Monday, December 15, 2008

the fish, the sea, and the saga of the tree

I am finding it hard to muster up any kind of festive spirit right now, no matter how much I try. Life whirls on around me.

I have been in some kind of paralysed state: I couldn't bring myself to buy a Christmas tree this year, because if I buy a live one it will die, a dead one will make me sad, and a fake one will go the way of the last one: rusted and unfoldable within a very short time.

Yesterday I hit upon a brilliant idea: out the front I have a eucalypt in need of trimming. Why not use the large branch as a tree? Festive and environmentally friendly all at once! I hastened out with my secaturs and returned up the stairs brandishing two huge branches.

I’m not sure whether using an Angophora was really a clever idea, since they are known for their curving branches. I lured the children in with suitably festive phrases and bade them to stand by armed with decorations. Disturbingly, neither was particularly interested, and the thought occurred to me that were I to avoid putting up a tree at all, no one would even care very much. For me, as a child, tree time was akin to witnessing a religious miracle, but I had far less in my life than these two do.

I dragged up the big, heavy vase and thrust the recalcitrant sticks into it. To make them less like a willow tree I bound a stray stick to them with ribbon, which made them straighter. We trimmed the tips of so they didn’t touch the floor, and began to attach sparkly things, which was rather hard as the branches were so droopy.

It was decided that we would fetch the large heavy riverstone which props open my door against the wind, and place it in the vase to keep the branches still. I placed it into the vase, where it sat wedging the bottom of the branches. It all looked a bit comic, with one branch containing a row of four baubles in a row, looking like a row of eggs. We all remark about the missing decorations from when the cats stripped the tree last year, pulling down branches and smashing all the pretty decorations. Right on cue, Babby comes and sits by, ready to create destruction.

It was just then that we heard a very nasty crack.

The riverstone had shifted and hit the bottom of the vase.
Both children looked at it, then at each other, and took off. 
I stood, horrified: the entire base of the vase was severed from the top.

It didn’t start out life as a vase: it was some old item from a power station: heavy old industrial glass which weighed a ton, performing some industrial function originally, and having been in my possession longer than I have had children. It was one of those finds from an antique shop somewhere, back in the day when the mister and I used to haunt such places, in another lifetime, when such things seemed to make everything alright. When the finding of such treasures with which to decorate my nest was enough for me, when domestic life still seemed like a bit of a game, when I still felt I was in possession of such powers to control what went on around me.

I think the year has tired me out. I did what anyone would do, and retreated to the sofa with Jane Eyre till midnight, glass sparkling there on the floor. Outside the summer wind picked up.

This morning, feeling defeated, I left the pile of branches where they lay, the broken vase sitting on the balcony like a dead thing, and noted that the sea had risen wildly in huge swells. It had played nasty tricks on me on the weekend, the sea, surging against the soles of my feet when I was on a particularly deserted stretch of Saturday’s Ocean Race and giving me the horrors. Right there at Butterbox, where the large creatures dwell, the sea poked at me, and I was frightened momentarily. Today an impossible swell marched northwards.

The waves hurled themselves as far up as they could, flailing at the grassy sandhills. It was the devil’s own work to run the beach. The lifeguards closed the beach so I stood a moment, and stared at the yowling sea.


You have never once defeated me, or kept me out, I said.
I shan't return home dry.

I ran as fast as I could through the foam, and the sea sent me a cracker: I held my ground and shot down and through at the last moment: no fish anywhere here, I thought, and hung on, before shooting up and through the weight of water, tumbling back and hitting the sand with a bang. Again, I thought, you old beast, and took off again, flying over the next at full stretch and landing on a moving wall of water which carried me down and along at a frightening pace.

Then the water disappeared, every last bit of it, as the sea inhaled, and sucked up every drop into a huge thick dripping cave which seemed to hover above my head.
I was on my feet and running up the runnelled slope in a second, before the whole lot crashed down behind me and pulled my feet backwards. Thank God that wasn’t my neck. The lifeguards were on their feet, and I unable to adopt any disguises in which to hide.

You can’t have me today it’s not my day you old snash of an ocean old beast of a water I shout at the sea.

Don’t push your luck, old girl. No fish tricks for you, today, the sea replies to me.

And indeed this was so: for each time I tried to melt into the water it hurled me around like a mad stick. I ran across the surface of the water at the next yawning wave, and shouted into the curve of the wave which rose up to take me: water fountained upwards off my shins as I ran
not today, old thing, not today.

I returned, covered in sand and detritus, heart thumping. Past all the old blokes, who laughed, and shook their heads. We saw that, you mad thing, they said.

Back home the gum leaves are already curling, laid on the floor still covered in sparkles. From where I sit I can look at the sea through the glass of the broken vase, lying on its side, the words “Power Station” barely visible.

So much to do before Christmas: so I shall do what any sensible person might do, fortify myself with a few chapters of Jane Eyre.
 Despite my vow to remain in the here, a quick visit to Yorkshire won’t hurt, while I pick the sand from my hair, and eat a few nectarines, and not think about broken glass, or Christmas trees, or presents, just for the minute.

 There's always tomorrow.

I have swept up the glass, and stood up the branches: for all their silliness, they look quite pretty.
Now , some presents to put beneath.


Blue Mountains Mary said...

You will be careful won't you?

Of snarling seas and broken glass.

I don't suppose you can put a burst red balloon in an empty honey jar and find Christmas that way?

fifi said...

VERY careful.

The sea is much shrunk now.

Ampersand Duck said...

My golly gosh, you're a BRAVE woman. I find the sea daunting on a quiet day.

Commiserations about the vase. It truly is a death, isn't it, even though they're supposed to be inanimate. I guess all those years and uses breathe life into them. This is why using things is much better than setting them aside for best. I think you miss things more when they've been faithful.

meli said...

yes, always time for a trip to yorkshire, i will wave hello!

might even duck over to haworth on the weekend, tis a Christmasy thing to do.

i hope you get some time to rest and recuperate over christmas - and then it will be a whole new year!

Suse said...

Ack. It scares me to know you're out in the swell when the beach is closed.

Take care.

Jellyhead said...

fifi you crazycourageous woman.... I know you are strong, but that ocean can betray its friends.

I always loved putting up a Christmas tree, too. I still love it. My favourite thing is looking into houses at night & seeing brightly coloured lights on the trees inside.

Hugs to you dear fifi

Kirti said...

You are among the brave. On all accounts. May a mad yawning wave of pure joy come at you next Fifi.

Anonymous said...

I really see such a parlel there, betwixt your emotional state, the treelees tree and sea.
The message there, isn't it?
Hugs to you

Fusion said...

Beautiful writing fifi. Echoing the others here, be care taunting your friend and the fates (visions of several episodes of Bondi Rescue dance in my head).
Enjoy your Christmas branches.

fifi said...

thank you.

Just so you know,
I am always safe there, never fear.
I love it.

thanks all for your concern though, but it sorta cheered me up after the vase thing.
&duck, you are quite right. Like a death!
(They sometimes put the signs up when I'm already out there so it doesn't always mean too much.)

Miss Meli, do pop over to Haworth, that would be lovely to think about.