Songs of the Wood

January 28, 2012
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I never quite grasped the concept of whistling. Indeed, though there may be a plethora of types, somehow I never quite understood the output of breath between my lips, allowing the cool breeze of carbon dioxide to quickly jet across my lips, steered forth by the formation of my mouth. But though I could not perform adequately myself, I was always prone to listening. Allowing the sweet music of another in the forest to travel through my ears, softly tickling my eardrum, was an experience like no other. To hear a sound that, with simply the act of breathing, could create so much noise. But one thing that was due to be noticed every time was that there was never one voice whistling alone for very long. Instead, slowly several voices might join in the fray, allowing their own voluminous voices to echo out among the trees, never revealing from whence they had come. Often, when I was younger, my mother had taken me there. “Do you hear that, that wonderful, glorious sound? That's the sound of true music. Can you feel that tug, the short little one in your chest? That's the feel of wonder rolling over you, like a wave from the ocean. That's how you recognize not only music, but also beauty.” Ever since she had left me, all those years ago, I hadn't walked the trails of this forest, refusing to think about the beauty of music, of life, and of what came after. But now I was here, and even now, I could not whistle. Instead I pictured my mother, walking alongside me, her ragged clothing moving only enough in the still breeze to reveal a weak, ravaged body. But when she began to whistle, it was if all of nature would stop to listen, beginning with the slow intake of one in shock, before something of wonder. Her clear, smooth voice carried the sound far, and soon the echo would return, created a cascade of glorious song that radiated strong beauty. This was when she was at her finest, when she could pretend the world didn't exist outside of our peaceful safe haven. Instead of light illuminating her face, here the beauty seemed to travel from her, and then throughout the forest. And what an infectious joy it was! It wasn't long before all the forest began to join in, one by one, to the natural symphony of sound. Birds of all kinds would alight on branches near where we stood, contributing beautiful songs to mutual benefit, where though a cacophony of music should exist, merriment and peace resided. Though these concerts would only last for minutes, I had often prolonged the moments in my mind for as long as possible, remembering those happy moments when all was good in the world. These moments were what managed to get me through the still nights spent at home in our one-room apartment, watching her grieve through sleep at all that was lost to her. She refused to speak of what had happened, even when I shook her awake each night, begging to know. But through time, I was able to paint a picture of her past memories, the world she had lived in before I had come. It was not a picture of beauty, or of strength, but instead one of pain and longing for what had been. But with me, she always looked forward, working days and nights that we might attempt to live normal lives, so that we might keep up our picture. Our weekends were always spent in the woods, together. Each time, she would ask me the same questions, questions that seemed to demand a good answer, lest the tranquility of the forest be broken. Those like, “Are you happy?”, or “Do you know how much I love you?”, were always best answered with exaggerated nods or confirmations of my own love. Though as we began the walks, the bags beneath her eyes seemed their deepest, and the creases of her face seemed to draw more tense than seemed human, all would change as we walked. She would always attempt to mask how she was feeling, through a cloak of strength. But I could always, would always, be able to tell and to remember the way she fought, fighting for survival in a world that had spit at us both, trying to eradicate what it perceived as weakness. But still we fought back, clinging with the strength of beauty, with the strength of beauty. When the darkness of the world crashed in among us, we would fight back with hands together and song in the air, and nothing can defeat that kind of power. That is what we told ourselves , convinced ourselves, that we might go on living. If only we had known, that no amount of whistling could forever hold back the tides of the world. No, for by the time I was fifteen, my mother had passed, a result of past ailments, as well as the weariness of her days, weakening her too severely. On the day of the funeral, I stood above my mothers grave, looking at the wooden casket that was to descend within the earth, my mind far from where I stood. The graveyard they had buried her in was located just outside of the forest she had loved so very dearly. When asked where she should be left, I had known the answer without thought. The ceremony was very short, with only myself and a preacher from the community church down the road . Not seeming to be particularly enjoying the atmosphere, the man made his speech short, not wanting to offend the woman's only child, but also not wanting to be kept from far more “pressing” matters. As he asked me if I would like to say a few words over her casket, I stepped forward. But no matter how I tried, words would not come out my mouth, and so I stood there, thinking of all the times we had spent trying to avoid all the pain and sadness, which we knew could overcome us at any moment. All that time, we had always tried to fight back at the world. But now, without the warmth of my mothers arm around me, without the sweet voice which she had used to call out to the beauty of the forest, I gave in to that weakness. I slowly sank to my knees, shedding many tears upon the grave of my mother. There had been silence throughout the ceremony, but now as I lamented the passing of my only family, a single bird could be heard overhead. It was a nightingale, which had swept silently over the ceremony, but was now singing loudly for all to hear. The sound of that one bird, with its voice of beauty so akin to that of my own mother, was what gave me the strength to stand up and leave her grave. Had it not been for that bird, I'm not sure I could have ever left. But I did, walking out to the car prepared for me by social services, with someone who had never known me sitting behind the wheel. I did not, could not, look back at my mothers grave. Not even as four men came out of hiding and began to bury her. For the bird had finished its sweet melody, and as it slowly soared out of view, so did the strength my mother had given me. So I closed my eyes, attempting to conjure up pictures of the past, even as I drove into the future.

Now, as I think of those dark days within my past, my mind is filled with the memories of my past a melancholy taste. But they are all that is left, all that I hold dear. With my mothers passing, so had all the beauty of the world. No more can the wonder of sweet music fill my heart. Now, after so much time had passed, I had finally returned. To be honest, I'm not sure what I expected. Perhaps for the empty ache I've held in my heart in every moment since she left to be filled, simply from returning to our spot. For many years I had feared visiting the grave of my mother, also fearing her forest might only intensify the pain residing deep within my heart, but now I knew that not even death could pain me anymore. My heart was filled, not with the sweet music of my past, but with the silent pain of fear, the quiet voice of worry, and the murmuring echo of anger. But as I sat upon a bench alongside the trail, something happened, or rather, didn't happen. It seemed as if the air of the forest was held still, just for a moment, expectantly waiting for something grand to happen. Something began to rouse within my brain, as if calling me to remember times long ago. It was not until the song began that I realized what was happening. And then I was up, running towards the noise, no longer caring about maintaining my calm, painful thoughts. No, instead, I was guided by primal instinct to run. To give chase, to find the source of that sound. Even as I ran down the trails of that forest, the shadows of large trees causing my eyes to waver. It had always seemed impossible to tell where the song began within the wood, but somehow I knew. Perhaps it was because my memory was calling out to me, reminding me of my mother's favorite spot within the forest, a quiet spot found on top of the largest hill, where one might rest and take in the beauty of all the forest. That is where I was headed, unsure of what I was expecting at the end of such a hunt. Afraid to answer my own question, I instead plowed forward with even greater ferocity, allowing my mind to focus on basic motor controls. Soon I was climbing the hill where, sure enough, the sound of that original song was strongest. It was not until I reached the top, that I dared to stop. As I looked around, searching for the source, I found it, and my heart stopped. There she was, but how was this possible? Yet I knew, even as I walked forward, tears streaming out of my eyes, that it was not true. For as I approached the park bench located in the middle of the open space, the woman in the dress turned towards me, revealing a face far younger than that of my mother even when I was a child. As she saw me approaching in such an emotional state, she ended her song, instead turning towards me and backing away. But before she could enquire as to what was wrong, I raised my hand to silence her. Instead I looked at her face, and my world quickly broke into pieces. The ocean where waves of wonder had once come from, was now pouring out upon my head, drowning me in my emotions. Feelings I had so long repressed now began to surface, washing away the doubts and fears I had harbored for all of those years. All of this, because of the beauty one young women dared to reveal within this sacred place. Overcome with emotion, I fell to my knees, but finally understood what my mother had always been talking about, revealing within the safety of the wood and harboring through the labors of her life. And then, after so much time of rejection, I whistled too.

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