November is here, the month of All Souls.
As a little child from a Catholic tradition, I was told you could spring tortured spirits from the in-between-ether of Purgatory , by saying a handful of the right prayers and running out of the church to seal the deal. And there were always those of us who would run straight back in in an attempt to reclaim more of the dead for eternal life with a few muttered charms, again and again until it was teatime and we were ushered home, triumphantly comparing the numbers of rescued dead each of us had managed to redeem.
As if by magic, here in the Shires, the mist has descended on November 1. The land is sometimes in clear glittering Autumn sunlight and sometimes swathed in a really rather alluring gauzy haze, like the veil on a woman with kohled eyes glimpsed across a streetmarket dimly.
Tonight at dusk the forest was like her: hidden behind the failing light and a gossamer sleep-shroud, impossibly beautiful in her flame-red and yellow Autumn leaves, still at her centre, standing ancient on a different scale of time entirely from ours.
It was the perfect time to visit a tree which has recently suffered a cataclysm: a whole spur of her trunk, a great tall limb, has come rotten away, and some time when man was mercifully nowhere close, this colossal piece of beech crashed to the floor and began, slowly, to die.
Now the living faces the recently dead. The main beech tree must watch its limb slowly fade away, its vitality seep into the earth around, the beetles disintegrate and disperse it. No one has come to saw up logs and take its dead arm away, though it blocks the footpath. Only time, it seems , will claim the dead tree for eternity.
Do you know how long a beech tree takes to die? I watched a neighbouring tree when it was felled in storm and was horrified, long after we had begun collecting it as firewood, to see it sprout new buds and leaves to meet the coming Spring in hopeless anticipation. It must have taken, at my estimation, between a year and 18 months to finally stop the signs that it was clinging, stubborn, to the world of the living.
But my horror faded when I realised that trees live on a different timescale to ours. This one must be at least 200 years old. It was probably born in the same time that the Duke Of Wellington achieved a decisive victory at Waterloo, and has existed outside our constructs and events and little busy lives for two centuries.
The tree-that-lost-a- limb has shed its dead weight. Who knows how long the new, lighter beech tree will inhabit its forest. It cannot be pleasant being forced to keep the dead limb within one’s regard: but all time passes eventually, at whatever speed it is travelling.
For you who may have lost a tree-limb and are standing there, regarding it with seemingly bottomless loss: strength to you, Friend, as time passes.