She grows frailer, this Summer. She does not stride with the same confident gait over the heather-stained heathland as once she did. Weary of her old green coat, she pleads for the new colours of the coming season. She tests her pallet for effect before committing herself and dabs the most fashionable of the trees, while the bracken below dulls and crisps to brown. Terracotta and rust are the new green.
The tourists are dispersing now, their caravans and campervans depart in lines like soldier ants, leaving the Forest to us as the sun prepares to sleep. We do not mind the tourists. They arrived by BMW on the road from London and depart by Mercedes on the road to Brussels. Mostly, they are harmless, spending their pounds and euros and dollars in support of local industry. Mostly they leave only tyre-tread marks (and perhaps, if they are careless, their litter), taking back with them a little joy and a hand-crafted souvenir in return. It is a fair trade. For thus they support those of us who live and labour here – the bicycle-hirers, the commoners, the Tarot readers, the light workers, the authors. All are foundational to the cycle of Forest energy.
And the Forest: she, too, is martialling her industrious. Her dryads urge their tree-flocks to draw back the sap from the spent energy of the leaves, so as to weather the gathering storms of another coming winter. For the last days of friendly weather are almost behind us.
Bypassing the popular beauty spot of Balmer Lawn, we come to Ivy Wood. We have learned to choose the paths less travelled by and declare with Robert Frost that this is what makes all the difference. And yes, the wood is yellow, for the leaves are beginning to drop. Here, where the River Lyndhurst meanders, procrastinating like a reluctant bride on its way to meet the Solent, we are less well acquainted with the dryads who graze their trees in this place. They close about us, curious, and perhaps a little suspicious, as to our intent in invading their space.
Matt continues to behave as if he were three years old, darting into the undergrowth in pursuit of quarry he will never see, let alone catch. And in this I am cautioned as to my own inclination to pursue what I cannot possess, to possess what I cannot use, to resist what I cannot prevent. Nevertheless, he emerges back into daylight, ready to suck the last sap of joy from each new day.
We value these last friendly days so much, for we know the fall of autumn portends the coming of the darkness. These days are the last before the dying of the light; the last before we, too, must hunker down to weather the inevitable. We cannot prevent the dying of the light, we can only use each shortening day to best effect. And thus, as we have ever done, we walk together in a forest that wants us and energises us. Dare we say, ‘loves us’?
He is old now. In the way of dogs, sometime along the journey his ageing overtook mine. And here is the crux of it: I do not know if he will find his way through the treacherous undergrowth of this coming winter, to emerge unscathed into the sunlight of another spring. As the dryads begin the slow bedding-down of their flocks for sleep and the energy quietens, I am confronted by the long-avoided inevitable: that our days together are numbered.
And it is here, in this emotional space of heartstring love, that I battle with my calling, my inclination, my essence. For I am asked to travel more now. Yes, I will of course go whither the light leads me. But there are places to which I must venture that he cannot come. And the days we spend apart draw us closer to our final parting. There is no solution to this dilemma. It is but another gong-an that directs us towards eternal consciousness, the relinquishing of ego, the quietus of the self.
This winter two foreign tours have beckoned. To have accepted both would have taken too many days from our rapidly emptying store house of time together. So I have compromised. I have accepted the invitation to speak in the Far East but postponed the American invitation until 2019.
Perhaps by then the dilemma will have been resolved by the natural order. When the time comes, I know he will not rage, for rage is not his way. But I will rage, for I feel it rising already in anticipation of what I cannot prevent. I will rage, yes, I will rage, rage at the dying of the light. But I will rage all the more at myself for the days I did not spend with him. And when that unwanted, devastating day is upon us, rage will be far too tame a word. For our heart-strings torn asunder will resound from Olympus to Asgard and the dragons will scream their mourning at his passing.
I am sorry, but I cannot finish this post. I can write no more. I do not want winter to come. I do not want my dog to die..