The Old Pine

Well, it happened and ole slow poke got chastened for dawdling on the path, falling behind the group, and then missing the turn off and heading down the wrong path. In my defense, the right path didn’t look like a path at all.

Isn’t that so often the case, when you don’t really know what you’re doing? You can’t necessarily keep up with the others, so when you hit what you think is a flat path – unlike the muddy hillside streams, where you ruin your city sneaks because why are we walking up a stream bed anyway? Can’t these Forest Bathing guides recognize a stream bed when they step in one? And where was I? Oh yes. – when you hit what you think is a flat path and you can speed up and catch up with the tail end of the leading group who has just, just this second, turned the corner behind a tall thicket, making you realize how far behind you’ve fallen, and you hurry but when you get there, you can hear their voices but their not in site, so you hurry again and miss the turn off. And get yelled at in a very smooth-voiced way – that tone my mother used to use when she was screaming at us and then the phone would ring. “He-lo-o,” she’d coo into the receiver. “Why no, you’re not interrupting at all.” Or like the voice one of my friends uses when she is, let’s say, stretching the truth about something. Kind of soft-voiced, earnest, in the back of her throat. When she uses it, I say to myself, “Here we go again.”

Alas. A disappointment to everyone, can’t keep up with the group. Dawdles behind, sure to get eaten by wolves. The story of my life. Perhaps that’s why I can’t resist a beautiful red coat when I see one.

I do love a red coat – they would have hung me as a traitor in 1776 because as much as I’d think the rebels were right and cool, the British had those beautiful red coats. I think I own four red coats now. A red wool, two red raincoats, and a red llama jacket with beautiful eye-shaped buttons. Oh, five, if you count the Antarctica jacket, which I don’t really because the cruise line gave that to me and they picked out the color, maybe in the hopes that they wouldn’t leave us behind.

When we dawdled.

There is a case to be made for walking slowly through the woods, I say. You experience the forest so much more when you traverse it at a pace that allows you to experience it fully – the path crunching under your feet, the whisper of the leaves rustling together and the shout of color still aloft. The tiny bouquets of mushrooms, popping up from the forest floor, or rippling across dead branches. They’re like a symphony this time of year: the piccolo trill of orange, tiny tiny baby shells, flung across the end of a log. The deep bass notes of the big brown meaty mushrooms, like rubber ears on a stump. The string-like call of the smaller brown mushrooms, striped with all shades like a calico cat.

Today, dawdling behind the others, I noticed a mushroom shaped like a flower. It was a little smaller than my outstretched hand and blossomed up from the log, with petals up-folding like a wide-spread artichoke, shades of meat-red and green, diminishing to paler shades toward the center. I had never seen one like it before. I wonder what it would sound like. A trumpet maybe?

In the meadow, I paused before a circle of trees. In the center, a huge pine, the base wider than a hug, and beaten, broken, and wounded. Around its base, huge rocks fell as if ripped from the tree. Scars from branches that had been cut off, others snapped by who knows what monster, some ripped right off, leaving trails of unbarked skin. On one side, a huge gouge revealed the red wood of it’s heart, trails of sawdust weeping to the ground. Above the base, chaos – branches twisted and torn every which way, the trunk ratcheted around. And above that, healthy limbs, fragrant needles waving in the wind and stretching toward the sun.

Around it stood a circle of smaller, deciduous trees. From a distance, I thought it had been sheltering them. As I got closer I could see that they were protecting it – holding their ground around the mount of their liege, ready to fend off the enemy. The circle of smaller trees was incomplete, a gap on the far side, just by the wound, and a small stump on the ground. I stood in place, completing the circle, and whispered, “I will protect you. Although your base is weakened and you are twisted with confusion and indecision above that, you are still strong on the top. You still have life. You play a part. You lead the meadow. I will stand here and complete the circle; even when I am gone, I leave a piece of myself behind to complete the circle and act as your protector.”

At heart it is a strong tree. It will endure and continue.

Even if it can’t always keep up.

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