The imagined garden: part two
I am on a train travelling west from Stockholm towards Karlstad. The carriage is clean and comfortable, and almost empty of passengers. Outside, the day is startlingly bright. Thin clouds hang loosely above us, failing to disguise the pale blue of the morning. The sun comes and goes, making me squint as I look out at the white world, watching it all pass hurriedly by.
Forests and farms appear and disappear as we gallop westward. Fields covered by snow stretch out all around, punctuated by red barns and farmhouses, each much alike to the other. The track is fringed by birch trees: leafless, white frosted and delicate. There are lakes too, distinguishable from the fields only by their uniform flatness. Most are marked by lines of footprints, sometimes human, sometimes not. And here and there a paddock of horses puff their hot breath into the frozen air.
I close my eyes, rocked by the motion of the train, and begin to daydream. I am carried towards home.
Even now, with eyes tight shut, I can see the snow, that great expanse of whiteness, flash printed on my retinas. But the farms and field are all gone. The lakes and horses are all gone.
I see our front gate, in need of painting or replacing, and I walk through it, down the steps towards the house. No one has been here yet today, and the snow is unbroken. My feet leave their impressions on the path.
But I don’t continue that way. I turn into the back park, where the snow seems deeper. It comes up almost to my ankles there, and I step carefully through it, trying to leave only clear unbroken prints.
Out from the park, I walk down the lawn on the far side of the house, past the cottage and the greenhouse and towards the trees. I reach the bottom gate, and touch the loop of rope that holds it closed. It feels brittle and frozen, but I lift it and open the gate wide, then step down to where the ground is rough and lumpy underfoot.
There between those trees is a long silence, one that seems to stretch out not just in space but in time, too. It is a silence that both encloses and includes me, and I submit to it without question, as though to make a sound would be to lose my place, somehow, and to be gone.
The trees feel taller than they ought to be, and I cannot see from where I stand the edge that I know is only a few metres away. I cannot see the loch at the end of the garden, nor the park where the sheep should be grazing. The trees are thicker than they were before, and I wonder how they can have grown so much in the short time I have been gone.
Perhaps these little trees have rebelled and risen up, like a mutinous army, to join the boreal forest of Scandinavia, Siberia and North America. No longer a tiny island of pine and spruce, willow and larch, they have reached out and caught hold of their neighbours across the water. They have become an unbroken line.
Or perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am no longer at home at all, but lost somewhere in that great forest that wraps itself like a shawl around the north. I may never find my way back from here.
But no, when I turn around I can still see the open gate, and beyond it the house. And so I begin to walk in that direction, my feet now slow and heavy beneath me.
Halfway across the lawn, I stop. Things are less clear now, and I am no longer sure of where it is I am supposed to be going. I stand still for a moment, feeling lost and unable to think, and as I do so I begin to shake, gently, rhythmically, and I remember that I was not at home a moment ago. That I am not at home now. Instead, I am rushing westward through Sweden on a clean, quiet train.
The garden disappears, melting from around me in an instant. And all that remains is the snow.
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The Things Around Me
The Things Around Me is the story of a Shetland garden, written by Malachy Tallack and illustrated by Will Miles.