I woke this morning with the image of a dream imprinted on my eyelids. The image was a simple one… an empty landscape with a lake that held the reflection of a tree.
I could replay the dream in silent freeze-frame. The image was divided in two by the shoreline of a lake. A tree stood tall and straight as a Scots pine, wide as an ancient oak, right on the edge of the empty shore. Below, the calm waters held its reflection with barely the shimmer of a ripple.
The thin line of the land, a horizon drawn by a child, never changed, no cloud marred the pale, immutable luminescence of the sky. Only the tree, as if dancing to the song in its branches and the rising and setting of the light.
I watched as the birds flew and sang through the bole and children played at its feet laughing. I saw the seasons paint themselves in green and gold, scarlet and black on its limbs. I saw the children grow, saw their trysts beneath the branches… and saw their children return in their turn to laugh and love and pass.
After an eternity, men came with axes and tried to fell the tree, but they could not. Later, they came with chainsaws, yet still it stood. Then I watched as the tree, whole and healthy, seemed to fall of its own accord, yet where it fell, no trace of it remained, only an empty horizon.
Yet in the clear mirror of the lake, the reflection of the tree still stood, tall and straight as a pine, wide as an ancient oak.
The birds flew above it, and their reflections played still amongst the branches. Children leaned from the bank to play amongst the reflected roots. The seasons still painted the reflection with green and gold, scarlet and black. But on the land, the tree was nowhere to be seen.
Men came and called it sorcery and poured oil and ashes into the waters to obliterate the reflection, but the water retained its clarity. They built a tall fortress, surrounded by a city, to replace the reflection with something of their own creation, something that they did not fear, but the mirror of the lake showed only the tree. The masters of the fortress forbade the people to look out over the city walls, forbade them to approach the lake on pain of death, creating a fear to mask their own, until the lake and its tree became no more than a myth.
When the drought came, many died of thirst in the city on the shore, but the branches of the reflection were still brimming with life in the pure water.
But there were those to whom the lake called… the madmen, the dreamers and those whose hearts played like children… who heard the song of the birds in the branches and the whispering ripples on the shore. Some marvelled at the magic of the shimmering image, captivated by an unattainable beauty. Some believed the reflection to be the truth and gave themselves to the waters, drowning in ecstasy. Some turned away, weighed down by sorrow at the passing of the tree from the world. And some saw that the reflection was no more than an image cast by something they could not see and, turning their backs on the lake, sought the source of the image. For these, the tree still stood, straight as a pine, wide as an oak, its branches still painted with green and gold, scarlet and black…the reflection no more than a promise and a shadow of reality.
When I woke, it was one image that remained… of a tree on a shoreline drawn by a child, an empty horizon and a perfect reflection below.