One Man's Madness / Part 03
An important feature of any gathering was always the bonfire. In England, you can’t just build fires anywhere. Too many people in close proximity to offend / upset / incense. But down in the lower meadow, not a single uptight English soul would know anything was afoot. Bounded by the old quarry sides and the tall trees above, sights and sounds rarely escaped.
One of the more memorable parties involved some hash brownies which my friend Jane had made to order and brought up from London. There was activity up in the cottage, down in the dip around a massive bonfire, and out in the outlying areas where people were camping and chatting and playing music. Not everybody was a hippy, so I circulated among them with a shoulder bag full of the brownies selectively asking people, with a nod and a wink, if they wanted a “special” brownie.
In the course of the evening I also asked selected brownie partakers if they would like to join me later on for a magical mystery “space-walk”. I actually carried round a note pad and got people to sign up. As the evening progressed and I felt the first risings from my own brownie, I set out to find all the signatories and get them all to come over to my van. With everybody stuffed in I announced that we were going to a mysterious place in a nearby forest where I’d occasionally seen and heard strange goings-on in the night.
Suitably briefed, the space-walkers sat in stoned silence in the back of the van as I started it up and slowly backed on to the road. Following the yellow headlights guiding us along the single track country lanes, through the flickering tunnels of trees, I took them in a wide circle and brought them back into a small lay-by next to a field which, unbeknownst to them, bordered on the old clay quarry we’d just left. We all tumbled out into the moonlit lay-by and I unravelled a rope and asked them each to hold on along the line.
I then took one end and set off across the open rustling field and the gentle falling moonlight, leading the muffled voices, adrift in the wheat that flowed about, and took us out into the virtual sea. In the warm and everlasting night, the shoreline was the far off forest edge. The trees stood strong and dark as we stepped toward them through the waving wheat until, eventually, we could see some flickering light through the distant foliage ahead. We paused and listened. The space walkers peered and hearkened.
“I’ve not been closer than this before,” I said, “but I think it may be elves.” Their wide eyes contemplated me by the light of the moon. “Should we carry on?” I whispered. “Yes,” they said, breathlessly.
As we got closer we became even quieter and the soft shoreline sounds became vaguely more distinguishable - bits of voice, bits of music, bits of fire crackle underpinning the flickering light cascading off the darkened trees. As we slowly, cautiously approached those trees the sounds grew gradually louder but remained muffled and indistinct. We at last stood, in a line, looking down into the dip where our bonfire was now more of a large glowing pile of fiery embers. But because we were looking down and away about sixty feet, the bodies we were slowly able to make out seemed very small. My fellow space walkers stared, transfixed.
So we stood for some time there on the tree-lined rise and watched the fires and the candles and listened to the wind and the crackling and the occasional drifting word. I could have wept. It was too beautiful, too far beyond the needs of any practical human mind. And beside me, along the line, were the wavering forms and soft dialogue and the heads against the black sky, now slowly realising what it was we were gazing upon.
In due course, a full sized man hailed us from below, and came struggling up the slope carrying a perfect sphere of carried candlelight, and we clambered down and were rejoined with our recent past.
But the brownies proved a little stronger than anticipated and all the living walking selves splintered in various time sequences into separated dawnings of awareness of how far we may in fact have come, and of how little there was to show for it. Whilst mostly people were relaxed and having a good time, there appeared to be little pockets of fear and anxiety blossoming as the brownies continued their relentless work. Even Jane appeared out of the darkness and came up to me to say, “What did you put into those brownies?”, clearly forgetting that she had made the things herself. At one point I became so overcome by a gnawing anxiety that perhaps I had unhinged some of my loved ones that I had to go and hide. I had to go into the forest and lie upon my back and let it wash and take me over. My greatest fear was that others might sense my anxiety and escalate their own and thereby mine again.
But gradually, as things sorted out and patterns drifted back in, as the evidence of equilibrium began to re-emerge, I got up to sally forth to see and assess, with some trepidation, what had transpired. Dawn was breaking and there were drums beating and people shuffling and fires still burning, exhausted. The air was soft and the trees were still as I walked through the lower meadow, passing bodies in various positions of apparently relaxed composure, and then slowly up to the cottages.
By the light bulb of my shed, by the smell of tools and wood, I stood and watched the driveway. Some of the space-walkers were slowly packing vehicles and getting ready to head home. Others were already in their cars and it seemed as though I watched them forever, and they in turn watched back, until I finally ventured out toward the certainties of good byes. Standing there like a windswept tree, I bent down to say “Au revoir”, and their faces came looming out, eyes wide and smiles ever so slowly widening and then broadly, helplessly grinning. I felt it was my obligation, my duty to reach through the unpunched membrane of the morning, of the time, of the passing life. I felt I owed them for their trust; I owed them for their bluff. But mostly I owed them for my retreat and my radio-silence. So I reached through the unpunched membrane and held their faces and gripped their fluttering hands and held their gazes as their vehicles slowly pulled away.
Back down in the lower meadow, others were still huddled about the dying embers and quietly comparing notes as the dawn and the normality gently reasserted themselves.
- One Man's Madness / Part 04
The story of one man’s 60 year love affair with 2.5 acres of Essex countryside.
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