by Mason Bushell
ginger beer, natural, sweet and just a little spicy.
A walk in the woods, a regular event for a person and their dog. Just the whistle of the breeze through the limbs of oaks, silver birch and yew trees can lower the blood pressure. Just the feeling of nature hugging around you can make you relax. The twittering and tweeting of the many birds. The squirrel watching from above with an acorn in his paws. The knocking of a woodpecker, searching for grubs. And that majestic deer peeking around the gnarled old trunk of a tree. All the wondrous sights and sounds that make wandering in the woods a special thing to do. Even if you’ve been a hundred times, it’s still a great experience. A new creature, an odd mushroom or a new sunny space make it all worthwhile. There’s never really an adventure unless you miss your way. That’s what Megan did one afternoon, whilst out with her black German Sheppard Lucy. Megan was twenty-three and had tawny brown hair that glinted in the sun. It’s warm rays gracing her bare shoulders as it passed, dappled, through the canopy of leaves above. With Lucy snuffling about the bracken for something to chase and chaffinches fluttering about with the butterflies. There was a tranquillity there in the woods. Megan stopped and breathed, opened her arms in a beam of sunlight and turned energizing circles. The skirts of her cream skater dress flared as wide as her relaxed smile. So calm was she walking in the woods, that a mistake she made. When the young lady stopped turning she walked on in quite the wrong direction. Lucy noticed and lowered an ear. ‘No my mistress knows where she’s going.’ she thought before trotting obediently after her.
One rabbit path is quite like another when in the trees. Megan walked between holly bushes and around birches and a cherry tree on the path that led the wrong way. Then the rabbit path was gone a glade surrounded by silver birched was at its end. Open to the blue sky and welcoming it was. Wildflowers, dog roses, honeysuckle and violets filled the woodland floor. Between then, delicate bracken ferns and the mysterious enchanter’s nightshade. Lucy dog had arrived first and now she stood, one front paw aloft, confused, alarmed even by the strange new place. Megan felt it too, there was an energy here and it was all in the oak tree. It stood centre to and toward the back of the clearing. It’s display of enormous limbs fanned out like the spans of a cathedral’s magnificent roof. Each gnarled and weathered yet as beautiful as could be. The tree was a thousand years old if it were a day. The squirrels adored it, this was their home as did the colourful jay. Megan approached her head tilted high. She loved the light trickling through the massive, magnificent canopy. The oak seemed to draw her in, it’s feeling warm and enchanting. Megan arrived at the trunk and stepped over a raised root. Her sandals allowed her white painted toes to touch the wood that supplied the tree with nutrients from the ground. It felt alive with energy but not as much as the cankerous, gnarly trunk. It was warm from the sun and felt happy to be growing there in the woods. Happier still to feel Megan’s pure, friendly touch.
“What a magnificent tree, hey, Lucy. I feel something magical happened here,” Megan commented. Even as she did, she felt she was on the wrong side of the wide trunk. Lucy still hadn’t come closer, preferring the edge of glade to the tree that set her senses on alert. Megan smiled at her then worked her way around the massive girth of the oak. A squirrel above chattered, beckoned her there. Higher still, a spotted woodpecker watched on with interest. Reaching the other side, she stumbled on a root, dropped to a knee. Unhurt she rose again and saw the proof of an event. There above the first branches, it was, a heart carved into the tree. There was lettering inside, worn with age, indecipherable from the floor. Megan kicked off her sandals and smoothed her hair over her shoulder.
“Don’t go anywhere Lucy, I need to see,” she said before beginning to climb. With bare toes, hands, legs and arms, she could feel every crack in the bark, every wrinkle that’d showed it’s time on earth. Then she was sat on the branch, that squirrel was still on a branch not far away. A stag beetle stood by a hole higher up; the home of owls or bats perhaps. Megan knew the humble oak tree was home to a multitude of creatures. Important to many more for food and protection too. Her soft brown eyes moved to the heart and now it as clear. True love was professed right here. ‘E, W & G, F’ it read. The ampersand was not there, two entwined circlets filled the space.
‘I see you experienced beautiful love, didn’t you, tree?’ Megan reached out and placed her finger on the heart, she traced the letters within. As she finished the ‘W’ her branch perched began to wobble. The shudder felt from within. It shook her against the trunk. Her palm pressed flat upon the heart and her consciousness faded to green.
When next she could see, Megan was still in the tree. On the same branch but away from the trunk. No heart or initials showed in the bark. The leaves sparkled with browns and yellows, it was autumn in the woods. A smooth honey-brown doe was grazing below, and Lucy dog was gone, footsteps were coming. Megan glanced about the woods below, where were they? Who were they? Then she saw her, a young lady close to her age, yet in style much older. She was wearing a loose fitting, drop waist, cream dress. A blue cloche hat sat upon her bob of short brown hair. Accessorised by Mary Jane shoes and a beaded bag, she was a girl from yesteryear. Megan loved fashion and so she knew this girl was by her dress, from the 1920s, no less. By the tears in her eyes, she was definitely in distress. Megan tried to descend the tree, to help if she could. She couldn’t move, not an inch of her would react to her desire to get out of the oak tree. It was if it held her in its leafy embrace and would hold her until it permitted her to leave.
“Elsie, wait!” the call was from a young man, for now out of sight. There was an ‘E’ engraved in the tree before, it was not there now, of course. Megan had no choice, she looked on with interest. Elsie wiped away a tear and walked on. Stopping there under the tree, “No, Geoff, I demand you leave me be,” she said with tears in her eyes. There he was coming around the last silver birch tree. A handsome gentleman, not much less than twenty. He strode into the glade wearing black trousers, over Oxford style two-tone blue and white shoes. The blue was picked up in his matching boater blazer, over a crisp white shirt. A white boater hat with a blue band finished his 1920s college boy look.
“I cannot, Elsie, I made a big mistake. Will you give me a chance to explain,” he pleaded. Then he was stood with Elsie beneath the tree. He made to put his arm about her, but she shrugged him away.
“I told you, Geoff, leave me be. I saw you kissing Mary-Jane. Was my sister prettier than me?” she cried having placed her head on her hand, against the oak tree. From above, Megan could see, she was sobbing there, upon the tree.
“I don’t deny it, I did kiss Mary-Jane, but not for her beauty and not for love. In fact, I kissed her for something she did for me. Something special, so I could do properly by you. She’ll never be prettier and I’ll never love her, over you. Will you let me show you what your sister did for you?” Geoff requested.
With exception to the birds and breeze within the woods, silence fell in the glade. Nearly a minute passed with Geoff waiting for Elsie to answer, hoping to be permitted one last chance.
“You kissed my sister, something you should never do. You say you still love me. Maybe I can’t love you now.” she said at last. On the bough above Megan felt sad at what she saw, what she heard from the couple beneath the tree.
“Go on, Elsie. Give him a chance. I’m sure he meant well and will see you happy again, very soon.” she said aloud. Neither Elsie nor Geoff looked up. They couldn’t see her, couldn’t hear her or so it seemed.
“Dear sweet, Elsie. The kiss was a thank you and nothing more. Turn to face me and you’ll see. She helped me get this to give to you with my heart.” Geoff tried again. It was then the squirrel climbed from the tree. The creature graced Elsie's shoulder and bounded to her feet. To follow it she turned and to Geoff, she looked. The Squirrel gave a chunter, a bow, and to the tree, it returned. The gentleman held a black heart-shaped box. He opened it now, revealing a ring with a ruby sitting within.
“Why do you have that, Geoff?” she asked, interested now.
“One day in twenty-one, you told me of a ring you and Mary-Jane loved. It was for that ring she earned her kiss. You see, she led me to it that day. Now I hold it before you as a token of love. Dear, Elise. My heart and soul are yours, may yours be mine. Will you marry me, my love?” Geoff dropped to a knee. Above him, Megan shed a tear that fell upon the branch of the tree. The oak tree had indeed played witness to a moment of pure love. Elsie wiped her eyes and looked to Geoff.
“You mean the kiss was to get me this, all along?” she asked.
“It was, dear Elsie. It’s you I love, and I always will. Will you let me take care of you?” Geoff offered the ring in its box; his heart on the sleeve of his outstretched hand. Elsie’s smile all but lit up the glade, even the birds seemed to cheer.
“Yes, Geoff, I will. I will marry you,” she said. Bounding to his feet, he placed the ring on her finger and the two shared a kiss. Her back against the trunk, his lips glued to hers, their love flowed again. Although they didn’t know it flowed into, imbuing the silently smiling oak tree.
Megan beamed at the couple and winked at the squirrel. He was back watching from a branch not too far away. Then Elsie broke from the kiss.
“Darling, Geoff. We must do something to help us remember this moment,” she said while straightening the cloche hat on her head. The young man looked up with a grin and a nod.
“I know what to do,” he said. “Let’s climb up there.”
“Not in this dress, and no lady can climb up the tree.” Elsie disagreed. Geoff leant a knee and offered a hand.
“Sure you can, up you go. It’s easy, you’ll see.” The young man gave an encouraging nod with an enchanting smile. This time Elsie stepped forward and up she went. Within moments she was perched on the branch. Sitting where Megan was now. Never touching, never seeing, yet sharing the same space, in a different time. Geoff was with her in no time at all. From his belt, he took a small knife and began to carve into the trunk with a deft hand.
“What are you doing?” she asked as the heart took shape. Megan smiled, she had seen what was to come. Seen what was to be carved into the oak tree.
“I’m carving our moment into the tree, a mark to remember our time together, forever.” Geoff finished the heart. Then wrapping Elsie’s soft hand on the knife he began on the letters. “E, W for Elsie White and G, F for Geoff Flynn,” he said as they carved the initials. Her hands-free again, Elsie watched as he carved in the circlets.
“And two entwined rings for our love. Our marriage to happen very soon,” she said. With the carving complete he turned her back to the tree trunk and kissed her again. Her hat fell to the ground. Their clothes, Megan felt sure to follow. Their love grew and grew and was blessed by the tree. Then as the Megan grew hot under the collar, Elsie’s hand pressed the carving and the scene faded to green once more.
Megan’s eyes flickered open, she was still in the tree. A barking below, let her know Lucy was back and so was she. Wasting no time she climbed down from the tree.
“You know, Lucy. It’s time to go now the tree’s taken its magic from me,” she remarked with a look over her shoulder at the old oak tree. There across the glade were an elderly couple joined at the hand and hearts as well. She wearing an old red dress, and him a casual grey suit. On her finger was a ruby, a familiar engagement ring. With it a wedding band to match the one upon the finger of the gentleman.
“Not many people find their way to our special oak tree,” said the lady stepping forward with the gentleman on his black cane. Megan felt stunned, could they be them from so long ago?
“Good afternoon, I’m Megan and this is Lucy dog. Are you Elsie White and Geoff Flynn?” she asked although she already knew.
“That is indeed us. Do we know you?” Geoff asked. A twinkle in his eye told more than his words. Megan shook her head.
“No, I saw your carving. The tree showed me the rest. The day when you proposed to Elsie here in the glade. After Mary-Jane got that ring and that risky kiss. Please, how did I see that day so long ago?” she replied.
“It was so long ago. Eighty years in fact. Every one since we’ve come back to this, our old oak tree. He’s one hundred and I’m plus two. A tree like this sees a lot through its long years in the woods. When a special soul comes along, it loves to spend some time with them. To have that person sit with it gives the tree more joy than even the summer sun can. To thank you, the tree shares a tale of its time. Sometimes a horrible event, most often as this, a special, happy time. We made this our tree when we gave our love to it. Now it’ll remember you too, never forget it.” Elsie told her. Megan watched the old couple hug the oak tree. They held each other beneath boughs and shared a kiss. Then with a wave and smile, they disappeared the way they had come. Filled with magic, and enchanted with awe, Megan left the woods once more.
Remember to respect and love the trees you see in the woods. They remember what happens around them and hold it within them. Never will they forget those special times through the seasons of their long lives. If you make a beautiful memory in the woods, give some of that love to the tree. It will thank you even if you carve into it. If you see a carving, study it, feel it and maybe the tree will share its story with you. For there’s always a story behind the heart-shaped carving in the old oak tree.
About the author
I'm a naturalist, keen story writer, and chef. I love to take pictures in nature and fit them with positivity quotes and have used them to form a unique cookbook. My muse is Sleuth Holly Ward, maybe one day she'll share some tales with you too. Anyway, I'm off for a walk with my camera and Lucy dog in tow.
Do come and find me at http://www.theworkhousemysteries.wordpress.com or @MBWorkhouse on Twitter and Facebook