Nature Nonfiction

BIRCH GROVE

My feet take control of me and drag my body — laden with self-criticism and sourness — to a place where it can be repaired. I am led off the path and up into the secrecy of a wooded hill. Black-peated water seeps from the spongy floor over the rim of my boots. Through the wetness I am connected to the winter earth; touching the vitality of growth in stasis. 

I am brought by the strange power within me to a clearing where the ground is too wet for anything but moss, heather sedge and alder. This could be the place I am seeking. I cannot know yet. I watch and wait, hidden at its rim under the trees. It begins to snow. 

Later I am moving again. Climbing over crags and back to the woods where my mind seeks comfort. The snow is gone from the sky but the ghost of it still bites on the wind’s heavy gusts. 

I cease. I cannot walk, or think, or see further. I have found it. This birch grove holds me still and I am becoming too easily included in the family of saplings. The mountains, my custodians, smile down through the leaves and I can feel the matter of my mind flow away from me like thin smoke. 

I think of my father who would find poetry in this place. I think of my living family and friends who I wish could be here. Though admittedly if they were I could not have the enriching experience which I am now subject to. It would be too embarrassing to visibly open up myself to the outside whilst in company.

I cry-laugh, and stooping and shaking to genuflect, I kiss the scratching wet heather. I am at prayer. I am swelling with the absurdity of my existence. I am suddenly struck by the oddness that my life-force is expressed as human, and not a tree, or a robin, or a rock. It doesn’t matter which being I am. I am the organised carbon of this shape or that, and will be reorganised soon enough for as long as carbon exists.

Soft, cold wind skims about my cheeks and I close my eyes, at the mercy of elemental Nature in its boundless, glorious indifference. It is a place where the knot within me becomes unravelled for a time and I can bask in the cleansed purity of my spirit. 

These are the places which for a moment capture and still my ever-moving, fleeting and capricious temperament. They are changeless sanctums which humanity can only clumsily ape in the crafted stone and timber of places of worship. It is to these places I come when I find myself caked in the soot of melancholy, when forgotten bruises have become tender again.

It is only when I find these places, of which the birch grove is one of the most special, that I can step out of Time and freshen the context in which I exist. It is an ephemeral second’s worth of nirvana, but one which I cherish. It is what keeps me alive. My blood feels green and vigorous. I am welcomely aware of my participation in the eternal cycle which science tells us in theory and nature shows us in experience.

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