Larches in the haloed house

 

The sky is not falling, but it is a cathedral roof over my head, brushed in to being — a perfect blue. I’m sitting on a vast sandstone rock, spattered with lichen. Around me slump ancient hills, below comes the sound of the steady flow of the water exiting the Fishponds. The sound lingers at the edge of something else familiar that eludes me for a second. Then it reveals itself as the sound of wind passing through pine needles in a silent woodland, 10,000 miles and 20 years away.

 

There in the woods of Hölles, crouched a middle aged man and his son in the fading spring light. Between bracken and birch, at the edge of a hidden meadow they waited, as the shadows stretched and the light washed out like watercolour paints from a brush. Occasional flurries of warm wind hissed in the pines ahead, interspersed by the distant Sousa beat of a foraging woodpecker.

They waited and watched, and did not speak. Eventually, as the last gasp of the day became evensong, they were rewarded by the doe and her two dainty quivering fawns which materialised from nowhere, the way the first flakes of snowfall seem to manifest from the air, or the sudden hush in the din of cicadas, as though by some psychic cue on an oppressive summer evening.

They sat and watched the little family pick its way delicately across the Jackson Pollock carpet of flowers at their feet. When they left it was some time before they felt the need to speak. Sometimes words only make things less.

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Twenty years later the man and his son are drinking in a beer garden, not very far from where they once stood, watching as people make their way into the little sauna and spa that claims healing powers for the old and infirm.

“I suppose it’s too late for that as far as my case is concerned,” says the old man, and there nothing much the son feels he can say in response. Sometimes words make things less.

They sit, and drank their drinks, and say little, but they both glance up the little hill, at the beckoning woods, that sung gently to themselves, their song of sunlight, rain and limestone earth. And when the drinks are finished the son settled the farther back into his wheelchair, and notes the slowly spreading bloodstain on the left stump, but says nothing.

And he releases the brake and begins to push the old man up the little rise, to the entrance to those singing trees. And he feels the tiny rumble of the chair on the gravel footpath, and the rhythmic thump as the chair crosses the expansion joins, and he thinks to himself; If I am ever rich, I will make sure the footpaths are all as smooth as glass for the old ones, so that no one should ever feel that discomfort when so much is already discomfort. He steers the wheelchair as best he can, and wonders how he never noticed the roughness of concrete like this before.

They stop at the edge of the woods and listen to the hiss of the wind through the pine needles, broken once by the distant shout from a child in the village behind them. 

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“Lärchen – a Larch tree,” the old man says gesturing. And at that moment the little squirrel slithers down the neighbouring fir tree like a drop of quicksilver, glares at our temerity and then with a chuckle makes it’s way up to a branch and starts crunching the tiny hard cones there. The man and his son watch, and for a moment there is nothing but the woods and the squirrel – as though the hospital and surgeries, the coughing and painkillers are a bittersweet dream fading in the morning. The world fades away until the squirrel disappears as quickly as it came.

“Yes a Larch tree – the only conifer that drops its needles in Herbst…autumn,” the old man continues. “Not like the Fichte – the fir trees- that keep their leaves all the year.”

“Well, I suppose they don’t keep their leaves, they just drop them one by one, rather than all at once,” the son replies.

“That’s true, that’s true…” the old man concedes, and he glances down and sees the stained bandage. “I guess we’d better let them know about this bleeding again.”

And as the son releases the brake on the wheelchair and begins the steady rumbling walk back down the little hill, the son looks at his father’s thinning grey hair and wonders whether it looks more like the needles of a larch, or a fir tree.

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