddenly, she is amongst the trees. The forest’s arrival was not announced. Even though she had been walking towards it for so long, it is still a shock when it comes. ‘So,’ she thinks, ‘this is what the forest is really like. This is not what I had expected’.
At first the forest does not seem too bad. If she tries, it is almost as though it is not there. The path continues on. She puts one foot in front of the other and barely looks at the trees. But she can only move forward in this way for so long before a tree creeps up on her. She swears they can move. They block the way when her attention is elsewhere. Sometimes the branches are so dense that the path gets lost entirely and she thinks that she will never find it again. But somehow, always, it comes back.
Occasionally, there are clearings. Wide open tree-less spaces. Some are so big that she begins to believe that the forest has ended. ‘That was quicker than I imagined it would be’ she says to herself. But then the trees close in again.
In these moments the path is her guide. Even when it can only just be seen, a pale sliver of substance in the never-ending green, it is a reminder that others have passed this way before, that there is a way out, that the forest will end. Some nights she sees lights moving in the trees ahead and is comforted. Looking back, the chain of lights continues behind her, a swarm of infinite fireflies in the darkness. She draws strength from how far she has come, though there is far to go. She hopes that the light that she carries can be seen by those behind her on the path. That for someone it is a beacon.
For all its darkness, there is also beauty in the forest. Amongst the trees there are deep pools full of memory. Images swim in the oil-slick viscosity of their surface, forming and reforming, a kaleidoscope of happiness. Unseen in the boughs above, the birds call to each other with familiar voices, the still air ringing with echoes of past laughter. There is recollection, recognition and acceptance everywhere.
Slowly, the trees begin to thin. At first she thinks that she must be imagining it, but no, the daylight is getting stronger, the shadows are shrinking. One day, the plain lies open before her. The forest fades as quickly and unheralded as it came. She is surprised to find that she does not want to leave. She is afraid that she will forget. She takes an acorn from the ground. There is a loop in its stem through which a string can be tied. She will carry it with her, wear it around her neck, so that she will always be reminded.
Many days pass. One morning she wakes and, without thinking, puts the acorn in her pocket instead. She carries it this way for some time. At first she holds it in her hand, relishing the smoothness in her palm. Gradually, her grip loosens. It is enough to know that it is there.
One day her fingers reach for the acorn and it is gone. Her heart is stabbed with pain at her carelessness, her neglect. How much time has passed since she last thought of it? She does not know. Panicked, she searches through the possessions that she carries. She finds the acorn, wrapped carefully in a cloth at the bottom of her pack. She has no memory of placing it there. She returns the parcel to its place and walks on.
Someday, not now, but soon, she will plant the acorn. It will grow and its acorns will fall. Birds will rest in its branches, bringing with them the seeds of other trees. A new forest will grow. Others will walk through it, long after her light has faded from the trail.
A bit of a departure from my usual, this post is a piece of writing that came to me as I tried to sleep, and was scribbled in my notebook by the light of my mobile phone in a Travelodge bathroom. The photographs were taken during the two weeks before the words came. My eye, my hand and my subconscious were obviously in collusion.