“The Divinity of the Groves”

Tree Cutting

Tree Cutting

Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange emotion.

It was as if someone were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not threatening, but pleading—something too fine for the sensual ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman’s voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me was that I was destroying her last shelter.

That was the pathos of it—the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrong-doing. The spell which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of the Northern race, only delicate and rare and beautiful. Jobson and the rest did not feel it, I with my finer senses caught nothing but the hopeless sadness of it. That which had stirred the passion in Lawson was only wringing my heart. It was almost too pitiful to bear. As the trees crashed down and the men wiped the sweat from their brows, I seemed to myself like the murderer of fair women and innocent children. I remember that the tears were running over my cheeks. More than once I opened my mouth to countermand the work, but the face of Jobson, that grim Tishbite, held me back.—John Buchan, “The Grove of Ashtaroth,” The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies

Sunday Morning Walk

Along Broadway in Santa Monica

Along Broadway in Santa Monica

This morning I got up early and prepared to take a walk into downtown Santa Monica. My ultimate destination was a Barnes & Noble Bookstore about three miles from where I live. It was a sunny, cool morning, with the temperature predicted to top out at 64° Fahrenheit (approximately 18° Celsius).

The stretch along Broadway between Centinela Avenue and 26th Street is particularly attractive, with lush plantings of palm trees, cacti, and other decorative flora. The photograph above is looking north on Yale Street as I headed west along Broadway.

At Barnes & Noble, I picked up a book about Iceland. I am trying hard to talk Martine into coming to Iceland with me this summer. Back in 2001, I went alone. I resolved at that time that I wanted to return with Martine: She would love the puffins, the waterfalls (seemingly thousands of them), the glaciers, and the volcanoes. It is a truly strange landscape, and a largely treeless one.

There is an Icelandic joke that runs: What do you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest? The answer: Stand up. Because of the strong winds, few trees are very tall. Whole forests, such as the extensive one at Asbyrgi, near Húsavik, look as if it were miniaturized.

I have my work cut out for me. Martine is still suffering from back and shoulder pains, which I am beginning to think are symptoms of fibromyalgia. On one hand, the activity would do her good (she has a tendency to be a couch potato). On the other, I cannot survive the rigors of a tax season without planning for an escape, and Iceland strikes me as a good one.