Mrs Jemima Babcock was an anxious woman with too many years on her hips. She liked neither the bush nor ghosts, yet here she was in the fading light of a Sunday afternoon, pushing through the scrub with her two reluctant daughters in search of Mr Terry’s Spiritualist Retreat.
It stood majestically as the owner’s guardian of the soul. This mighty growth, tall and straight in the centre of the western lawn provided the house much needed shade in summer, while its bare, cold, denuded branches gave passage to the light of winter’s sun.
Its leaves, so soft and green, towered over the tiled roofs of the near neighbourhood, a lookout for those who thrilled at the challenge climbing its highest branch.
He stood there at its base, staring ever upward, wondering, dreaming. Today, he would triumph, he would scale the heights and look down upon the surrounds, master and commander of all he surveyed, king of the world.
Never mind past failures, never mind the bruises and cuts sustained in earlier attempts. They were mere dress rehearsals for that great day he knew was coming. It was always going to come. He just needed time; time to learn, time to practice and most of all, time to grow.
And now he had grown. He had been too impatient thus far, too ambitious. Trying to scale its lofty heights last summer had problems. Excessive heat under a burning sun caused exhaustion through dehydration. There was no water fountain installed along the upward journey.
Autumn wasn’t a good choice either. The leaves were changing, falling; a disturbance that he could not afford. It was a long way up and fraught with danger coming down. Too much dead matter was an unwanted distraction.
Winter looked a possibility. Clear vision, enabling wise choices, careful treading, the top always in full view. But winter meant moisture on the branches. It would be slippery, there might be high winds. One might lose one’s grip. Injuries would be serious, perhaps fatal.
Spring, in the late afternoon was the right call, after the sun’s warmth had dried the branches and with the breeze at his back; that ticked all the boxes. The early spring growth not yet hiding possible pitfalls added weight to his conviction that today was ripe and right to conquer this beast.
Today would be the day. It had to be today. His honour and self-respect were on trial. He had telegraphed his intentions too many times only to leave, to walk away, pretending it was of no significance. There had been too many delays. Each time there was a reason, a good one maybe, but possibly also the realisation that the daunting prospect of failure brought not just loss of face but physical injury as well.
So, there he stood, looking up, pondering, calculating the route he would take. He could make it to the broad branch about twelve feet up easily, the one that stretched out to within inches of the upstairs bedroom window he shared with other family members. He could climb up there and calculate the next phase.
He decided it should be done in stages with a break each time, both to celebrate making it this far and then mapping out the next move. The excitement was building. He walked around the base, looked up to the sunny blue sky and felt that welcome gentle breeze brush across his face. A few cars drove past as he readied himself. He must not let them distract him.
Then, with one huge leap his journey began. This was it. Today was a rite of passage. He clung tenaciously to the bark and just as he was about to spring forward once more, he heard the call.
“Ginger, Ginger, where are you?” And then the sweetest sound of all. She always tapped the top of the can with a spoon to let him know dinner was about to be served.
His ears pricked up, he looked toward the front door, saw her standing there with what he knew to be the contents of something hearty, healthy and filling. Suddenly, the tree would have to wait.
He leaped back down onto mother earth, landing on all fours and ran as fast as those legs would carry him.
There would be other Spring days.
To have found each other indicated they had been lost at some stage. That they had been adrift in their lives, drifting on the oceans and seas and lakes of their existence. That something important had been missing to this point. And although everyone else had thought this about them, their lack of a close companion had bothered neither of them. It was as it was. A part of their communities, but not entwined in them. For this reason, they were chosen.