I arrived at the bus stop just a few minutes before it was due. Good timing I thought, since they only run once an hour. This bus stop is what might be quaintly described as the middle of nowhere. I don't think that, because I know exactly where I am so it cannot be nowhere, only a few minutes away from a small town, twenty minutes from another small town and another twenty to my home. Which could be described as, if not the middle of nowhere, at least on the periphery of nowhere. I enjoy peripheries, edges, borders. Places that are neither one thing or the other, with no claims to either, not claimed by either, toying with the possibilities of both.
'Nowhere' is full of life. The wind, which had been absent in my walk along the river, has returned. I'd reached the stop on the main road via an old railway track, a raised embankment, bordered by trees, overgrown in some places, but with a worn path along the middle showing it was still used by some who were in the know. But I had only discovered it by looking at the map.
|This picture of the old railway path was taken at a different time, a clear and sunny autumn day|
Most people will drive past in their cars and know nothing about this sheltered path, screened by trees from the road. Which makes it something secret, hidden, undiscovered. I share it only with those whose footsteps have kept this narrow path clear, unknown people who I feel a kinship with, we form an invisible community screened from the outside world whose sounds we can hear in the passing cars, but which can't be seen because of the raised embankment and the profusion of trees, many slender silver birches, which have sprung up in the past few decades since the railway track has been returned to wilderness.
I wonder why I feel a little tired, as my walk had only lasted a couple of hours, then I remember the steep slope I had to climb, up from the river bank. It was wooded and near-vertical and without the trees it would probably have been impossible. I grabbed hold of a branch or trunk. It was the steps in between the tree handles that were difficult, as the muddy ground meant that almost every step I took slipped back a little. And I couldn't slip back too far, not with that near perpendicular slope, with the brown and swollen river at the bottom.
The hardest steps were when I grabbed the trunk of a tree, near its roots, then had to lever my body up towards it and finally get my feet behind it, as if the trees formed a ladder and so I reached the next rung up and could lean against the tree's immense solidity with its trunk supporting me. I would pause to catch my breath, consider the density of these beings, their unconditional support, their uncomplaining grace, their grey-skinned reliability, this hard shaft between my shoulder blades. This is what love is. Trees have the solidity of freedom, while we, the human bees, nest in them, draw honey from their sweetness, and move on.
I looked higher up the slope, or to one side, to discover the next rung in this ladder to the top, the next tree to help me. Progress was slow.
When I first looked at the map it showed a dotted line that closely followed the river, but the river had swallowed the path, which was why I had to climb up through the wood, to reach the minor road that led on to the old railway track which took me back to the main road. No, not surprising I was tired.
I watched the cars go past and looked at the sky which had lost its brief blue and was now furred with a greyish-yellow velvet smear, a covering that held a tinge of excitement, just the possibility of snow.
Its trunk lay across the path, on a downhill slope to the river bank. I don't know how long since it fell; long enough for rumour or rumble – to get around. The gardeners, forest workers, tree-fellers, tree clearers, they were right behind me. They looked at the red raw trunk almost in disbelief, the prone ship, the splintered wood, it became rotten you see, one said to me, and then, in a high wind – hop! down it came.
They discuss chain saws and cranes and motorized means of pulling it out and I wonder how long it had grown there and when I climbed over its vast trunk, I got stuck astride it, legs dangling from the wet bark, riding this red-brown ship.
River too, (once I slid down the bank onto the path again) like a ship, carried on something else much bigger than itself. It floats past in silence, brown and opaque as if it had swallowed sound. And has swollen with it, round, with smooth moving circles on the surface, like thick cream mocha dripped from the sky.
In the forest, later, broken branches snap underfoot. The river is the same colour as the ground. There are no passengers on this ferry. No birds sing, on the path.
I don't want to look at the river (so I say) but the path has vertigo and my feet slip in the mud. And I don't want to slip any closer to the river, and a silent squirrel runs down a tree and vanishes into undergrowth. I look away, but my eyes are drawn back to this silent circling brown surface that seems to be sliding along on something else.
Further on, the hungry river has swallowed the path, and that's when I have to climb uphill, holding onto tree trunks, pulling myself up, hand over hand, stopping frequently, to catch my breath.