In Hemlock Shadow

Biz German

I was standing on a silver plain. The ephemeral light of winter moon spilled shadows through the reeds, while the trees of the surrounding forest soaked in darkness. Lunar light made the flesh of the world pale and blue, corpse-like, but still breathing. Over the field a breeze arose and fell again, like the plaintive sigh of a nearly silent sleeper. Deep in the delicate hearts of the unquiet ferns rest the lasting thoughts of silence, creation, and decay. In the center of the scene stood three mighty hemlock trees, tall and straight, which grew Olympus-high. A darkened shape, I saw, climbed one to the very peak. It was small. Like a child. And its body, its motion, was not like a body. It was ethereal, and yet it was substantial somehow, as if it were liquid and solid in some way combined: A shadow. And though I knew I’d never seen the thing before in waking life, I felt I knew it—distantly, but absolutely. And my wonderment of the thing drew me to it, and I felt I could do nothing but watch it, forgetting the burning in my unblinking eyes as it moved in and out of focus, making me wonder if I were really seeing anything at all. And, as I watched, it slid up the hemlocked trunk, over and under and through the branches. The hemlock tops swayed, so slightly, in the tallness of the wind, and still the shadow climbed. At length it reached the top and perched with waiting in its posture. The way it sat gave me a sense of some foreknowledge it must have had of some present, some imminent event. And still I watched it closer. As if in answer to that waiting and to my watching, the sighing wind drew in its breath and all at once hurled forth a gale-like wind that bent the mighty trunks as they sunk low into the bluster to rise again and sink once more. And on that peak, atop the belfry of this moonlit scene, the thing began to whoop and sway the hemlock ever further, ever farther, ever deeper, ever plunging, ever rising, ever swaying in the mournful, howling wind. Not a swinger of birches it was, but a swayer of hemlocks. And the delicate, unquiet ferns created and decayed and leaned their bodies, and I leaned mine, closer to the mighty hemlock swell. It was in this moment that the shadow became aware of me, and our eyes—my eyes and its eyes—met. And a recognition lurched inside me, catching hold of the connection that existed, that had always existed, between us as I saw that the eyes (the eyes!) were my eyes. I saw my past in its eyes, in my eyes, and everything existed between us. The moment grew long, and at length the wind began to hush while the ferns bowed their bodies down. Atop the Olympic hemlock peak the shadow broke from my gaze and silenced its swaying. And though the distance between us had never changed, we grew apart: the shadow and I, the darkened, insubstantial memory of the past, and I. But still it perched and somewhat swayed in the sighing of the now gentle breeze. It sat, quietly. Quiet and invisible, but definitely present; like the wind. And, turning away, I withdrew into a new distance. And as I did so I thought to myself, one could do worse than be a swayer of hemlocks.