The church was empty. No people, no people’s paraphernalia. No Sunday hats to show off their religion.
Only my hat. To cover the hairless patch. So the birds, flitting around high up in the roof of my lush cathedral, would not be tempted to take aim with fertiliser bombs.
In the church of my understanding, Platbos Forest, the service is ongoing. No words. Just the wind and the trees, talking in tongue (thank you, Leonard).
And lots of hymn. And him. And the Great Spirit. And her.. The birds, of course. The full panoply of song. And the canopy, alive with the buzzing of a million bees, their high voice as one, harmonised with the budding spring.
I walked into my church, mindful of warning the resident congregation that I came so there was no cause for alarm. The forest floor was damp and scented and musky and rich, the leaves, the bark, the twigs, the moss, the mould, the mulch, the Grandfather’s Beard all creaking and cracking in tune with my footfall. The anthem of the fallen.
The Fallen. This is why I had come back. To talk. To ask them, my family lost, for guidance. To find reassurance. And my truth.
A broken heart is blind (thank you, Dan, Patrick and Brian). And my heart, given to the woman with the hair that fades to grey, is now pulled to pieces. Lying on the greasy, oil-patchy floor of the Heartbreak Garage, waiting to be cleaned, mended and reassembled.
So I walk to my tree, my Family Tree, stopping only to pay respect to the thousand-year-old milkwood, wizened and wise, where my last camera gave up the ghost when a very lost man swooped down to protect his beautiful fruit.
My family are (and this is when I start to struggle to breathe and my feet get cold while writing this and I must stretch to find air for my lungs and go to find socks for my feet) bound up in the branches and stowed in the decaying trunk of a huge fallen milkwood. Lying, magnificent still, and still, on the forest floor off the path to the labyrinth.
Next to this down-to-earth land-art monument grows a much younger milkwood, its trunk straight, it’s many branches draped with grey-green beard and reaching for the light. Me. And, I imagine while sitting on the edge of the split pew in the family tree and looking up to the light, my sister and niece and cousins and their children. And their children’s children. It is painful. Because I am alone. Not lonely. Alone. Alone in this multi-sceptred church, all flying wooden buttresses and gargoyles of sculpted green, gleaming in God-rays.
The Living and the (not quite) Dead.
I talk to them. I thank them. For picking me up. Feeding me. Teaching me. What was right and what was wrong. I feel some Neil Young coming in…
“Let the angels ring the bells
In the holy halls
May they hear the voice that calls to them
For the love of man, who will understand
I know it’s alright
Down the dusty road
In the forest church. Let me wander there
Let me wonder why…”
For The Love of Man, Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young, Reprise Records, 2012.
Thanks again, Neil. You have always talked to me, for 40 years now.