Last year I took to walking along a nearby bicycle path. At one point the path skirts a large stand of trees. One day, in no particular hurry, I walked into the grove. As I picked my way through the underbrush, I saw someone ahead. Fortunately, I hadn’t been making much noise, and the person, a woman, had not noticed me.
I hadn’t planned to observe her, but in spite of myself I was intrigued. She was standing with her face to the sun as it shone through an opening in the foliage. She stood absolutely still, as if in deep meditation. She was facing away from me, but I could tell she wasn’t an old woman, or a very young one. She was dressed almost as you would imagine a gypsy to be dressed, in vivid reds and purples draped over her slight form.
The grove was a curious place, not much bigger than a large bungalow, isolated and self-contained. I suppose most of the time the light would have been dim, but at that particular time of day the sun shone through a break in the foliage in a beam right out of a painting.
Then she knelt, and I realized I was intruding on her private moment. She bowed her head, and I could hear, more than see, her crying. I heard her gasps, and saw her shoulders heave in little sobs. The whole time the sun was pouring down on her. The scene became personal to me somehow.
As much out of a desire to hide myself as anything, I knelt down myself. I couldn’t leave, because she would likely hear me, and I shouldn’t stay, but I did.
I had an impulse to console this stranger. At the same time a great sadness came over me. My father had passed away not more than a year before and I still felt the loss within me, raw, and never far away. I began to cry myself, small fits of tears such as a little boy’s, and suddenly I was sobbing, cleansing myself of a grief I was incapable of washing away before. At length I realized that she had to have heard me. I looked up, and as if swallowed by the sun beam that had vacated the grove the woman was no longer there. I never saw her face, and now she was gone. I stayed a while; it was peaceful there.
As I was leaving the grove, I nearly ran into an old man who was standing outside on the edge of the trees close to the trail.
“Pardon me,” I said, as I brushed past him.
“Did you see her?”
“Did I see who?” I still felt rather dazed, having just shed every tear I had kept inside all my life, and I realized I must have looked it.
“The lady of the grove,” the old man said, as if my question hardly should require an answer.
“I did see a lady,” I said, feeling a little sheepish.
“She’s an angel you see,” said the old man, and he started off for the path, his cane accenting his steps.
“An angel?” I said, “wait a minute, what are you talking about?”
“My wife comes here when the sun shines through the trees. She’s the lady of the grove.”
The old man started to mumble at this point, and I thought I detected perhaps a hint of dementia or senility. I had volunteered a while at a seniors’ home and had some experience with such signs.
I was just about to tell him that I would like to thank the woman for helping me, more out of embarrassment at having been caught in the situation, than anything.
“Where …” I began, but was interrupted by a middle-aged woman coming around a bend in the trail. She stopped beside the old man, and was obviously a little flustered.
“Dad, did you have to come down here again? You know it scares me when you come all this way alone.” She seemed exasperated.
“Ah, it doesn’t matter anyway,” the old man said, and waved impatiently in my direction, “this one got there ahead of me. She’s gone now for the day. “
“The lady of the grove,” the woman said, more exasperated than before. Then she turned her whole attention on me for a moment, I supposed to be respectful, “Don’t pay too much attention to my father, he’s a little senile,” she’d brought her voice down to a whisper.
“My hearing’s as good as the day I was born,” the old man hollered, from up ahead.
“He thinks my mother shows up out of nowhere twice every summer over there in those trees and cries, I think for other people, or something. It upsets me some I guess, so I try not to pay attention to it.”
“He seems like an interesting man. Where’s your mother now?” I asked.
“Oh she’s been gone twenty years this summer.” And with that the woman dashed off after her father, leaving me with my thoughts.
Previously Published for an Anthology by the Canadian Poetry Institute.
Copyright © 2020 Rick Hayes All rights reserved.