The wind howled through the thin branches of the tree, bent at nearly ninety degrees to the vertical by a lifetime of unremitting force. I could imagine that only on the best days of summer would there be quiet up there, on the highest point of Humphrey Head.
Maria Angelo watched me study the tree around which she had just walked, wordlessly, three times. She had not spoken on the whole ascent; meeting me, in silence, at the small car park below with a wordless smile and little else. I had dutifully followed her up and across what had been green sheep meadows when I had been here in the spring – back at the start of all this; but the sheep were gone. This day contained only the pale grass of December and the biting wind.
She watched me as I considered the tree. I was learning to let the moment take me; to allow the mind to be still long enough for that which lies beneath thought to emerge – and act. And its actions now revealed so much about this special place they used. The high point was no accident – I knew that the ‘hill’ has long been a generic for that which takes you away from ‘the world’; although the use of ‘world’ in this context is misleading, as there is, most certainly a real world out there, which has as much to teach us as the inner . . .
And that was the rub . . . the real world was not a thing, it was a totality . . . and I was beginning to see the vast difference between the two. In the whole you can find the true part, but in the part you can never find the whole. Only by beginning with wholes can we have our eyes opened. Finding the whole required different thinking, or, ideally, no thinking at all . . .
Maria Angelo watched me intently, still silent. She stood with great composure, as though measuring my thoughts and outside of time, but not outside of event.
After a few seconds, her eyes flickered and a gentle smile played across her lips. She took my hand and placed me with my back against the lone tree, so that its wind-blown extension was behind me and facing away – following the direction of the prevailing wind. Still smiling, she placed a finger over my lips. I understood the unspoken instruction and said nothing, letting the moment, and the wind, flow around me.
Moving backwards, she held my eyes like a snake. She stopped when she reached the edge of the unmarked circle around which she had carried out the three circuits. I looked intensely at her, trying to read the bright energy in her unblinking eyes. As though pulling that mental and emotional contact with her, she turned her head to the left, but let her eyes move more slowly, in an action that reminded me of Egyptian wall paintings . . . I suddenly realised that the gesture had ‘stopped the world’ for both of us. . .
Don’t move – but follow . . . said the eyes. Follow.
She began a slow circuit, and I felt I was watching it through those eyes – not literally, but emotionally. From the point at which her full gaze had been on me, I could feel the changing characteristics of our relative positions. Now, she had reached the first quadrant, at ninety degrees to my right. Like a man watching the setting sun, I was losing her immediate, visual presence. Another quadrant, and I could feel her directly behind, me. There came a sensation of what I can only describe as something boring into my back, just behind the neck, and then it flashed through me as a kind of heat in my symbolic isolation.
She was moving again, and beginning to appear in my left vision, where she stopped and smiled. I knew she was smiling, even though I couldn’t see it. Finally, she began the last quarter circle, returning to gaze, fully, at me, from her start point.
Both her hands beckoned. The tenderness with which she held them out was palpable. Come, said the gesture, come.
I walked the radius to stand with her, taking her hands. In the biting wind, they were warm. Life, said a voice in my head, life.
She spun me round, to look back at the lone tree. I was now standing with my back to the wind, looking at the bent bush as though I were part of the force that had created its deformity. My mind began to feel unreal. I was part of something much bigger than its feeble and petty interests. I was part of Life . . .
She pushed me gently, back towards the tree, again. I leaned forward to move with her unspoken instructions; but, immediately, she pulled me back to her, as though showing that she would not let me return to that place, unchanged, no matter what the natural and habitual forces of attraction . . . As our bodies were reunited, I could feel her warmth, even through the layers of winter clothing we both wore.
And then she spun me to the left and guided me around the first quadrant of the imaginary circle. Turning me, there, to look at the lone tree, again. I felt I was seeing it with eyes very different to before. There it stood, alive but bent, at an angle to the world that had been determined long before its birth. I wanted to shout out, I felt irrational anger – I wanted to defend it. It had no choices, I cried, voicelessly, to the wind.
Sensing this, Maria Angelo gripped me tightly; and spun me around in a tight circle, coming back to face the lone tree, again. Empowered? I thought . . . but there was no time to consider it further. I was marched on and spun to face the lone tree from the downwind side. What did this mean? The other side, the windward side, clearly represented the natural forces of life; but here? I was at the position to which the tree was seemingly being pulled. And yet there was no pulling force, just the push of the eternal wind . . . Illusion, my silent voice, said softly. See it for what it is . . . There is only one force . . .
Once more, there was no time to think, and soon I was facing the tree across the circle from the point where the empathetic anger had gripped me. Here, there arose a feeling for which I had no definite words – a mixture of wanting to act combined with a sense of realism. My movements in Maria Angelo’s circle had a freedom that the tree had not; and yet the tree was our focus. We brought possibility to this world, where the tree, alone, had little, if any . . .
And then we were back to the windward point, and she turned me to face the tree again. This time, I hesitated, and could feel her smile, even though I could not see her face. She waited . . . and waited. There was something required of me at this place, some gesture that would demonstrate that my new knowledge had at least begun to be transformed into understanding.
Seized with initiative, I turned slowly, clockwise to face her.
Her smile was radiant. She reached out gentle arms and embraced me. Then, she pulled away, but not before giving me a flashing look that said we would visit this spot many times . . .
When her wordless and dancing figure had fallen below the line of visibility from the summit, I backed towards the bent lone tree and let the feeling of its presence seep into me. It was a beautiful thing, full of strength and capable of standing up to the winds that razed this peak. But, it had no choices in the world, and had been bent by a lifetime of force.
But I did have choices . . .
Something bright in front of me took my attention. I looked back along the line to the windward point – the last place that Maria Angelo had occupied before she left the circle, our circle. On the ground was a white envelope. I walked towards it and bent to pick it up. On the front was written my name – my circle name, came the flash: Lobo. I thought about this Spanish reference to ‘wolf’. It was an image wild and full of potential, and I had liked it the first time they had used it for me. Wolf . . . Lobo. I let the word run through my mind as I opened the envelope.
Inside, and responsible for the weight that had prevented it blowing away in the strong December wind, were a card and three coins. I looked at the card and smiled . . .
Coffee with Don Pedro is published on Thursdays. The previous episodes, some of which are labelled ‘The Beast in the Cafe’ are in the blogs. You can follow the enigmatic trail by clicking on this link.
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