Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Trees they spoke

For Stu & Lynley’s Babe


“Sing sweetly, sing sweetly, sing sweetly o little one” the willowy trees whispered low over the newborn babe.

“Sing softly, sing still, sing for your king” they crooned. Those trees beside the water, beneath the inky sky. They lifted their voices beneath the dancing stars; who winked and twinkled at the sleepy babe.

The glittering night, alive, arose with song as the babe slipped onto the stage of this world.

The voice of the river rose to speak; “Move softly. Move powerfully. Move like water through water. Strong and certain, velvet gentle.”

“Move often, move careful, move beyond what can be seen…”

Then the stars bent low to add their theme:
“Open your eyes to dream the dream… and to see the scene… that cannot be believed.”

The stellar sky winked and dimpled the baby’s face with light. Again she spoke:

“Dream, dreamer, dream. See, seer, see. Believe, believer, believe. What you can see must be believed – it is the final scene.”

The moon was full. The stars were bright.
And sky was singing through that night.
The trees they spoke. The waters too.
The stars bent down.
Because of you.

Because of you.

Because of you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Duke's Kingdom

Once upon a time there was a leaky shower.

But luckily for you this story is not about him. It’s about his very good friend.

A very good friend who just so happened to be a duck. A yellow plastic duck to be precise. He was called Duke.

Now I think everyone needs a friend who is a yellow plastic duck. But that is especially true if you are a shower. You see, unlike many potential friends who are detered by dampness, Duke the Duck wasn’t at all bothered by the wet. In fact he loved the wet.

He loved the wet so much that the shower wasn’t really quite wet enough for his taste.

Rain! Now that stuff sounded properly wet, even to Duke’s very small ducky ears. Duke would look out of the bathroom window and wish. Firstly that it wasn’t frosted so that he could actually see out of it. And secondly that he could go outside in the rain for real. He’d never been outside from the moment he was born in the cupboard under the sink, next to draino and the jay cloth. (Both nice chaps.)

The shower, whom he loved, was still just ‘pretend rain’ to him. Duke couldn’t understand why humans chose to get washed in the ‘inside rain’ when they could go outside in the huge, sky shower whenever it rained. And it seemed to rain an awful lot. Rain drumming on the windows and the roof of the bathroom was his favourite kind of music. If only his mother had let him have music lessons – he would have been a natural on the drums. Ducks have a great sense of rhythm you know. Especially plastic ones.

Of course Duke the Duck didn’t have an awfully clear idea of what the outside world was like because he’d never been outside of the bathroom. And as we know all the windows in the bathroom were frosted. …so he couldn’t see outside very well at all.

This was another thing about humans that confused him. “Perhaps the outside world is so terrifying that humans are secretly afraid of it. And they don’t even like to look at it,” he thought. “I wonder what they find so frightening out there. It sounds wonderful to me.” And Duke the Duck would sigh just a little bit.

He had some ideas of what life looked like on the outside – just from the variety of sounds that he could hear echo around the bathroom. And from the bathtime stories that the Mother Human used to tell to the little humans in the tub.

Every morning shortly after Father Human left the bathroom (usually with some soap foam still on his chin and his hair sticking up just a little) there would come a roaring noise from below the house. Followed by a giant creaking and then more roaring. This was the way in which Father Human went to work.

Duke thought that it sounded like a mighty caged beast. He’d heard about dragons from the kids’ bath times when mum told them all sorts of magical tales. (Duke the Duck of course believed in magic as any sensible plastic person does.)

So Duke deduced that Father Human went to his office on the building site every day on the back of a giant purple dragon. A giant purple dragon with great lime green spots under his wings.

Duke guessed that the dragon didn’t like being ridden very much. And that was why he roared every day as they released him from the dungeon under the house. The creaking, Duke guessed, was the metal gates of the dungeon opening up to release the savage stead.

Mother Human’s dragon didn’t sound as feisty as Father Human’s. Whenever she left the house there was a croaky coughing and spluttering and something that sounded like a nasty case of wind. Duke deduced that Mother Human’s dragon was old, possibly short- sighted and a bit slow to get going.

How Duke wished he could get outside into the wonderfully wet world of flying beasts. Outside where he could see the wind, not just hear her breathy voice rattle the windows and doors. He imagined her magnificent, cloaked in purple streaming through the skies….lifting the soaring dragons. He wanted to see the Sun’s house. The place that he retired to every night. What an amazing palace that would be….dripping in molten gold and liquid jewels!

Duke wanted to go out and play with Hail – the one who didn’t come around very often but when he did would always knock repeatedly on the bathroom window. Calling to Duke to go out and play.

Then one day, it happened.

The Humans were moving house. Everything was being loaded up into boxes to be transported to a new house on the top of the hill. When it came time for the bathroom to be packed up, Duke hung back and tried to hide himself behind the shampoo bottles. He had worked out that if he could manoeuver himself to being placed at the top of a box he would gave a great view of the outside world at last.

It took some ducking and diving to achieve it, but he wasn’t called Duke the Duck for nothing! At last the bathroom box was packed up and Duke was perched right on the top of the soap dish, next to the scales.

He was so excited he could hardly breathe. At last he was going to see the dragons and the palaces! The magic of the outside world – that he had imagined since he was born under the sink.

A man he hadn’t seen before came into the bathroom and picked up the heavy box as though it weighed nothing. He put the box on his shoulder and carried it out of the bathroom.

Through the bedroom.

Through the living room.

Down the stairs.

Past the kitchen.

Past the garage.

And outside.

Duke was outside at last.

He blinked. It was brighter than he had thought.

He sniffed. It was fresher than he had hoped.

He breathed in. It was bigger than he had imagined.

He looked around for the dragons and the palaces and the magic.

For the purple-caped wind and playful hail.

What he saw was the removal van. Father Human’s car with the big engine. Mother Human’s car with the small engine. And the outside of a brick house

And he laughed outloud, “Quack. Quack. Quack!”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!”

(Which is what ‘quack, quack, quack’ means, by the way. Ducks like to laugh a lot.)

“Dragons and palaces!”

“They’re even more amazing than I thought….!”

He bounced up and down in excitement.

“I’ve seen dragons and palaces! I wonder what amazing things I’m going to see next!”

He tapped out a funky little rhythm with his plastic bottom waggling tunefully against the china soapdish. This was an excellent start to his outside adventure!

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Waiting Wheelbarrow

Once upon a time there was a wheelbarrow. It was a beautiful, shiny metallic green wheelbarrow. With shiny black plastic-grip handles, shiny silver metal arms and a generous, well proportioned basin in which to carry many things.

The wheelbarrow was of the very best design and the very best ability. This was THE wheelbarrow that everyone wanted. Anyone who had ever tried to lift something heavy or awkward; anyone who had ever used a bad wheelbarrow could tell just by one glance at this wheelbarrow, that IT was the top-of-the-line, it’ll-do-the-job-no-problem kind of wheelbarrow.

There was just one problem. Nobody was actually using this wheelbarrow. He was in the right place at the right time. Positioned there at the end of the garden by the shed. Right by the grass cuttings and the tools and the bricks. He was poised for action. He was ready. He was excited. He was good to go. But he didn’t get to go anywhere. The gardener never appeared. The tools were all shiny and new in the shiny and new shed. Yet no-one ever appeared to use them. It was as if everything were waiting, set up, prepared. But the day of action never came.

It was puzzling. Especially to the wheelbarrow who had an advanced capacity for thought. He was way more thoughtful than the handy power tools in the shed. They were ALL about the action, but never really stopped to wonder about the strange situation they found themselves in. And as for the spades and trowels they just loved the work. They didn’t need to ponder the plan or the future - they knew they would just get stuck in when the time was right.

But the wheelbarrow was a bit removed from the shed-life and outside on his own, waiting for the gardener to come, he spent a lot of time thinking and pondering why he wasn’t getting used.

It seemed clear to him that whoever had set the garden up knew what they were doing. They had selected the top-of-the-range line in every product range, and it was all neatly ordered and arranged in the shed in rows. The garden hose was curled up neatly on the side of the shed and the lawnmower was tucked inside a corner. Yes, clearly the gardener knew what he was about. So where was he? ‘Everyone knows, the wheelbarrow thought to himself, ‘Everyone knows that gardening is more than having the right tools. You have to know what to do with them – which tool you should use for which task.’ But the most important thing of all, the wheelbarrow concluded, was timing.

Yes in gardening timing was everything. There would be no point in pruning the roses back, before they had budded. It would be crazy to mow the lawn every week in winter, but essential in the growing season. And there was nothing like a garden for getting out of hand incredibly quickly if the gardener went through a season of neglecting it.

‘The thing with gardens,’ the wheelbarrow reflected, ‘Is that they can be beautiful, blooming and pristine one minute. But if you neglect them in a key growing season suddenly the garden become a wilderness of weeds and overgrown grass and bushes.’ ‘The gardener really needs to keep on top of this task’, the wheelbarrow thought sadly. He could foresee that this garden was going to become a wilderness very soon if someone didn’t step in.

It was a very wet time of year. It seemed like every day was another rainy one. At first the wheelbarrow didn’t mind this at all. He was built for the outdoors and he had a shiny impervious covering for his metal so the rain just ran straight off. But day after day it rained. And night after night. Until the wheelbarrow started to feel different. ‘I feel heavy and sluggish,’ he thought. ‘It must just be the rain getting me down – just the time of year’ he reasoned. But day after day the feeling increased. It increased until he felt so heavy that he wondered if he would even have the energy to move when the gardener finally came.

The wheelbarrow started to have some anxious thoughts. It was made worse by the fact that he couldn’t really talk to anyone else about it. The others were all happy and cosy in the shed – they wouldn’t understand. And after all he was the wheelbarrow! He was the biggest and the strongest of them. So how could he admit to them how he was feeling. If he started to worry that would really get the little tools panicking.

He kept his anxious thoughts to himself. But the heaviness just increased and increased. He really started to worry. ‘I think I might be depressed’, he thought. But instantly dismissed the thought. ‘No! wheelbarrows don’t get depressed! We’re not highly strung, fine-tuned instruments like the strimmers. Anything can throw those strimmers off their stride – but not us wheelbarrows. We’re way too level headed!’ he said to himself.

Still, the symptoms were getting undeniable. He felt heavy. Sluggish. His motivation was ebbing away. He’d been waiting for the gardener so long he wasn’t sure he’d be ready willing or able by the time the gardener arrived. Maybe he could lift something light, do a small job for the gardener. But what if the gardener wanted him to carry bricks? He just didn’t feel up to it anymore. And the worst thing was that he didn’t have any excuse; ‘It’s not like I’m worn out because I’ve been overworked,’ he thought. ‘It’s more like I’m worn out because I’ve been underworked.’ The word ‘neglected’ flitted through his mind. His belly sunk a bit closer to the ground. His handles turned a bit further downwards.

‘I might as well face it,’ he said. ‘I’m a depressed wheelbarrow. I’m no use. I’ve just rusted away here in the rain. Waiting. Action hasn’t killed me. Waiting has.’
And with that the wheelbarrow made a decision. ‘I’m not waiting. I’m not expecting. I’m not looking for the gardener to come. I’m not keeping my eye on the garden. Not hoping. I’m just here. This is the new me. The Realist.’ And with that he went to sleep.

He slept in the rain for a long time. The garden grew up around him. The plants got bigger and wilder. The grass grew longer and longer. But the wheelbarrow didn’t notice because he was asleep. He had resigned from his position as Guardian of the Garden. Without the gardener it has all become too pointless. And painful to watch. So he slept and slept and slept. And it rained and rained and rained.

One day the rain stopped. The reports on the radio and TV stations were saying that the rain was not going to come back. All the experts were predicting that this would be the last great spell of rain for a long time.

The sun rose and for the first time in a long time wasn’t obscured behind a bank of rainclouds. People ran outside to bask in the wonderful heat of the sunbeams. The raindrops still clung to every place they had landed. As the sun reflected off the droplets the whole landscape became dazzling and sparkling. It was beautiful.

The heat on his metal started to arouse the wheelbarrow from slumber. He was half awake, half asleep. Suddenly a sound coming from the house caught his attention. It sounded like someone was coming down the garden. He tried to shake himself awake to see who it was. Could it be the gardener, come at last?

He lifted his heavy head to see a large man walking purposefully down towards the shed end of the garden. He looked dressed for action – welly boots, gardening gloves, outdoor jacket. Surely it was him, It was! It was the gardener!

The wheelbarrow felt a surge of joy. That was instantly quashed as he remembered the state he was in. ‘What am I going to say to the gardener?’ he panicked. He looked around the garden. Horrified, he saw it had grown totally out of control since he had been asleep.

‘Some guardian I am!’ he thought! Then he realized that after his sleep he felt heavier than he ever had. ‘I don’t think I can move!’ ‘Oh no, what is the gardener going to say? I can hardly give him the excuse that I got fed up waiting and gave up! That will seem like I’m criticizing him.’ The wheelbarrow got a bit defensive. ‘But then what kind of gardener is he anyway? Everyone knows that with gardening the timing is crucial. He’s a lousy gardener – he’s waited till everything’s out of control. He should have been here, hands-on, keeping everything under control!’

The wheelbarrow kept his head down, hoping that the gardener would walk straight past him to the shed. He hoped that his rust wouldn’t be too obvious. What if he had rusted so much that the gardener had to throw him away? He tried to dismiss that thought – too terrifying to contemplate.

But unknown to the wheelbarrow the gardener had his eyes fixed directly on him. The gardener strode purposefully towards him with a glint in his eye. Finally he was standing right next to the wheelbarrow. He looked the wheelbarrow up and down with eyes that saw everything.

The wheelbarrow had to admit that having the gardener by his side was the greatest thrill and the most terrifying experience he had ever had. How he had longed for the moment when they would work together, when he would feel the gardener’s hand on him. He hung his head. It was too late; he was no use for work anymore.

The gardener started to speak. His voice was velvety deep, with a raw undercurrent. The wheelbarrow tried not to tremble.

“Well wheelbarrow,’ the gardener said, “It’s been a long wait.” He paused.

“Well done.”

“Well done wheelbarrow, well done. The hardest part is past. The hardest for you, is complete. The waiting. The waiting is the hardest. But you have made it. He who stands till the end, has made it.” The gardener congratulated him.

The wheelbarrow could hardly believe his ears. But was the gardener saying that this was the end? The end of him?

The gardener spoke again. “You have feared the rust. You have feared the heaviness. In your heart you gave up responsibility for the garden.”

“But it is not your responsibility. The garden belongs to me and I watch over it jealously. Just as I watch over you jealously.”

“You cannot see yourself, my friend, so let me tell you the truth. There is no rust. The rain has done you no damage.”

The wheelbarrow managed to find his voice. “But I feel so heavy. I don’t know if I can be used by you. It’s too late.”

The gardener threw back his head and laughed. His eyes sparkled and he laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Oh you have no idea!” he beamed at the wheelbarrow.

The gardener explained, “You only feel heavy because you are full of rain! You have been collecting rain in the rainy season. It’s not what people usually use their wheelbarrows for…so you didn’t know it. But it was all my plan. You see the rain is incredibly precious. And there won’t be any more like this for a long, dry season. So it was important to stop and catch the rain all the time that it rained. If we’d run around keeping busy we’d have missed the rain.”

He laughed, “It’s timing, gardening. And it was the time to stop and be a rain gatherer.”

“You are full of water, my friend, that’s why you feel so heavy! What a precious cargo! Heavy as bricks. Harder to move than bricks. It’s a big task – but you are totally equipped. And I am going to be with you all the time. Wheelbarrows can’t direct themselves or decide which plants to water when. I’ll decide that.”

The gardener looked straight at the wheelbarrow, “If you let me.”

“Or if you want, I can take all the water from you and store it elsewhere. That way you would feel be more mobile and self-directing. But then of course I couldn’t use you to distribute the rain. The choice is yours. No recriminations. I want you to be absolutely free to choose.”

The gardener gave the wheelbarrow a nod.

“Think about it. I’m just going to check on the power tools.”

And he strode off towards the shed.