They were colleagues, associates, students—friends of a man. They met at the top of the world, where the mountain peaks meet, where the air is pure and spare. Then they climbed yet higher. Evening light stretched long across a lower plain, threw darkness to the depths of a narrow gorge, and set the sky aglow.
Led by a priest, who held his robe by the hem as he went, the pilgrims walked in single file. They traced a path the man had often walked—there above, where the spirit soars and, so, refills. They stepped up stones carved by ages. They tread on earth gathered by last year’s rain. They rounded an ancient well, its domed ceiling fallen. Its stones now hid beyond reflections on dark water.
At length, they came to a rare forest. Tangled roots joined to knotted trunks. Trunks spread to arching boughs, clothed in crenelated leaves. The priest halted beneath the largest tree. The breathless pilgrims congregated round its wide trunk, sheathed in weathered bark. The tree’s branches embraced them. Its roots, like seats, invited them to rest a while, to refill the spirit.
The pilgrims stood in dappled light. Some spoke of the tree and of the man: of the tree’s age, its qualities, its meaning to the man; of the man’s wisdom, his knowledge, his generosity, and his passion for trees.
The priest lit incense in a censer and began to chant. A cool breeze blew, rustling leaves and grasses, mixing a forest perfume of incense, faint asphodel, and dry-dirt dust. The congregation swayed to the rhythmic chant. Goat bells jangled out of sight. The sound, like water tumbling down a mountain stream, joined the chanting as a choir.
The priest concluded the ceremony, lifting the cloth from a plaque: a dedication of the tree to the memory of the man.
Spirits refilled, the congregation dispersed. Descending in groups of twos and threes, they left the tree, now, by their investment, made unique among all the trees of the rare forest.
At the top of the world, where the mountain peaks meet, where the air is pure and spare, you may find a path that climbs yet higher. When evening light stretches long across the lower plain, throwing darkness to the gorge, you may follow the path, where the man once walked—the man who taught us about trees and forests.
At path’s end, you might rest a while in the tree’s embrace. In dappled sunlight, feel the cool breeze, smell the asphodel, hear the goat bells like a tumbling stream. And there above, a filled spirit lingers.
Oliver Rackham, 1939-2015
Zelkova abelicea, circa 1300-
|Dedicated August 6, 2018, Xyloskalo, Omalos, Crete
Photographs courtesy of Jennifer Moody