Come under the greenwood tree.
Sometimes, the wood must be missed for the trees.
For there are moments in journeys when a forest suddenly comes apart into individual trees, shielding us from the sun, from the buffets of rain and wind, offering us warty beds on their feet, whenever we feel that yet another step means a certain death.
There is a tree at the top of Rayiranellur mount near Valanchery from where the legendary Naranathu Bhranthan rolled down big boulders to prove the futility of human efforts before a blind society. I spent hours sleeping in its shade, oblivious to a world functioning outside. I also remember with awe the lone tree and its cool shade at the edge of a cliff in Bakel daring the ceaseless wind from the sea.
To know a tree you have to walk.
There is a kind of seemingly endless walk under a merciless sun, when you feel each new stride bores deeper and deeper into your calf muscles and joints. Look around; you see only wilderness – dried, burnt and withered shrubs and an ochre earth – on every side as far as the eyes can see.
Darkness awaits you. The first few wisps have already gathered in the corners of your eyes. What would be your coolest dream now?
Mine would be a patch of shadow, a dark oasis, a shade under an emerald leafy islet in the air where I could fling my body like a soiled shirt on its foot and drop dead by its side like a log of wood.
Let the cool breeze gently lick the sweat off my body.
Let my ears softly tune out and lose the drift of the nighttime jaunts which the wind fills the jealous green ears of the banyan tree with. Let the little eggs of light on the ground begin to break one by one and dissolve my world into total darkness.
Hush! I sleep.
Now gently, without waking me up from this wearied sleep, sketch a mossy pond. Build an ancient temple in the backdrop silently with its worn-out wooden doors fastened after the morning pooja with a rusty padlock.
Note it, that I must only be woken up to a very old man – a local character, part of the scenery, part of a nearby death – sitting under the shade near me. When I rub sleep off my eyes and yawn along with the widening darkness the ancient man should smile knowingly and motion me gently aside to ask whether I would listen to some strange accounts about this lonely village, its people and its deities
My ideal tree shade is now airbrushed to perfection.
As I write this, rain is nervously drumming its fingers on the tin roof above me. Ah! That takes me to the tree shades in the rain. Have you too dodged a shower, beat it in the race to get under a tree in the nick of time?
A tree shade is a solemn and spiritual place to see the vagaries of rains. Even a snarling dog which bounds across the field slackens its pace to seek refuge in the shade humbly against the torrent. It drops still and silent. See how the chilly wind and the rain have wound up the wild beast into a soft quivering bundle!
Outside, the wind picks wildly on the strings of the rain, feverishly going up and down to find new pitches and notes; his fingers are all over her. From the shade I can feel the excitement of those distant trees as they see the mad strength rolling in their way to take them out for the wild swing.
Look, how they bend backwards now in sheer abandon as if they could feel the strong, invisible arms of the wind wound around them to hold them from falling.
But the storm will finally die down, the clouds will disperse, the rain will lose its verve and break into whimpers and sobs. But before I get out of the shade I must draw in a lungful of the cool air.
Feel the air under a tree which will be crisp and keen like a newly-ground blade after the downpour. The sweet heady tang of wet earth has already settled down on your soul, stirring up blurred memories of other rains and other shades from your earlier lives. Mix with them the foliage you see around after the rain, now ablaze with a green which is intense to the point of saturation.
Your senses are refreshed.
I want to sit here now on one of the wet swollen roots of this tree, with my elbows on my knees, resting my chin on my cupped hands to watch how the choppy rain finally spot me through little rivulets running over the ground.
I will sit here until the first light breaks through the dark cloud, and nature bashfully smiles again wiping her wet cheeks on the heart-shaped leaves over me. I wait for the first tear sliding through the tiny chinks of the canopy, to fall on my shoulder and whisper on my ears, “I have finally found you.”. More droplets will follow. It is time for the after shower.
Still I must say, you haven’t seen a tree all until you pick a full moon night under it.
Come into the shade to enjoy the night air. As your eyes slowly get to grips with the darkness they will pick out from the shade the faint notes of the moon.
Be there for a while.
To see how the restless pencils of the moon draw those surreal sketches on the ground and rub them off painstakingly before a world wakes up only to miss the magic. Even the little birds living in the tree will brush aside what they have seen at night as luminous strands of an impossible dream.
This is where nature keeps her magic, secretly. Under the greenwood tree.
(Photographs by Manu Remakant)