But the ears of the forest are very much alive and listening. It is not words they crave, but thoughts. I place my hands over my own ears as I walk by as if to somehow keep my thoughts inside my head. If I cannot hear the trees, they cannot know my intentions. Like a child who thinks mother has disappeared forever simply because she has left the room, I indulge in my fantasy of giving them the slip.
|The ears of the forest.|
Words are a mere skeleton, but thoughts flesh out the world. It is akin to the difference between a two-dimensional world and a three-dimensional world. There’s no competition; they are universes apart. So I sing as I walk. “Ol’ man river, that ol’ man river. He don’t say nothing, but he must know something . . .”* Maybe they’ll concentrate on the words of the song and so will I, and then neither of us will have to deal with my thoughts.
Wishful thinking. The Lord of Winter is up ahead, and I can see the impatience on his face. He masks it quickly, though. He doesn’t want me to know that he has been waiting for me. That’s a sign of weakness, and he’s never weak.
“Alone at last,” he says.
“Always alone,” I respond. This makes him smile.
“Then let us walk on a bit further.”
“We have been walking a long time together now, and it’ll be dark soon,” I argue, but he tells me that it is already dark and has been for a long time. I know I shouldn’t listen to him, but I’ve taken my hands off my ears and placed them in my pockets because of the cold.
Onward we trudge. At last I sit down at the top of a snow-covered ridge. I’m really lying down more than sitting down, actually, because the snow is so soft. A winter bed is hard to leave, after all.
“We’ve been walking for a long time,” he says. “Tell me, what have you found?”
“I’ve found nothing but the cold and ice,” I tell him.
“I gave these to you.”
“Do you like my gifts?” he asks, and I tell him I do, but I’m not sure if that’s true.
“Are the ice crystals not beautiful? Do they not sparkle like diamonds?” he asks, and I assure him that they are lovely.
“Are you ready to come back with me?” he asks.
“I’m not sure. I suppose I should.”
“I’m not sure. I suppose I should.”
“Indeed, you should.”
I lay there, thinking. Can the ears of the forest hear my thoughts now? Maybe there really isn’t a gift at the end, after all. Another deep breath of the fresh forest air, I tell myself, and then I’ll get up and follow him.
I look at the snow and ice on the edge of the ridge. My eyes are only a few inches away from it as I lay there, and I can see the little ice crystals within, quite orderly and beautiful. Then I take a deep, deep breath, and as I do so, the last ray of the sun as it begins to set far, far away breaks through the cloud cover and dances on the ice before my eyes. It’s a tiny twinkling, like a sparkling, dancing flame. And then it’s gone from my vision.
But not from my heart. I had quite forgotten that I left a tiny flame there long ago.
“Are you coming?” he asks. “We had better make tracks while we can.”
“No. I’m staying a bit longer.”
“What?? Haven’t I given you freely of my winter delights? Will you treat my gifts so callously?? I have moved mountains for you! You know that I would do anything for you! There is nothing left for you here!”
And it’s true that all around me in this season of death, I see nothing but the ice and snow. I waver in my decision, but then I see the tiny sparkling light again on the ice at the top of the ridge.
“Why would you want to stay here?” he shouts. “What do you have here?”
I look at the tiny spark, and I say, “I have him.”
And now there is silence. Even the ears of the forest, strain though they may, can hear nothing.
Finally, I turn to him and ask, “What do you have?”
Again the silence . . . and then a tiny flash in his eyes.
“I have you,” he says.
He walks away. We both know we’ll meet back here again in the forest someday soon. But today is not that day. Today there is a tiny point of light that I must investigate.
Of course, the forest has heard everything, and already the trees are busy clicking out their raspy message: Long live the King.
There is a great deal more hardship ahead, but I am still standing. And somewhere far away, a tiny butterfly’s wings continue to beat impossibly tiny waves of energy into the ether.
* Paul Robeson