Saturday, March 12, 2016

Pillars

There is an old man who lives by the river, between the two largest trees in the forest that stand like green pillars to his home. He will sing soft and low, but few can hear him and even fewer can find him. His voice sounds like the vibrating of the crickets in the underbrush, the throb of the cicadas, the soft shrill voices of the birds overhead, but it is not quite their voices; it is a chorus, and he leads them.  He sings a glorious song that our ears are to filthy for and he cannot be found by those who do not know him for who he truly is. To understand is one thing; to truly know is much harder and this old man is difficult to understand.
When the sun has risen he will rise too and walk with the flying birds as they flee to the sky. He carries a basket at his hip and a staff in the other, and on his hat a mouse sits and sleeps. He will reach the river and he will listen deeply to it for hours to find out what it has seen in its wandering path; he will listen to the soft splash on the shore, the trailing branches and the deep water, but only he can understand them. Then he will drink from it, long and deeply. He will climb into the tallest tree into the forest; he will listen to the wind and hear what it has to teach from ages hence in its wandering. He will watch the billowing clouds drift slowly overhead, he will watch the trees dance in the wind, but only he understand what they say. He will gather the wind in his basket and swallow it. In the evening he will gather the wounded in the woods, the sick animals and plants, and heal them one by one. He will teach them with kinds words and speak dreams in their ears as they drift to sleep--the birds in their nests, the dear nuzzled in a field, the silence to stay still. When the sun sets he will make his bed in the moss and thorns and sleep.
In August he will build a fire, step into it and vanish in the sparks and smoke. And in March he steps out of the first flower that opens, a spring in his step and laughter in his eyes.
I found myself between those two pillars with a dear friend one day. We lit the fire and sat very close, listening to the rustling of the trees in the wind and staring up into the sky. I thought I saw two eyes, looking down at me from the shady branches, but when I blinked I realized it was just two stars in Orion's belt, blinking and twinkling down at me. Beth asked me to listen, because she thought she heard someone walking around in the woods and I thought I heard it too. When we listened however it was just a squirrel hopping in the leaves, looking for acorns, or the late fall leaves falling into the underbrush. I could hear the wind rushing along the river, faintly blowing my hair and stirring the flames. Beth and I sat close with our knees touching. The fire glowed warmly in our cheeks and our blankets wrapped tightly around us, and in the stillness Beth read to me the poetry that she loved. Her voice so gentle and still in the night, we sat close and in peace.
Perhaps one day I will know this old man. Maybe, after tonight, I already do.