The Beltane Book of Living and Dying
I fell in love with a tree, about four years ago. And after four years, she died. She was a flowering cherry. I’m not sure which variety, Prunus Pink Perfection I think or perhaps Prunus Kanzan. She grew in my local park, ten minutes from where I live. Blowsy and bedecked, ephemeral and voluptuous – that’s how she was in the Spring. It would have been her time to flower now, as her sister trees are, tossing their heads in glory. But she died. She was cut down in the snow, just after the Winter Solstice.
My tree was rooted on the edge of the old bowling green, which had, since I first met her, fallen into disuse and uneven scrub. Her girth was such that I could clasp my arms around her in a full hug, but she was an armful, not spindly, a mature tree with beautiful skin, smooth in places and furrowed in others. I came to her in all seasons. I came to lie beneath her in the sun, and feel my outspread feet mirroring her roots below whilst my starfish arms filled with petals. I came later, to watch her new copper-green leaves turn to the full green of Summer. I returned when she was shedding, and again when she was bare. Her blossom under the stars made me breathless. At sunsets, we sat hushed together.
Sometimes I brought offerings; milk poured at her roots, a sliver and blue ribbon tied to a fine branch… I brought friends too. Once in Spring snow, we laughed; all cold white flakes and pink confetti. Other times, we feasted her. I came when I was sorrowing too, and the pulse of life in her held me, and spoke to me.
I did not name her. She was herself, a lively, steady presence. I would think of her when I was home on the sofa by lamplight and she was tossing in the wind, feeling the blue night with her many eager fingers…
No doubt a lot of people have relationships with trees. Maybe a majestic beech on the dog-walking route, or a ripe town rowan near the flats… The pull, for me, was first instinctual. Her spot was removed from the tumble of folk by low railings, but on a grassy slope with a view. Later, I cultivated our bond as an act of magic, something into which I fell far deeper (as with magic I often do) than I had planned or prepared for. But it was a good deep, a vital deep…
When I was a child, if a doll of mine became maimed or broken I could never bear to look at it, or to touch it. I would lock it away, out of sight, and try to pretend nothing had happened. I couldn’t seem to move on from the horror, take the glue and try to mend it. So when I noticed, last Spring, that the tree had flowered only with a great struggle, and partially; and when the malaise continued, and her pink froth was not replaced by its customary canopy, I felt paralysed.
I thought about leaving, pretending the relationship was nothing to me now, a whim, a fancy. But I knew it wasn’t going to be that way. A magical connection cannot be sundered when times get tough, or at least only with great violence. So I visited often and anxiously, hoping against hope.
All Summer she was bare, all Summer naked. And when I hugged her, I felt the life in her retreating inwards, moving further from the surface. I knew she was dying. I had no choice but to live with it. I raged against it, I made my peace with it. I understood it was a gift.
The shape of my tree-shadow (that second shadow you carry when you are wedded to a tree) changed from the fine pink locks of a girl to the loneliness of a blasted charcoal silhouette. I felt exposed when someone’s inner eye, catching the scent of decay, would look at me twice. Guiltily, I wanted it to be over. And I never wanted to let go.
Wending my way at dusk to her spot, just after the year had turned, a voice inside my head said, before ever I reached the bend in the path – what will you do if she isn’t there? And she wasn’t, only her low cut stump, about half an inch from the ground. I planted my feet there in shock. Sap rushed to my head, stars rushed overhead. I was spun on the axis of the world, elated and grief-stricken. Her severed roots bled underfoot.
After that evening I avoided the park. I was a tree widow. I sat with life after death, mine after hers, as one does; bereft, moody and off-balance. I was sombre, quieter. I thought about meeting a new tree. I knew I couldn’t. I wondered if I ever could.
By Beltane I had girded my loins and I was ready for her wake. I dressed in black, threaded with silver, and an over-tunic of sewn pearly pink flowers. I painted her likeness in green glitter and dotted blossom on my cheek. I took my staff of cherry wood in my hand and made a flower crown of white and pink. Pulling on my black saddle boots, I was a Blodeuwedd of the void. What a May Day of festivities, of men bedecked in green and pheasant feathers, of friends and dancing, ale and horns. All day I carried her with me, our lady of fondant flowers.
A part of me will always be cherry tree now.