Until This Night

Until This Night

It all began with a single thought, which found form in the shape of a question. A question, which needed but one word.

Why?

As I gazed upwards, casting my weary eyes upon the black canvas of heaven, be speckled on that glorious night with the jewels of the cosmos, that simple question returned again to my lips. I had often imagined myself sitting on a hill just like this one. Now fate and circumstance had collided to bring me to a place where the spirit of will coalesces with the blindness of luck and by no small miracle there I was.

It had been such a long journey. In truth it did not really begin on that fateful night at all, but many years before, when, as a lad, I wandered through the forests that bordered my father’s farm. It was there in those early days that I first developed a love of nature. I was fearless, often spending long nights with nothing but lambs wool and leathers to keep me warm on the long winter nights, after the fire I had worked so hard to create had long since abandoned all efforts at flame.

It was a lonely existence. Apart from my ageing parents, I had no one, no siblings and few friends. What friends I did have lived many hundreds of miles distant and I mainly saw them at school. Not that I minded. I have always enjoyed best the company of my own soul. That, plus the owls and bats of the night and the rabbits, foxes, birds and reptiles during the day. Observing such creatures led me to reason that somewhere out there was the answer to a question which had plagued me since the day I was able to ask it.

Why indeed? Why me? Why this particular night? Why was I chosen?

It was not so cold that I longed for lamb’s wool and I had decided not to light a fire as I had so often done. With the stars so bright above me, it would have been a travesty to upset the still darkness by flooding it with blinding light, even if only the light of a small fire.

I had seen this small hill many times, of course, from a distance. The hill itself was unremarkable, setting itself in an equally unremarkable paddock, which happened to overlook the hills further East, rolling gently on the other side of the sleepy village. But the olive tree atop that hill, well, that was as remarkable as any tree I had ever seen.

Godspeaks, they called it. I always thought it was just a name. The local legend tells of a certain traveler who came to town one winter’s night, trudging through snow as deep as the hip, clothes tattered and worn, a hood covering most of his head and walking with the aid of a long stick which seemed only to serve to keep him from falling and disappearing into the white. He stayed for only seven days, said nothing to anyone, ate very little, but spent much of his time in the village library, books spread about him, their pages yellow with age, the ink writ with the pen of a bygone era. Then one night he sat upon the very same hill, under the ancient tree for a full day and night without so much as moving once.

When finally he did move, he came down to the chapel on a brisk Sunday morning and whilst the villagers sat listening to the weekly sermon, he barged in as if trialing for a national sport, thrust his stick high above his head and called in a strangely unsettling voice, “God speaks!”

Then he left. So the tree he sat under was nicknamed Godspeaks and has done to this day. Nobody knew his name, but the gossip of the town that he was just a mad man, a lost soul, departed from family and friends, whether by will or circumstance no one knew. But the name stuck.

So, there I sat under Godspeaks, looking up between the branches, resting my back against the massive bulk of the trunk. Olive trees by habit are slow growing and have been known to live for a few thousand years. Our parish minister once told me of a tree near the holy city that had seen many generations of kings come and go. It had been dated as older than two thousand years, so it was no surprise that this old tree was still alive. What was surprising was that such trees do not grow this far north, more suited to Mediterranean climates, further south. It was just one of a number of oddities about the tree. Another was that it fruited only once in seven years. The girth of the trunk measured about eighteen feet about and three men with arms out-stretched could only just touch each other’s fingers when wrapped around it.

Gnarly is one word that describes the tree, with its thick branches clumsily intertwining around each other, as if fighting for best protection from the relentless winter winds. Hunched over, facing away from the Southerly squalls that come so suddenly and stay for weeks, the ends of the thinner branches pointing northwards, desperately pleading for Summer to return. But the ghostly anomaly seemed bent on surviving against all odds.

Children often played under her shade in summer. Birds of all varieties nested in her branches. Insects, wondrous butterflies and bees came to drink from the small white flowers in spring. And so it has been for many hundreds of years. Despite her name and the almost otherworldly look of her no one, either young or old, as far back as records were kept, ever recall anything unusual happening because of her. Not before the strange old hermit and not since.

Until this night.

Copyright©2015 Paul G Day

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