A Tree in a Snowy Field

(the third picture is of a snowy field and a lone, bare tree. I've always loved winter, despite not loving Christmas, especially the bleakness of a snowy field - it's fields like this that I always imagine when I read about the moors in a Bronte novel. But, that's not why I chose the picture - I chose it for the 'about me' section.

I have certain dreams that recur for me, and one of the scenes that frequently returns to me is a broad, snowy field, like this one. My relationship with the field is positive, but complex. After trying unsuccessfully to write some of those dreams, I decided to write about the field. Hopefully you get a glimpse of what I mean to be in the world - though I'm not sure which character in the story is me.)

Field was a broad, flat, fertile example of her kind, rich with drift and tawny trophies of long-lost springs. It was April-time, when the little green daughters of the old growth peek out from where Field has swaddled them in her broad, brown breast.

Now, she lay basking in the chilly pale spring-beams of the winter-young sun. She could feel the wild rye stretching out from her toes, the motley vines of creeping charlie rolling over the shade-ward lee of her swelling belly, and there, atop her bedpost, just beside sullen Road was Oak. Oak was lovely always, just now in early April. The tips of his twigs radiated upward in an aura of cautious green, still pale with the shade of sepals, still reaching narrow toes outwards into the sea-grey sky.

That was always springtime for Field, the first spring flowers, pale white or blue, embroidering themselves across her hem, the green shoots of bird-grains leaping up straight and true toward the sky, and most of all Oak, broad and ancient as Field herself, but ever so much taller, always reaching, reaching. This year, he seemed beyond himself, a bare torch of livid early green thrust up narrow and swaying even over the highest of the gone year's canopy. Field loved to lay like this, just staring, watching that topmost wand sweep in the wind.


"Good morning, Field!"

"Why, Vole, Good Morning! I didn't feel you wake!"

"Distracted, darling?"

"Oh, it's spring! Spring always makes me look up instead of in, you know. Oak is stretching out his new leaves, today! A new branch, too, grown broad upwards on the windward side, do you see it?"

"Pretty enough, pretty enough. Squirrel should be thrilled, more room for his newest brood. Did you smell the missus birthing them last night?"

"Oh just a little - the bloodsmell doesn't carry so well with Road so full these days, but it is a pretty smell, it always smells like just-new-waking, doesn't it?"

"Pretty enough, pretty enough. I imagine someone will drop in to fill me my first season's brood soon enough. The charlie is lovely this year, and the rye is already starting to perk with seed. You've done a fine winter, darling."

"Oh you think so? Funny girl. All I do is sleep, you know that, November straight through April. I've nothing to do with it."

"Well, to each their own opinion. I'm no Squirrel, I won't chatter you into agreeing. But it is a lovely morning by any account, dearest."


The morning was, and the next as well. The rain came after that, in its strange demanding way, for several weeks. It was a warm, soil-smelling rain, and all the last souls in Field's broad brown breast swelled up and burst into life. This was when summer came, and the oak leaves grew rich and thick, and displayed the swells of their bundled green acorns, each one bubbling slowly out of it's cap. The birds flew in and out and nattered at each other over the unripe fruits of the wild rye, leaving with their bellies full and sore. A fox would come and woo the field, though he kept house elsewhere, and occasionally even Stag would press his cloven prints into her thighs. Vole was heavy eyed and tired now, with an ever changing brood of pups under her teats, sometimes bigger as more were born, other times smaller as Owl would scoop them up in the runs, or they would wander off to make their own burrows.

"Vole, I've missed you! I was half-tempted to keep the other mice away so you would stop brooding and I could have you back!"

"Oh, darling, I'm sorry."

"No, no, nothing of it. I'm only playing - how can I be lonely, with the blue-sea sky and the birds, and Oak so grand and green now?"

"You two are speaking, now?"

"Oak and I? Oh... of course not, you know. Just once, to say good morning, and he never speaks back, of course. Oak can only look up, it's his way. When Oak looks down, that will be the start of the finish, it always is, you know."

"Ah. Well, I still don't hold with snobbery, nature or not. I honestly can't see why you think so much of him, darling."

"Oh, Vole! Just look at him! I'm not the only one, either. I see things all the time, stopping to look at him. He is singular, and alone, and brave, standing so high up, all the year! Even in winter, they come and look at him. There's a reason - he is a something, a thing of himself, without anything else. If I should die, and Road dissolve, and Sun stop dropping down, even if he dies, Oak is still an Oak. He is a thing. Me? You? We are a piece of a thing, that's all."

"Do you think so?"

"I know it. I dream about it sometimes, in the winter, I dream of him, still black and clear against me, like a shadow, only a shadow that casts itself. I dream about him that way, with the snow crawling along his branches, and the icicles drawing how down so heavy, and still standing up black beneath and above the white, and under the white and over the white. Someday, I want to see him that way, awake."

"Do you?"

"Oh, yes."

"I've seen him in the winter, every winter, before the snow and after. Would you like me to show him to you, this year?"

"How would you do that?"

"You know how it is. We voles, we are up even then. I can wake you, just for a day, just for a moment even, and clear the snow from your eyes, and you can look at him."

Field paused.



"No. No, I can't. I mean I say it, and... I don't know. It's silly."

"Dearest...", Vole stroked Field gently on the cheek, "We're the oldest friends. I wouldn't think it's silly, if it bothers you as much as that."

Field paused again, and murmured back, the lowest murmur, so soft it didn't even whisk through the rye-heads, "I would be ashamed. To see myself like that. To see me as a great nothing. With him there... I... I don't know why."

Now Vole paused, and looked at her, and smiled, her little, tired, vole-mother smile.

"I see dearest. I think you... hrm. I cannot say it, I can only show you. Will you trust me, and let me show you?"

"In the winter?"

"On the snowiest day. Please?"


Field frowned softly to herself, the rest of the day, and did not look at the oak. The next day she looked at the oak. The next she smiled, a bit. But, even then, when the sun would shine just so through Oak, or Field would watch Squirrel run onto a bare, dead branch, she would frown, for a moment, and the rye seed would shudder, and somewhere underneath, where Vole burrowed just behind her neck, Vole would stroke her neck just so, and ever so gently shush her.


The rye grass grew heavy and the birds got their haggard and hurried look as they picked the seeds gently from it, in such a hurry now that they dropped as many as they gobbled, and Field drew them into her damp and hurried, broad, brown breast, to keep them close until the sun could grow old, die, and let a new sun come. The birds left, then, and new birds came, and left, the fox came, and left, the deer came, then left. Then nothing else came. The last of the fruits were dry and shivering in her breast, and the green of her summer dress was now tawny and ragged. The air had the feel, the feel of sleep. The field shivered and wept, for now the fear was on her every day, and she was not sure if she even would sleep. She spent long nights staring haggard and wild-haired at the oak, the last of it's blasted leaves thrust out in defiant tufts against the dry and hissing winds. Vole was desperate too, with the desperate eyes of late fall, eyes that watch for the last hungry owl flights, and the last whisking falls of seed to gather up, eyes that look up at the coffee-white skies, and shiver. Her coat had the fat of late autumn, glossy and smooth, and as Vole scuttered in and out, Field felt the warm fur like a gentle reminder against the jutting dry clumps of herself. The two had so much to think of, that they spoke only in short jerks - and Vole knew, at any rate not to say much, not to interrupt the lullaby of the late autumn sky.

"Don't worry, beloved. I'll wake you, only once, and only a little."

"I know. I promised."

And then, in the very sharpest of her sorrows, Field fell asleep. Her dreams were cold and crystalline, the Oak tree sharp and heroic inside her, an upward thrust against the white, and her, an emptiness, a hollow whiteness, a universe of nothing. Sometimes her dreams would leak out of her, and Field would moan, the whisking, keening moan of a winter wind. Vole, grown leaner and leaner, shivering and weak each day, would stroke the back of her neck with her sinewy old hand, a gentle, faint warmth in the dream of Field, shushing her gently back into the dream.

She did not wake when first she felt the snow, and only half-woke when she felt Vole up and skittering across her face, the tickle of her tail crisp and sinuous against Field's sleep-sensitive skin. She felt her eyes, and Vole sweeping her crabbed hand gently over them, drawing the snow into a still heap - a still cold heap of snow, a feverish shivering heap of Vole, that was her dream then. And the intensity of that contrast, somehow, made her calm. So, when Vole whispered into her sleeping ear, she woke with only the tiniest shiver of fear.

"Look now, my beloved. Look. Do you see the tree?"

Field opened up her lids, and breathed out slow through the wrecked shards of rye, through a few fallen branches of oak, but mostly just through an endless, spaceless universe of white. The sky was white and sharp against her, and the horizon lost into a gradient of empty. And there, stark and black and cragged, and very much a thing, stood Oak. He stood up defiantly against the sky. He looked... just as Field had thought. She didn't speak to him, she knew he wouldn't answer. And all around, the white, the ever growing, never beginning or ending field of nothing. The last sleepy whispers of her half dream, of the mound of white and the mound of feverish Vole crept over the landscape, and she saw the emptiness, pregnant with itself, born of itself, and dead unto itself, and she smiled, somewhere underneath her nothingness.

Vole murmured very low, hoarse now with the cold:

"Now do you see? I love you like this, because like this you are everything."

Field gently turned and kissed the Vole and murmured soft, "Good night, my dearest."

Field closed her eyes, and breathed low and soft, a tiny breath of warm in the midst of the great cold. Vole looked up with black, quiet eyes, and watched the dream fall down, the breath now lifting up the great broad wings of a winter's owl, swooping down quietly, the curve of it's beak forming an instant snip of sharp pain, then a crack in Vole's spine, then nothing. Owl dipped lightly over the last warm breath and landed on a naked branch of Oak, and looked out across the snowy field.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully Written !