Part 5 continues the story—a novella?—of a mysterious Beech. Part 4 stands alone and relates a book adventure at the Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair in early 2018 which may or may not have actually happened. If you haven’t read that, I recommend it. It’s a story I actually enjoy. If not, this is where Part 4 leaves off:
…But I knew I wasn’t wrong about the table backstage. I knew my memory of the event was correct. As to what really happened back there… I’m not so sure.
So I walked and walked and walked around Midtown until I was so worn out that when I returned to the room, I shook the last of the snow off my coat and was just going to fall into bed.
When I looked down on the sofa the bag and book were not there.
I was too numb to be concerned. In fact, in some ways, it seemed to make sense.
I crawled under the sheets and worried into the night until Morpheus took pity on me and consciousness went wherever it goes.
At some point, dreams slipped in after consciousness slipped away.
They must have. I’ve read they always do. Most go someplace when the mind returns to wakefulness. I wonder where they go? They seem so real sometimes.
One stayed with me, however, and I can recall it vividly.
I was walking across a vast meadow, and I knew I was in Denmark. There was a vast hill ahead that nearly filled the horizon. It’s crest was quite level. It was covered with trees. All were all the same and had smooth gray trunks of varying widths. They appeared from a distance so close together that they were nearly touching one another. But, of course, they had to have been staggered. It was just an illusion from the distance. The crowns were bright green and blended together in a solid mass—a thick band of green above the trunks. Above the green, the sky was azure.
And I knew she was walking beside me.
I awoke that morning in confusion. But I was able to bring back that dream. Upon reflection, I somehow knew the trees were Beeches. That dream had taken me to a small forest in Denmark and I somehow knew it was hundreds of years earlier.
I had some breakfast and then packed for the drive home.
It was a smooth trip back to Maryland from the City. With little traffic and a bit of speeding on the open highways across nearly half of Pennsylvania I could be back home in Maryland in just over 200 minutes.
But that was also three and a half hours of solitary thinking on what probably hadn’t, probably couldn’t, have happened the day before. And, upon reflection, what had occurred in the last months.
Denmark…what was that about? Why did that stick in my head? I’d been there just a couple years ago, and there was nothing ground shaking about the trip. I did enjoy the excursion to Helsingore—and its iconic castle Kronborg. Shakespeare called the castle Elsinore. It is the place where all of Hamlet takes place. During the tour of the castle, the tour guide had said there is conjecture that Shakespeare may have acted for the King of Denmark as a young man during his “Lost Years.” Apparently many details about the castle depicted in Hamlet could only have been known by someone who had visited it, the guide added. A young Shakespeare may have joined an acting troupe—perhaps one that visited Stratford. The troupe he joined may have spent some time acting for the Danish King. This was not uncommon:
Some players ventured even further afield, traveling and performing on the Continent at places such as Elsinore, the Danish court depicted in Hamlet.
That castle guarded the straits of Oresund at their narrowest point. No one could pass into or out of the Baltic Sea using that route without coming under its guns.
For me it HAD been magic trodding stone floors that were the scene of Hamlet. My heart leapt to the notion that perhaps Shakespeare walked those halls as well.
At Harrisburg, the state capitol, I headed south down on US 15.
Denmark. Why were the trees in there? The dream? A Beech forest?
I recalled that a day before that trip was the first time I’d been alone with her. She’d been upset and didn’t want to go home to a bad situation. I awkwardly invited her to dinner. No one else wanted to accompany us. I felt so odd being alone with her. It was as if it was meant to happen. We sat across from one another in a corner booth at the Chestnut Lodge. Two souls permeated with love for nature and books exchanged stories.
The next morning I flew off for Copenhagen but not before writing in the journal that morning:
“Did my life change today?”
When I returned, it did. And then began that magic year which raised me to soaring heights. Raised us…maybe too close to the sun.
But Denmark in that context didn’t seem to be what the dream was about. And the “she” that was next to me in the dream—was it her or someone else?
South past Gettysburg. Crossing the Mason Dixon Line. Past the Grotto of Lourdes and Saint Mary Seton Shrine. Past the hidden but well known Camp David Presidential Retreat high on the Catoctin Mountain ridge to the west of the road. And then to the turnoff to my little section of that same mountain range that holds much of the easternmost high ground here in this county. The Catoctins—they are named after a Native American clan.
I found my little lane and turned up it. There was snow here. Several inches covered the lane and meadows and woodland on the mile long winding way to the house. I engaged the 4 wheel drive as the path turned to gravel and wound and rose up and up.
Then I was at the final steep grade that leads to my land. I started calling it Lonely Mountain five years ago. I named it that partly in honor of Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain. Partly because…well, it should be obvious.
Up that last quarter mile which I had paved years ago when I acquired it. At the very end of the driveway there’s a steep blind crest to the broad flat level landing scraped from the sloping rock and soil and trees. In the car at that point, I’m leaning back and all I can see is the sky, tall tree tops and the distant mountain ridge top at the end of my land.
When I crested that last slope and leveled onto flat land, the first thing I saw in my headlights was the Beech—a gray trunk with the dun leaves standing with a blanket of white all around. The forest floor was white but for where the other dark trees and boulders rose above the snow cover and contrasted the scene.
There is something purifying about a fresh snowfall. The white blanket extending in every direction as far as the eye can see covers all the defects of the world beneath it.
I turned off the lights and switched the key to stop the engine. I opened the door and stepped out. From behind me, the faint moon cast its cold pale silver light. The shadows of the trees in the forest before me all pointed straight up the slope toward the cliff and its high horizon above me.
I walked up the stone steps past the dolmen-like bench and into the woods. It was a soft powdery snow and my footsteps made no sound. I made straight for the Beech my own shadow leading me. When I was a couple feet away, I reached out my hand and lay it on her.
She was warm to the touch!
“You are beautiful,” I thought.
“I had a book in the City. Was that why you thought I should go?
“It was given to me by an odd man.”
“I took the book to my room and then went for a walk. When I returned, it was gone.
“I’m not meant to have it?”
(I think it was important for you to know of it. The Book Keeper does not like to part with the books entrusted to him.)
“You know him?
(He is legendary among those that know of ancient books.)
“So he came to my room and took the book back while I was gone?”
(I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I believe it was likely returned to him.)
“Will I see it again?”
(I believe it is part of this story. Just as you and I are. I like the story so far. I’m honored and well, I…am glad we are in this tale together. I…)
“You know many parts of this story already.”
(As do you. There are pieces we each have. There are new pieces coming in quite often. Neither of us know where this is going. I hope it will answer…many things.)
I stepped closer, tilted my head and pressed it to her. For a moment the emptiness and tiredness and loneliness disappeared and a white light filled my mind. Then I turned and headed down the slope angling toward my home 50 or so yards away. Each dark window reflected a faint crescent moon on its flat surface. At the threshold I kicked the snow off my shoes and stepped inside. I’d banked the wood stove well when I left for the City. The iron was still warm over two days later. I opened the dampers and put some twigs and sticks in. I laid some heavier logs atop them and closed the lid. From experience I knew the fire would then take care of itself until morning.
My bed is only ten paces away. I shed a piece of clothing with each step. Looking out the window, I saw the vast plane—the valley below—was illuminated by the chill light from outside. Hundreds of tiny lights from homes and streets dappled the valley floor. When I lifted the down comforter and flannel sheet and slipped in, it was so warm inside. My mind was in a thousand places and none. I was so tired. So drained from the trip and all the walking and the images and experiences that battered my mind while I was in the City.
I realized I am now in two worlds sometimes. Maybe more. Past, present and time itself were crossing over one another. Things that would usually once seem unreal or impossible made perfect sense.
I rolled on my left side and reached my right arm across to where she had been long ago. I have piles of pillows on my bed. I like to prop books on them when I read. I keep one under my left arm and one on my chest when I write in my journal. And sometimes I hold them as if they were her. It comforts me a bit. Sometimes. Sometimes it makes me weep. My arm drew the cluster of pillows to me. I exhaled and was soon gone to the other world where consciousness does not live.
But other things do exist there.
My dreams that night were warm and full and comforting. She was back, and I thought I held her close all night.
However I was led to that place I was very thankful. I could have stayed there…a long time.
I have no curtains and the dawn’s light seeped through my closed eyelids.
I awoke to a pink horizon in the east.
I rose and performed my morning rituals before stepping outside to bump down the mountain and go to work—that vast manic distraction that keeps me sane. I pulled open the car door and looked up the slope. My tracks up from the car the night before went straight to tree. Coming down angling toward the house were two sets of footprints.
Two sets of footprints…side by side.
I stood frozen in place. Only my eyes followed the tracks up and down. Over and over as if the scene would change if I kept looking. It did not. Two very distinct sets of footprints walking abreast led down from the Beech and toward the door to my home. I turned my head and looked up the slope again. The early morning sun shone upon the Beech and her silver became golden.
I had not gone in to my home alone last night?
I climbed into my vehicle, backed and turned and aimed down the steep slope. I was careful, tapping the brakes so as not to go into a skid and have a ruined day. Down in the valley the roads were clear.
I got to the warehouse. It was Sunday. I would be the only one working that day. But for my dogs—Merry and Pippin—who I had let roam the three acre building while I was away. A friend had come in and fed them while I was gone. They greeted me with leaps and feigned nips at my hands. I led them outside, and they raced around the parking lot chasing the golf ball I sent bouncing across the asphalt. Merry, the bigger littermate and brother, retrieved most of the tosses. Pip, the runt of the litter, gamely tries but cannot outrun Merry. He does get the ball occasionally by hook and by crook and luck. When they’d had their exercise, we went inside and I put out fresh food for them. I then went into my office. I switched on the lights. It is a large space. The room is lined with shelves. Unfortunately, the floor has stacks of books here and there and everywhere. This is where the books go that are here to stay—for a while. Some are treasures but most are just books that have captured me. I in turn have brought them in here—safe and all together.
I looked around the room thinking: “I’ve got to get more of these books up and in the bookcases.” There’s still plenty of space in the glass-fronted bookcases some of which came from the White House and the Senate offices when someone decided it was time for redecorating. They are beautiful—so heavy and well made. I was lucky some newbie in the government didn’t have taste and turned them into surplus. I wonder what these had been replaced with. About ten years ago, many people were of the opinion the printed book was dying out and soon everyone would be doing all their reading on glowing plastic slabs. I never doubted though. The book is too comfortable, too perfect, too well matched for human hands and eyes. As long as people have skin and senses—touch, smell, vision and even sound—the printed book will be there for us—and we’ll be there for them—old and new. Tall and short. Thick and thin. Bright and dull.
I looked around the room. A special place for me. A gathering of things that mean things to me. That have captured me and been captured by me—for as long as I can hold on to them. I looked at the far wall. Under the single window facing west is a big plush red sofa. Over the years I rarely have had time to sit there and work or read or leaf through a new favorite find. But in the last year or so I’ve found myself there more often. I can write there unobserved when the staff is bustling everywhere else in this big building.
My eyes were suddenly arrested. Resting flat on the cushions was the bag I’d carried half the length of Manhattan. The bag that had disappeared from my hotel room after I’d walked myself to exhaustion in the New York City snowstorm.
I stepped over to couch, bent. I lifted the bag. It felt empty. Still, I looked inside. There were two pieces of paper in it. One was the receipt the strange old man had written. Scrawled across in very thick dull pencil was the word:
The other was a four by six piece of vellum. It was wrinkled, crinkly and stained with age. Upon it was written:
Below that was what I took to be a signature. If the letters were in any way Roman, they were illegible.
Somehow I was not surprised or confused. Somehow it all made perfect sense.
Some days later after returning on an afternoon I took the stone steps up from the driveway. The snow was gone, and the forest floor was brown with leaf litter.
I stepped to the tree and stood a few feet from it.
“Why did she go?” I asked the Beech
(She is broken. It had little to do with you.)
“But it was so wonderful. There was synergy.”
(Yes. But she was broken. For her part, it all came together for a spell. She saw and had things with you she never had before and will likely never have again. I’m sorry for her. Like so many we have all known there is something missing in her. A void. She is incomplete.)
“And for me?”
(You touched the sun.)
“Am I complete?”
(You have the materials. What you do to use them all—or at least as many you can—depends on you.)
“There’s so little time. I am old in years. I do not feel those years. I feel I do not look those years. But I am finite. How long I will last—last in competence and health—I do not know.”
(Nor do I. What do you want now? With what is left?)
“Love. Companionship. Discovery. Creativity.”
(Ahhh. Some of that you can control. Some is serendipity.)
It is mid June. A year and a half since I discovered her. Or was it she who placed herself up here on the mountain where I would have to come across her?
She thrives in the little glade I opened up for her. Though some neighboring trees still tower over her—there is a huge Tulip Poplar maybe 130 feet tall and 55 inches in diameter near its base—I do not feel she is threatened by a windstorm or rotted diseased neighbors. The gaps I opened for her when she struggled for light have filled in a little. Her dark green leaves adorn her. Her canopy, if it can be called that, is like a rich shining gown that covers her bare torso. I have not gone up to visit her much lately.
I’m waiting. I feel there will be a call. I’m waiting. For inspiration? Instructions?
While I wait, I write. And work. And write.
I did attend her leafing out in the spring—just a month or so ago. Her long tapering pointed buds—shiny brown—swelled. When they began to split and tender green wisps begin to spill out from them I Would walk, climb up the rise to her and study them. Nearly every day I watched their progress from tightly wrapped encapsulated proto leaves to the mature covering she will wear this whole season.
I am on a plane heading east. I visited my brother in San Francisco. The last of 3 brothers. Perhaps this was my last visit to him while we walk this world. I don’t know what would bring me to California again. I was there to visit my elder son as well. He is finished with 21 years of paid schooling. A brilliant young man. Nearly thirty years old now. A long incubation. I do not think he will give me grandchildren. That life and mine will therefore be incomplete. For that is the natural progression of things. It was what we are placed here for. It is what many yearn for—consciously or not.
I would give much for grandchildren or more children. I have prayed. But none are in the horizon, and the horizon is sinking fast.
California. My 4th visit in 7 months.
We drove out to the coast again. I love to see the ocean when I can. We crossed the coastal range where the dew fog clouds rest almost constantly upon the ridges and make the trees grow forever.
We stopped and walked to Methuselah. A Redwood nearly 2000 years old.
In my seat on the airplane, I hear the Beech’s voice:
(She is ancient indeed. I am glad you went to find her.)
“A wondrous massive thing.”
(Did you learn anything?)
“I…I don’t know. What should I have learned? It was so rushed. I was tired from the trip and distracted by the inner quarrels I have with my boys and estranged relations. The trip was an ending in many ways. I will likely never go back there the same person. Nor will my family be the same I suspect.”
(Methuselah will be there. I will be there with you as I am now. And I will be on your mountain, your Last House, waiting for your visits and thoughts. Waiting for you to look upon me. To think of me. Address me. Approach me. Touch me.)
“I am glad you are here for me. I wonder at my sanity sometimes when we converse.”
“I wonder at what you are. Perhaps a spirit. Perhaps the invention of my sad troubled mind. You are a tree.”
(So? I am not incognizant. In your need you called. In my need I heard and came. I am here. I am real. You are real as well. As real as anything in this world is real.)
“I don’t understand.”
(Nor do I. But here we are.)
“You…you…I’m sorry. I don’t want to seem demeaning or…I don’t know…I…You are a tree.”
(Not always. Maybe now for always. But once I was…)
(I am not sure myself. Long ago. I feel I was…I recall standing on an ocean coast in the Old World.)
(A tree? No. I was a woman. Perhaps more than that.)
“Are you flying with me now? I am hurtling across this country. This special land. I am above the eastern forests. Soon I will be upon the land again. I will find my vehicle and roll back to the mountain. Merry and Pippin are waiting there for me. Pat said they missed me.”
(They do miss you. No, I am not 7 miles high in that steel tube with you. I am upon the mountain. Just a short walk from The Last House.)
“When I return, maybe not tonight in the dark but soon, tomorrow I hope, I will come and sit next to you. Will you speak to me?”
(I don’t know. I’d like to. I’d like you to sit by me. I know I would enjoy it. It would please me.)
“I will bring a seat.”
(Oh, no. I would not like anything that doesn’t belong there.)
“I meant no chair or device. I would like to carry a flat stone. Broad enough to sit upon and raising me a bit a from the damp forest floor. Is there one above you that would do? I will fetch it if you tell me where. If not, I will find one down below. May I place it next to you? Could I sit upon it and rest my back against you?”
(I don’t know. I love the space around me. I thank you. I think often of the risk you took for me.)
“I needed to do it. I was…I felt called when I discovered you surrounded…threatened by those towering above and toward you.”
“It has been over a year now. A number of seasons. You were in such turmoil then.”
“It hurt so deeply. She had lied.”
(Put that behind you now. It was no lie. It was a flaw. As you have many. As do I as well.)
“She professed one state of mind and teased with another. A game. It hurt deeply.”
“Help me find a stone. A simple throne to place next to you that I may visit and rest. Perhaps I can write there. Perhaps we can talk as we do now.”
(I don’t know. We will both sleep upon it. Soon you will be back. Look upon me in the dark when you get to our home. I would like that.)
“I will. I avow it. No matter the hour or how tired I am.”
(I am glad you visited Methuselah. I think you will have thoughts and inspirations from that visit.)
“Will I go there again? Is there more to see and learn out there?”
(You will at least once. And maybe we will go in deeper. And find the beginning of these trees in the New World. Perhaps we can both learn what our mission and duty is. The “why” that we were put together in this time and place. Your trip will end soon. In less than an hour you will fly directly above me. I will know it.)
“Will you let me know then? When I am right above you?”
“I…I would like to know. It would mean something.”
(Perhaps. You are racing toward evening now. And dark is racing west toward your flight. Rest some. You still have miles and hours til you roll up Lonely Mountain and your lights will light upon me. I look forward to it.)
“I do as well.”