Somewhere between the gate post and the cheerless sky I find my footing again. The snapping of twigs. The shrieking of cockatoos. The morning follows me to the creek where I find the old sad willow, weeping into the water.
It’s been awhile since I have stepped this way. But the willow greets me like an old friend. The shade is violet serene. The cool comfort of branches curtain me in like a cosy room.
My knees buckle into the damp ground, and this is where my tears begin. Masked by the gurgling of the creek. Hidden under the windswept branches. Weeping with the willow.
Eleven years ago we moved to our home by the creek. The countless times I’ve opened the gate, walked through the gums and listened to the kookaburras. Trees have been cut down, the paths have widened, but the old willow remains.
When the girl was 2 and the boy was 11 days old we took our first family photos under the willow. It was late spring when the grass was lush and emerald green. The dappled sun sifted gently to our heads. I was happy then. Holding cherubs, intoxicated by their soft skin.
When the old dog bolted in the dead of night during the storm, she found the familiar figure of her master under the willow. That was five years ago now, but I can still see that drenched dog walking up to my husband in the rainy shadows of the creek, nuzzling her nose into his warm hand.
When the boy turned 3 he started climbing the willow, sitting in the low bough where he imagined fairies would live. Over the years the tree would let him swing on her leaves, holding his tender body, forgiving him for his childish exuberance.
The tree has marked many more family photos. It’s where games have been played. It’s where treasures have been found. The girl and the boy have grown under its canopy. They have felt its roots age with each season.
Here, now, I am older too. My bones hold me up and my eyes are still sharp. But my heart is weighted by the years. And the years come rolling down. Falling steeply into the arms of Old Willow. The unspoken secrets. The heavy stones. Permission to weep.
The shape of a life is never as it seems. We wake up one day, breathe in deeply, and know. We know of mountains not yet climbed, stirrings not yet felt, and peace not yet found. We are busy but numb. We are loved but lonely. We are full but empty.
There is no right answer. There is no clear path. There is no fair price. Impossible to choose one happiness above another. I could leap but risk a fall. Yet leaping could be the only way to feel alive again. And my goodness I want to feel outrageously alive.
I get up to leave. An imprint in the dirt. A hush in the hollow. These are the only traces of our sacred pact. I pull back a veil of lilting leaves and step into the open.
Old Willow is silent. My feet are steady in the slippery light.