Chapter 11: Into Ancient Woodland (Elements of Vaalbara)

The afternoon was moving along, but the day was still young as if time had slowed down to an almost incredible stillness. The desert finally gave way to ancient woodland of fallen leaves, ravines, moss-painted rock formations, natural winding paths, branches and twigs. The sound of a running stream could be heard constantly, but was nowhere in sight. It was relaxing and the air was fresh. A family of bullfinch had followed them a short while splashing their colours into the sky. Upon first entering the woodland the light shone through brightly, but as they pressed forward some parts grew dark and shadowy. The ancient woodland held a mystical aura dressed with twisted yew, European hornbeam, silver birch, English oak, Japanese black pine, European beech, redwood, pollarded, European holly, big leaf mahogany and willow trees. The group noticed shadows moving behind the trees as they journeyed deeper into the woods. The tree spirit’s colour, which had changed into a deep fungus green by now, told them the shadows where harmless wandering spirits.

‘I must disappear for a while,’ said the tree spirit.

‘Why? Where you going Leafy?’ Bradley asked being the first to react.

‘I must consult with the woodland spirit to see what new knowledge if any can aid us. I will return to you shortly,’ replied the tree spirit.

‘But you can’t leave us now,’ exclaimed Kurumi.

‘It’s fine, we’ve got each other,’ said Aruna. At that the tree spirit disappeared into the curtain of trees.

‘Brads, don’t worry. We’ve made it this far without the tree spirit’s direct help,’ said Ash.

‘Yeah, that Leafy is… wait do you think it can still hear us?’

The ground beneath was soft and layered with leaves. London sat on a log, but it rolled forward from underneath her. As children do, she gave off a delightful scream. Actually, it sounded more like a wooooahahahahayiiii. She got to her feet looking at Ash with a great big smile. London began to play with the leaves, laughing and rolling around whilst making extraordinary sounds. Again and again and again she performed this act. The group watched her. London’s free expression and innocence thawed any lingering fear in each of their hearts.

Do not stray from the path that the woodland has made the tree spirit had said earlier before they entered the ancient woodland. With each step their feet sank into the soft and spongy surface. The sound of a thousand leaves under their feet echoed throughout the trees as they eventually pushed onward. It felt almost as if you could drop into the ground and into another world.

At times the ground became wet and soggy meaning Ash constantly had to watch London and her movements. In the distance on either side they could see fallow and barking deer, longhorn cattle and butterflies of all different shapes and sizes. The group often found themselves gazing into empty pockets of woodland, grassland and heaths that held a majestic dreamy and eerie beauty. At one point a kingfisher popped out from a tree and began circling above London’s head. Its vibrant orange and blue shaded feathers created a dazzling display. The bird dived with an elegant sharpness and landed gracefully on London’s head, closed its eyes and flew away. The ancient woodland spoke in breezy whispers, as if it had its own melody that it used to converse in. Instead of this making the group feel uneasy, it strangely made each of them relaxed. It was like nature was comfortable enough to talk freely in their presence.

‘Everything is so beautiful here,’ said Aruna.

‘Unlike back home,’ added Bradley.

‘Earth, England, London. It’s all very beautiful I think. You just need to open your eyes,’ said Ash.

‘Sorry mate, but London is grey and cranky,’ said Bradley.

‘England has a lot of beauty if you just stand still and see, and not just momentarily look. You will hear the birds if you really listen. Sometimes I can still hear the birds singing when I close my eyes at night. This place is just like home, but untouched by human movement, and before technology and industrialization. Anyway, let’s up the pace. We need to reach the end of this thin stretch of the forest before it gets dark.’

 

Following Ash’s leadership the group decided to step up in their walking speed, and engage in short jogging bursts to ensure they would not have to spend the night in the woods for who knew what creatures came out at night. London received small amounts of chocolate secretly from Kurumi, which she kept from the knowledge of the group.

They came across a dragon tree resting beside another tree that split into six more trees. Jumo was back to normal again and resumed his note-taking duties. After a while the crunching sound of leaves gave way to gravel and narrow winding paths leading them through bamboo woodland of extravagant green and yellow. Kurumi caressed the bamboos with the tips of her fingers. She recalled times she spent in the bamboo gardens close to her home back in Japan.

Exiting the bamboo woods they were met with trees that had rings engraved on the outer layers, and plants shaped like flying saucers. Other trees spiralled and their leaves when touched sounded like tiny crystal bells chiming softly in the distance. Coming across odd-looking, breathtakingly beautiful and wondrous things was the norm once they reached Vaalbara. A phoenixolia; pheasant-shaped silver bird with golden streaks perched on a rare naked tree brought even London to a halt. Its presence and slow movements demanded all the calmness of the world. It disappeared in the blink of an eye before the group could gaze properly, and before Jumo could take notes. They all had hoped for a moments longer viewing. However, to be blessed with the opportunity to see it no matter how brief was a gift in itself.

A danger in life and in any unknown surrounding is to become too comfortable. It weakens your awareness and patterns of thoughts. Now, that’s not to say one should not become comfortable, but know that life is fluid and change is constant, like time and energy itself.

The group was stopped in their tracks by a rustling echo around them. Slow purposeful crunches into the ground created an offbeat sound. They huddled together in a circle facing out in all directions. If anything came then one of them at least would surely see it. A frosty haze drifted in the air, yet it remained warm. The colour of the leaves on the surrounding trees transcended from cherry red to avocado green, sunflower yellow and kaki orange. It was like nature was going through the four seasons all at once. In front of Bradley, great spears of wood came walking out from the bush of trees followed by an enormous body, which was connected together with the wooden spears of course.

‘That’s a big deer,’ said Bradley.

‘That my friends is no ordinary deer,’ said Jumo, ‘it is an Irish elk. Just look at it! It has got to be at least nine feet tall and my sweet jelly, those are the largest antlers I have seen anywhere antlers to been seen or archived. They must be at least sixteen feet long.’

The great Irish elk stood before them in an immaculate brown coat. Its chestnut marble eyes scanned over the group. Behind it mushrooms sprang up along the roots of trees ducking in and out of the earth. The enormous creature took a step forward and came to stop in front of both Ash and London. The rest of the group backed away a few steps leaving the two alone. The Irish elk looked down at London. Everybody held his or her breath.

‘Ice cream,’ said London. A glint in the elk’s eye made London smile. The elk now turned its attention to Ash. Its antlers like great ethereal wooden arms sprawled out with a smoothly varnished carving. You could fit at least ten little London’s on its antlers. The creature pushed its head slowly forward, not wavering its gaze in the slightest. Ash returned the compliment and leaned his head forward. The Irish elk came closer, and closer still. Ash fixed his eyes with a deep glare and smiled. His nose now gently pressed against the elk’s. His friends who still remained behind him rolled into excited soft cheers.

Kurumi plucked up the courage and walked up beside the elk. She slowly and softly wrapped her arms around its body. She had her face sucked to its fur and synced her breathing with the beautiful creature. Jumo stood rooted to the spot muttering to himself but they are extinct, it is beautiful, it is extinct. As for Aruna, she was now standing next to Kurumi with one hand on the creature’s body. The connection between the Irish elk and Ash had now come to an end. He picked up London and held her in his arms. London waved goodbye and smiled. The creature walked past Jumo and into the trees. A breeze circulated and the fallen leaves rose into the air catching the sleepy sunlight.

‘It said to be careful and stick together,’ said Ash, ‘it also showed me the way out.’

‘Look!’ shouted Aruna. The mushrooms were dancing accompanied by a popping sound.

‘This is all proper mental,’ said Bradley. The group of fleshy fungi were stretching and contracting their stems to a silent beat. Their caps, some with spores, changed colour with every twist.

‘Fascinating, but we don’t have time for this,’ exclaimed Ash as he moved forward. However, the mushrooms blocked the only forward path. In the background London could be heard continuously saying hello to the mushrooms. Bradley, Kurumi and Jumo all tried to walk the path ahead, but the mushrooms blocked them also.

‘Just relax,’ said Aruna in a calm voice, ‘this too shall pass, so all we need to do is listen, observe and think with both our hearts and our minds.’ Bradley opened his mouth to reply, but Ash quickly placed his hand over his mouth. Everybody’s becoming philosophers around here mumbled Bradley. They stood looking at the mushrooms bouncing and swinging around. London broke into a wild dance routine per usual, but something quite remarkable occurred as she leapt into the air. The mushrooms seemed to respond.

‘We have to dance,’ said Aruna.

‘Well go on Jumo, do one of your tribal dances,’ said Bradley, nudging Jumo forward.

‘I believe one of your funky chicken dances should suffice instead,’ replied Jumo, stepping back into his original spot. Aruna stepped forward, carefully looked at the mushrooms and London, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and began to move into a dance.

‘What-,’ again Ash cut Bradley off with a hand over his mouth. Aruna’s body movement shifted in tempo from slow to fast with a variety of extravagant actions.

‘I don’t have the song with me, but the melodies are always in here,’ said Aruna, placing her hand on her heart. ‘Join me with your own dance, close your eyes if you’re shy.’ She gazed over towards Bradley.

‘Look, the mushrooms are syncing with both London and Aruna,’ said Jumo, ‘this is perhaps the only way to move forward.’

Jumo joined the dance circle and to the amazement of everybody, Jumo was a complete natural. His dance was a combination of something that looked like an African traditional dance mixed with street dance movements.

‘Come on Brads, show us your funky chicken,’ said Ash as he began dancing, ‘find the rhythm in your heart.’

‘Come on Bradley and Kurumi,’ said Jumo.

‘Yeah, just close your eyes and think of your favourite song and let your body move to it. I do this in my bedroom all the time,’ added Aruna with a wink towards Kurumi. Bradley joined and his dance did actually look like a diseased funky chicken if of course you can imagine what that may look like. Kurumi was the last one left. Aruna danced over to her and placed her hands on Kurumi’s waist and swayed them side-to-side. Ash turned in the other direction so as not to add to the level of embarrassment Kurumi had already placed upon herself. It took a little time and the added aid of Aruna, but Kurumi finally joined in with a radiant smile doing the funky chicken dance version two. Laughter and giggles provided the melody for the fusion of dances. It was a beautiful moment that only a camera could capture. Such radiant smiles in the face of adversity beamed throughout the ancient woodland. The mushrooms’ colours grew brighter as their appearance grew smaller and smaller, until they eventually disappeared into the ground and the path ahead opened once again.

 

After the band of friends maneuvered their way beyond the bizarre incident with the weird mushrooms they decided to take a short break. Their spirits were lifted somewhat after meeting the Irish elk and dancing together. Ash spoke.

‘Well, you heard my poetry or creative prose,’ he said, ‘or whatever you wish to call it.’ Let’s hear yours. Bradley you first.’

‘Alright then lads and ladies. Here goes. Mine is titled, London Grime.’

 

The streets are always full of crime

I can never find a solution in the depths of mind

Why is this happening all the time?

Peace seems like something we will never find

London Grime

 

Bradley’s friends broke out into a rousing cheer and clapping. Bradley showed his biggest smile for the first time on their adventure. ‘I nominate Aruna to go next,’ he added. Aruna stood up.

‘I guess there is no need to be shy anymore after our dancing. I wrote a Japanese haiku poem,’ she replied whilst smiling at Kurumi.

 

Watching a tree breathe

In love with the four seasons

My free heart blossoms

 

‘I can picture it clearly,’ smiled Kurumi, ‘your heart growing warmer with love as the tree goes through each passing season. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Beautiful.’

‘Yeah, very beautiful!’ added Ash.

‘Right, I nominate Jumo next.’

Jumo jumped to his feet in excitement. ‘Africa is my home,’ he said, ‘that’s the title’. He cleared his throat and began to speak.

 

Strolling along a glorious Zanzibar beach facing the Indian Ocean

Watching wildlife eat and drink in the Masai Mara

Being sprayed by the healing waters of Victoria Falls

Trekking Mount Kilimanjaro and tracking gorillas in the Virunga mountains

Meeting with my elders in the Omo River Region

Learning history at the sites of ancient Kush and Kemet

Shopping at a Djenne market

Listening to the Sossusvlei Dunes

Fishing in a great lake and sleeping under a star-filled sky

This is where life began

Africa is my home…

 

‘Deep stuff. That makes me want to visit anywhere in Africa now,’ said Bradley clapping cheerfully.

‘Nice. Just you now Kurumi.’

‘Okay,’ she replied. Kurumi stood. ‘This is called Firefly. I wrote it when I listened to Hiromi Uehara’s solo piece, Firefly.’

 

The sun has long ago faded beyond the trees

I can no longer see the rice fields that I cycle beside

but I can hear them sway in the summer breeze

along with toads croaking and other night creatures singing

something flickers in the corner of my eye, I stop…

A single firefly, the last of its kind emerges from the bush

Hypnotised by its beautiful glow

I follow it home.

 

The group clapped and gave each other hugs, pats on the back and words of encouragement and satisfaction.

‘And that concludes our spoken word session,’ said Jumo.

‘I’m sorry I always make fun out of you Jumo,’ said Bradley.

‘It’s fine Bradley,’ Jumo replied.

‘No, it’s not. It’s the way I’ve been brought up. Always making harmless, but snide fun of other people. It’s a bad habit I need to stop.’ Jumo reached out his hand as an offering of peace, which Bradley accepted.

They waited a short while to see if the tree spirit would return, but as majestic as the woodland was the silence grew quietly upon them prompting them to continue on their journey.

B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp

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