By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Not the smoke and ashes kind of fire but the seasonal one, I’m here on the deck in my rocking chair looking out over the forest. Summer melted away without my knowing and here we are in the Fall, which is so breathtakingly beautiful sitting here looking out over the surrounding forest. The leaves are all the colours of a fire from deep red to palest lemon mixed with a dash of bronze.
“Dad, here is a blanket.” Sheena smiled and wrapped me up as if I was something precious.
“Thank you, love. How are you?”
Creak, creak went the chair as it moved back and forth and I was thinking. Life seemed so unfair, I have been in a medical coma for weeks on the COVID-19 ward and I recovered. Yes, I am weak, but still here while my darling daughter tended me with a smile on her face, but I knew this coronavirus devastated her. Her beloved husband, Frank, did not pull through. They are young and I am old, so why me here, not Frank? The only thing I can think is the good die young and he was one of the best, a paramedic with a heart of gold and a husband worth his weight in gold.
Creak, creak, the chair went as my thoughts twirled and danced like the leaves swirling and settling on my blanket and the surrounding deck. They were like tongues of fire but not the same as those which fell on the Apostles, leaving them enlightened and silver-tongued. Has it changed me? I cannot fathom why I have been spared. Does there need to be a reason? I am an old widower, a carpenter, of what use am I? Hastily I pulled back from these maudlin thoughts. Instead, I thought of my family, of my beloved wife Amelia, who had suffered so bravely and died of breast cancer three years ago. Of my son, far away teaching in Thailand. Now we go on zoom every week. Sheena spoke to him during those hellish weeks when both her husband and father were ill. He helped her from afar as she sobbed and railed at life. I wonder if she wishes it had been me in the grave and her husband restored? I wish it were so, but we both have to live with this situation. I, with survivor's guilt, her with the guilt of wishing her father dead instead of her husband. It does not matter what I say to her, I cannot take away that guilt.
Creak, creak, the chair went as the glimmer of a plan entered my thoughts. Sheena had found out the names of all the staff who had looked after Frank and me. She sent each person a thank you card. I decided to put my carpentry skills to use, to thank them practically. I would make each person a memory box. In my weakened state, I sat in the chair and designed the boxes in my head. I wanted them to be unique made from as many woods as possible. Each caregiver would have their name on the lid, along with an engraving of the leaf of the relevant tree. All this thinking was taxing me, I nodded off.
“Dad, would you like a cup of coffee?”
I looked at her blearily. “Yes, please, but only if you come and sit beside me.”
Creak creak, the chair matched my thoughts. They felt rusty as if my brain had to make a great effort to think. Some people said they experienced nothing during the medical coma. I did not, but it was a strange time. I was here in the forest, only this time it was silent, no wind, no bird calls, just colours. I lived through all the seasons by looking around at the trees without being aware of time. I loved their ever-changing appearance. Many people say they don’t like the trees in Winter, but I think they look like complicated lace. You can appreciate their structural forms and the way they responded to different environmental stresses. There are some which are twisted and gnarled, looking like old hags off to a convention around the cauldron. I am sure if you look hard, you can see their faces and their eager anticipation of taking part in some nefarious activity. Others, like the Beeches, are stately, their graceful branches dipping down, reminiscent of Flamenco dancers kicking their frilled skirts high as their feet tap out a staccato rhythm. Standing next to them are the tall, almost supercilious Oaks. Their branches are orderly and put me in mind of an uptight businessman with a bowler hat, making his way to the office. I wonder if I look closely, I might make out a newspaper, The Times or The Economist, of course, tucked under their wooden arms. Winter does not have the same riot of colours as the other seasons, but there is colour, it is subtle, grey greens of Lichens, deep green moss creeping up the tree trunks. The assortment of browns are hard to describe, but an artist with a paintbrush would have to charge their brush with every stroke using variations of browns. Providing contrast to all this are the evergreen Hollies.
Creak, creak the chair goes and Sheena sits on the lounger stretching her long legs out, providing a refuge for the cat who had no time for me. We sat in companionable silence, watching the leaf ballet. Some floated down with a gentle rocking motion. Must be the corps de ballet. The principal dancers performed more complex routines, jetes, pirouettes, and I think I even saw a few arabesques.
“You know, Dad sitting here brings back so many memories of when we were kids.”
Creak, creak went the chair. I nodded and thought of the time Amelia and I took the kids to the beach. I can still see Sheena as she ran down the dunes onto the sand. She squealed with delight as the foamy waves washed over her feet and she sank a little into the sand.
“Do you remember when we first took you to the beach?”
She shook her head. “Dad, I might have been too young to remember, but I do remember my first riding lesson.”
Creak, creak, I rocked the chair and journeyed down memory lane.
“Yes,” I replied, “you were a natural rider and so proud of your first ride. Now, look at you, your own horses and stables.”
She smiled, the first I had seen for days. Then she gathered up the mugs and went back inside, leaving me to my thoughts again.
Creak, creak went the chair and my thoughts went to my fanciful notions of the forest. I was sure among the tree world, there were traditional families. Frequently I had seen a Beech stretching lovingly towards the strong, dependable Oak. I wondered, were they like a married couple? Then there were the rebels, an Oak married to a Holly and yes I was sure there were other variations, strong spreading Chestnuts marrying into either an Oak or a Beech family. I was also sure I had seen groups of fine young Oaks out together. Were they a gang up to no good? Or maybe they were a group of same-sex individuals ostracised by their censorious families.
“Dad, Don’t get cold sitting out there. I’ll get some veggies on and then you need to come in. The last thing we need is for you to catch a cold.”
That sounded just like her Mother talking. I knew my girl could come through this vale of despair and emerge stronger than before.
Creak, creak the chair confirmed my thoughts and made me think of a new beginning, spring in the forest. In years gone by as Winter drew to a close, I looked carefully at the hawthorns and others. It isn’t easy to define, but they have an incipient green tinge about them. Days later, the buds are visible. Then everyone knows spring would come again. I loved to watch the competitions amongst the trees to see who could don their green growth first. This race infected all the vegetation in the forest. The plant leaves finally pushed through the cold earth. Hidden in sheltered hollows, I used to find snowdrops with their strong green leaves, stamping their authority on the hardly warmed soil. Amongst them, in contrast, I found the delicate wood anemone. If I peered closer, there were others woken from their winter sleep and just as eager to experience the kiss of the Spring sunshine.
“Dad, its time to come in now, you can come out again tomorrow.”
I nearly said, “Yes, Amelia, I’m coming” just in time I changed it to Sheena.
We are on a new trajectory now. I wonder where it goes?