Adrift for a week, I am slowly emerging back into my routine, reminding myself to work on my projects instead of wasting too much time killing time, avoiding work, avoiding too much scrutiny into myself. This scrutiny though is different than the one from the early days of lockdown. Back then, my entire being was raw. Everything was different, scary, and unknown. It was easy to keep track of my emotions and actions because they were loud. Three months later, they are not.
Next, I look up frênes and learn it is ash. I return to the book about trees I am reading. It is written in French, a language in which my vocabulary of trees is small, much smaller than my slowly growing list of names I know in English.
Rain is falling outside of the window, the air fresh. A flash of light beam through my closed eyelids. Silently, automatically, I count the seconds until I hear the booming of thunder. Eleven seconds. Another flash comes soon enough and I count again. It is still eleven seconds.
Walking through residential streets leading to the nature reserve, I am glad to be chatting in person with G. again. There is a familiarity to our chats, the complaints we have always had about work still there but I cannot fully take part in the discussion. I haven’t lived in that world for too long, my interest and daily life busy with other concerns.
I leave that patch of earth alone and move to the one along the fence we share with the neighbour. There is nothing growing there that we like so I take the spade and turn the earth over. On my knees, I sort through the ground, removing the roots and watching worms wriggle into new abode. I don’t seem to have injured any.
The day unfolds quietly between episodes of Columbo, games of Scrabble, and an early dinner. The dishes dried and tidied, I return to the living room and grab the book about trees. I join my partner on the sofa and open it. Roots and branches are spread through the first few pages, their shapes fluids, almost moving. I turn the pages slowly and begin to read about the secret lives of trees as the title puts it.
I grab some paper from the bookcase, refill my fountain pen, and begin to write. First I write to my nephew, his letter sprawled on the desk by my side. The blue ink, so familiar from my own school days, is sprawling across the pages. Each letter is well defined with just a hint of change, my nephew finding his own hand away from calligraphic letters he was taught to use a couple of years ago.
On the right side of my face, from my eye to my lower jaw I can feel the warm dull ache brought on by my hormones. I imagine a nerve running through my cheek, connecting the top and bottom part of my face. It throbs gently, continually. It feels warms even though the temperature on either side of my head is the same to the touch.
We retreat back into the arboretum, following the less trodden paths. We read labels pinned to bark in the hope to learn more about trees, but I know I will forget most of them by the time we get home. I am too overwhelmed to concentrate and learn. Here, in the arboretum, I feel alive in a way I do not at home. I can breathe freely, my mind expanding with each steps taken, thoughts drifting, forming, slipping, gathering. Not much else matter than the fact that I am here, alive, and steady, secure around these trees both old and young.
‘Hummm…. Salad,’ I mumble my mouth full of green leaves. ‘Fresh, fresh, fresh salad.’ I shove another forkful in my mouth, close my eyes, and savour the cool leaves against my tongue.