The path in the shade smells sweet, a hint of honeysuckle, even though it is more likely tree leaves drying in the damp. I'm in the arboretum this morning, trying to get out of my head, which feels a little like the bare-limbed trees standing frazzled in the center of shorn winter beds. It will be in the upper 70s today, bright and warm and not much like the winter that lies in piles on the water and in drifts around my feet.
Troops of squirrels race between the trees, chitter behind me in the bushes, and flicker at the corner of my eye. Getting out of my head is easier when every few minutes I have to stop and look carefully around to make sure it's just squirrels. The turtles in the pond don't bother lurking through the cypress green murk of the water to see if I have food. I haven't come close to the edge and the sun is warm and the line of turtles is carefully balanced, forelegs to shell, necks raised. It would be easy to create a ritual for the turtles, backs to the sun, a small, dry-shelled leader at the furthest edge of the log, separated from the mass of leaning turtles. Leading them in extending themselves above the water, up to the dry and the light.
But that isn't why I'm here. It was a story, and the way I couldn't tell it, not after this holiday season and a dozen ghost stories, that made me think that I needed to get out of my own head, to shake out the bare neurons with a stiff breeze of lots of extra input. The arboretum is good for that. It smells like wood and flowers and sunlight and the sun is heavy on my skin where it sinks through the shadows. I can imagine light having a weight like that of gold, a heavy element pressing aside the ripples in the water in front of me. The turtles recognize its weight--celebrate the strength of standing up beneath it.
Ritual works well in this carefully maintained pond, water colored to obscure the shallow depth and a single log tilted to accommodate the line of turtles in the middle of this pseudopod of cement block and water. The turtles could have designed it themselves, ordered it like a minor cathedral, to mimic and celebrate the ponds from which they have come, the ponds that were here before.
It is easy to focus on the turtles, who are ignoring me. Light shimmers on the nearby trunks, thin and grouped like an arboreal representation of the Three Graces. The bench on which I'm sitting is sunk into the ground on a slope so that I could almost be sitting on ground itself. There are greens on the far side of the pond, soft yellow-greens and deep greens, but the trees here are mostly leafless or cling to fall's orange. Limbs are floating in the water to my left, thick as walking sticks. One could imagine plucking one from the water carrying the pond with you deeper into the arboretum.
Not that I will. This is as far as I think I will go this morning. Here at the edge of the pond, where the webs link the cypress trees branch to branch like a kind of instrument, every tree laced to together and somewhere, in a register that I can see but will never hear, chords and glissandi and the deep call of the turtles echoing over the water.