#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 66

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 66

Day 66

Can you close your window please? The gate attendee raises the sign for our attention. We close the window of the car and she approaches.

‘Do you have your tickets and membership cards,’ she asks her voice louder than normal.

I raise the requested items to the window. She nods and lets us through. The car park is fairly deserted, each car parked two spaces apart. We follow the unspoken rule and do so too. We grab our bags, lock the car and head to the entrance of Westonbirt Arboretum. Unlike our trip to Berrow sands a few days earlier, I have been excited about coming here. This place feels safe. It is controlled with only a restricted number of people allowed inside.

‘That’s an oak,’ I comment at seeing a familiar tree. ‘Quercus robur,’ I add leaning over the small black sign pinged to the bark. ‘Quercus robur,’ I repeat rolling the name on my tongue.

‘What about this one?’ My partner points at a young tree a few steps from where we are.

‘Some sort of pine tree,’ I suggest. We walk to the young tree and it is indeed some sort of pine I have already forgotten the name of.

‘Trees should have labels everywhere,’ I comment. ‘It’d make it much easier to learn about them.’

I think of my grand father who used to take me on wood collecting trip when I was a child, and who later would allow me to sit quietly in his workshop as he turned lumps of wood into lamps and other decorative objects that cluttered every available space in the houses of family members.

‘You wait here,’ he told me each time as we approached the gate of factories. ‘I’ll be back in a moment.’ He walked away, his body disappearing into the darkness of the buildings. I squinted my eyes, following his outlined form along the highlighted safe path on the floor.

Voices of men reached my ears, distant shouts I didn’t understand. The men seemed to understand though as they responded with shouts of their own and adjustments on the machines. I looked for the trunks, round and strong at the edge of the factory. Thrown onto a conveyor belt they slid into a square machine that ate the bark with a mighty roar and shiver of pleasure, the metal visibly shaking in the flickering light overhead. It would emerge on the other side, smoother than any tree should be. Another belt carried the bare tree to another machine that swallowed it whole and sliced the wood with a loud grinding noise. On the other side, blanks emerged to be stacked on pallets. I wanted to step in and ask the men questions about how it all worked and where the wood was going. I wanted to see the planks transformed into houses and furniture but I was not allowed in. ‘It is too dangerous for a child,’ I was told every time I asked. So I remained by the door, watching the machines shake and boom as they transformed the forest into planks.

After a while my grand father returned to the sunlight but I still was not to move. More men loaded the boot of the car. I observed them with eager eyes, hoping the discard my grand father had purchased would be long enough to let me sit in the front seat, making the silent obedient wait worth it.

Later, when my grand father had returned to his first home, the wood was unloaded into his workshop. On good days, I was allowed to sit on the high stool by the door as he worked. I was not allowed to speak or ask questions but I could watch if I wanted to, my hands slid in the pockets of my jacket. Behind me were rows of files and other objects I didn’t know the name of. They were the domain of men and I was a girl. It was not my business to know.

‘Allysse!’ My grand mother called through the farm yard. ‘Allysse!’

‘Your grand mother is calling you,’ my grand father commented in his low quiet voice.

‘Okay. I’ll see you later.’ I jumped off the stool and ran through the farm to meet up with my grand mother.

‘Where have you been?’

‘With grand dad in the workshop.’

‘Come on, let’s go to the orchards. The plum tart is not going to make itself.’

Dutifully I followed and learned about plum trees and currant trees, about strawberry bushes and tomato plants under the watchful eye of my grand mother. In the kitchen, I was taught the name of every utensil and how to use them to transform harvested fruits and vegetables into food for the men. They would need it in the fields.

I never learned anything about trees and wood in spite of relentlessly sitting in my grand father’s workshop throughout my childhood. This fact pains me as I stand in the middle of pine and fir trees in the arboretum. I should know about these trees.

‘I was never taught because I am a woman,’ I tell my partner. ‘Just as I wasn’t allowed to drive the tractors or help at harvest time unlike my male cousin.’

I place my hand on the bark. It is rough under the softness of my hands, the skin unmarked by any manual work.

We walk on through the paths, turning left and right following our whim or to avoid a person walking in our direction. I lose track of where we are but it doesn’t matter, there are enough maps laid out throughout the site to guide us back to the entrance later.

‘I’m hungry,’ I state as twelve o’clock strike.

‘Me too.’

‘Let’s find a spot in the maple loop,’ I propose as I spot a sign for a loop around maple trees. We follow the twisted path and find ourselves surrounded by a low canopy of pointy leaves. Dark reds sit next to lime greens, the trunks twisted and small.

‘Here,’ my partner enquires as a bench come into view. Unwilling to come into contact with the wooden surface of the seat, we settle on the floor, spreading our small feast between us.

‘I could stay here all day,’ I murmur after lunch my body laid on the grass. The clouds have parted for a brief moment, revealing the sun hidden behind. It is warm when it shines unfiltered on my exposed skin. I let it wash over me, seep through the layers of clothes I wear, and reach below to the hidden skin.

A breeze ruffles the leaves all around, a symphony of white noise I have yet to grow tired of.

‘I need to spend more time in forests,’ I tell my partner.

‘Come here!’ A voice shouts from the path. ‘Come back here!’.

I sit up and watch as a dog is fast approaching our picnic spot. The owner pulls on the long lead, forcing the dog back to their side.

‘Sorry about that.’

‘It’s okay,’ both my partner and I reply.

‘Enjoy your lunch.’

‘Thanks.’ Our lunch is mostly over by this stage and we are soon back up and walking through the park. We reach one edge of it, a small wooden gate guarding the entrance. I push it with my hip and slide my body through the opening, out of the arboretum. Unrip wheat spread as far as my eye can see to my left. A hedge bars my sight on the right. In front of me a path stretches into the distance. I catch my breath.

‘This is where I should be,’ I say to no one at all, my partner resting under a tree a few metres away.

I set up the tripod and take a shot of the landscape in front of me.

The shutter closed I stare at the paths, my feet glued to the spot and yet itching to go, to walk on, follow the arrows through the countryside until it is time to get back to work. It doesn’t matter that I have no gear with me, that no pubs are open for a rest, and that I am wearing slightly too big sandals on my feet. I want to go, to walk, to disappear into this English landscape I have come to love.

My eyes fill with tears that I hold back. ‘Another day,’ I murmur to the path my voice coarse with longing.

I step back into the arboretum and join my partner on the ground. A man walks past, holding a one sided conversation into his phone. A pine needle falls by our side, making the faintest of noise as it lands on the parched soil, and I forget what I’m not allowed, what I don’t have. For now, I have this. The trees, the sun, my partner, the ground beneath, and memories to come.

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