When she reached the edge of the forest, she paused. It was important to always allow her eyes to become accustomed to the darkness before entering. The forest was very familiar to her, after all, it was the source of many of the healing plants that she used. Just the same, she was aware that many creatures, seen and unseen, lurked in the forest and misfortune could befall the unwary. Yet the forest was the place she returned to again and again; it was the place where she could go about her tasks, unhurried, unheeded. Few other folk chose to go there, and when they did, she knew about it instantly, so attuned to the trees was she.
Ah…those trees… She gave a sigh, knowing that this was to be her last journey into the forest, and one by one, she visited each tree and said her goodbyes. From some, she took a small bundle of leaves and placed these in her basket. The basket she herself wove many years before, using the young supple wood from the tree deep in the forest, the tree most believed no longer existed. The basket had served her well. Anything placed in that basket retained it’s vitality until she was able to process it as tradition willed. The leaves being gathered today had a special purpose, and her heart was heavy.
Finally it was time to leave the forest and to slowly make her way back to the village. Despite her understanding of the cycle of life, despite her training, despite her beliefs, she could not stop the tears from rolling down her face, as she left the place most precious to her.
It was with a final last effort that she reached her door, and entered. Carefully she placed the basket with it’s precious contents next to her bed, and laid herself down one final time. It was her time. She knew this, and accepted it. The times she lived in were difficult – it was not easy to go about her work when the other villagers were suspicious of what she did. The sideways glances, the mutterings…..yet when they were ill, who did they call? It was how it was, that’s all. Her sorrow lay in having no-one to pass her knowledge on to. No-one to carry on the traditions of healing, no-one to carry on the nurturing of the land itself. She had tried, oh how had she tried, to encourage other women to learn from her. But they all were too scared to be seen in that way, and while she could understand this, it still grieved her.
She had asked that when her time came, she be not buried with the others, but be placed back in the forest. The villagers were shocked at the idea, and she realised sadly it wouldn’t happen.
And now, on this day, her breath is drawing to a close, she is letting go, allowing the next cycle to proceed…….. Just as she slips away, a figure slides forward from the shadows and places the leaves across her face, just as she had wished. Ahh…..there will be someone to carry on after all….
(First published 2011/11/10)