I walked among giants today.
The monoliths above me swayed gently in the wind and spoke to each other in whispers, in the quiet language of old couples who began the same habitual conversation one morning decades ago. Hello, they said: hello, welcome, we hoped you would come, hello. I inhaled benedictions that smelled of moss, and wood, and the earth after rain; I drank in the sunlight filtered from above and hummed along with the birds invisible overhead.
Running my fingers along the rough wooden railing, I greeted each knot and whorl like an old friend. My sandaled feet balanced on a single plank to spare its neighbours the indignity of being stepped upon – in case they minded, although I was informed later that they did not. My fingers ran into a cold, smooth wall: a plaque cheerfully declared that the name of this grove was Cathedral, and that its age was measured in thousands of years.
Cathedral. Most of the community here was born long before such a word was spoken on these shores, and yet the description was more suited to this sheltered place than to all the monuments to be found in Europe. I dared to touch the thick, grooved bark of one cedar by the path. It was warm.
Where were the treetops? Craning my neck to make eye contact with these elders, I saw myself as a child again. The air was perfumed with decomposition. Breathe in, hold, breathe out. A light in my chest quieted into embers, waiting. For a moment I felt human enough to call a cedar my mother.
An edge on the breeze caught the corner of my eye. I was not alone, but we were alone; there was no presence here except the forest around me. Did I hear laughter or the song of a little bird?
The curve of a vine was the small of her back as she ducked behind one of the great trees. A spray of white flowers behind the tree reminded me of a lock of her hair. If a rustle of wind from above was her leap into the treetops, the hush that followed could be her landing somewhere behind me. I turned around and around and there she was, always chasing the edge of my vision, dappled sunlight dancing like vitiligo over her face. My heart beat in time with her rapid footsteps.
Around and around, the wind scattering raindrops still beaded on the leaves, clear sunlight catching a rainbow in each one as it fell. My mother lifted her arms like branches and conducted the birds like a choir of bells. Golden sounds rang out from high above, and although I could not speak their language I was happy to be in the audience.
Voices made themselves known as a young family approached. I scrambled to my feet and brushed the dirt off my knees, and two young children ran past me, smiling and laughing. There was no other presence here except us and the forest – but still, I was alone again.
I learned how to speak again as I walked a little faster. My family waited at the edge of the grove. The thick roots somewhere under my feet asked me to linger, but already I could hear the sounds of traffic beyond the treeline. Afternoon would take me away. Evening would come, and morning, and the cedars would welcome each other once again with voices of moss and rain.