The trees

A path – a track – branches from the road and wends up towards the cliff. Curious, I quit the road and follow it.

It’s little more than a worn groove of shorter grass, at times splitting into three or four parallel grooves as the skin of turf wrinkles over the scree. At times the turf parts, and I mount little staircases of tumbled rock, mortared with brown earth.

As the road falls below, I see the length of it spread out, skirting the slope in lazy meanders. It’s largely dry now, and it once more catches the light as two pale stripes, like a line drawn two-fingered in the sand.

The little path leads me to a bay in the cliffs, sweetly sheltered from the wind, which is incessant at this height. I stand for a moment, savouring the still air, before I notice the shape of the rock.

It’s formed of columns like organ pipes, sharp-edged and interlocking, and in sheltered patches where the lichen hasn’t formed, rusty black. In places it is broken down, making shelves and steps of beguiling neatness, as if shaped by a mason’s hand.

And another moment – several moments – before I see what really stands before me, surrounded by columns which break from their pattern, twisting and roiling like flames around a cluster of more massive shapes. Columns too, but broader, smoother, patterned with grain and crowned with the jagged ends of broken branches.

They are trees. They were trees, before some long-gone day of fire and fury and falling skies engulfed them with lava and buried them in cooling stone. I can’t grasp the abyss of time that lies between my life and theirs, and allowed their resting place to rise, inch by slow, slow inch, so far above the sea.

I stand there for a long time, resting my hands on the stony bark and thinking of fire and fury, of death and life and bottomless wells of time, but I can’t make sense of any of it. This isn’t a place of fire, nor of death. It’s a place of clear skies, quiet rock, gentle shelter.

It’s over my head. I take a last look at the trees of stone, then start back down the track to the road, happy for things within my grasp: the grass under my feet, the sun on my head. But I’m happy, too, for things that are beyond me. Sometimes it’s good to be small.

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