Circle of Oaks By Ellen Miffitt

It happened in the woods, far from the nearest dwelling. Removed from civilization proper, the forest primeval was deep, dark, silent. So remote, little human contact had been made with this section of forest. It stood untouched, sacred in stance. The eldest trees scratched the sky with tender twigs. The sunlight filtered through this ancient stand’s thick trunks and massive branches to the moss covered earth rich with centuries of leaf droppings.

She sat still, frozen in place, except for her heaving chest as she struggled to catch her breath. A faint finger of light slide through the tangle of forest canopy brushing her ebony hair barely giving form to her shade cloaked body. The forest sentinels surrounded her, their tight circle hid her from view, not that anyone was watching. She’d eluded them all, managed to find her way into this deep space. Sweat glistened on her pale skin; dark patches on her clothing disclosed her recent labor. Her ragged race was a desperate last measure to find freedom at any cost. Exertion ended, her breath gradually returned to normal. The sound of it whispered off the encircling trees, barely audible to even her. She listened, strained with her whole being to hear, dreading the possibility. When would they come? She knew they would.

She wished she could become invisible, disappear totally, sink into the soft earth, and become covered with a blanket of velvet moss. Her pale skin would shift to emerald green, delicate roots binding her to the soil in this new form. She wished she could slide into a tree, become immersed in the sturdy structure. Weren’t the Druids able to do that? Become so still that they could turn their cells to match the ancient wood, blend with ease into the heart of the oak.

Would they send the hounds racing ahead of them? The baying would echo back to the trackers leading them forward to their catch. Would they wait? Wait until she gave up, came crawling back to them out of this circle of oak. Their punishments from lesser crimes marked her tender limbs. They had warned her. She recalled tales told of her predecessors, sisters by the havoc wrecked upon them. Either way, her life had been made hell by them from day one. Any transgression no matter how small was dealt with immediately and cruelly.

No sound. Still pushing her entire body to the act of hearing, she heard nothing. Her exhausted body bruised and beaten twitched uncontrollably in the dark shadows. The muscles strained to the limits from flight now renounced the lack of movement. The bark felt comforting against her back; she leaned forcing her trembling body to relax. She forced her mind to surrender to the silence, the peace, the comfort of the forest womb.

The faint light shifted, small breaks in the forest canopy trickled the light from her head to her chest. The sun was moving across the sky. How long had she been here? Leaves moved overhead, ruffled by a lofty soft breeze. She focused her sight onto her body, her breathing steady and deep. So dark, the gnarled oak’s roots seemed the same texture as her legs. She tried to move, to gently brush away a pesky black fly. No movement came from her stiffened limbs, her eyes flitted from side to side, and the bark encompassed her. A sigh as quiet as the sound of mosquito’s wings escaped her enclosed contour.

The yelping dogs moved toward her in the distance. Muted by bark, she relaxed deeply, melding with the ancient spirit of the massive oak. Safe at last, safe from constant fear, safe from their retribution, she was indistinguishable from the tree’s trunk. Peace enveloped her as the rough textured surface became her own.

The searchers lingered by the base of the tree puzzled by the distorted trunk. They had rarely ventured into this forest, its lack of light and steep terrain made it forbidding. The dogs kept working the area, pausing again and again by the disfigured trunk. The men focused their bright torch lights onto the forest floor since the flaming lights hardly penetrated the depths of the old forest. A reflection off of smooth metal radiated from the moss. Stooping the leader picked up the wedding band. “She’s been here. We’re closing in on her.” Holding his prize in his palm, he looked at the other men. “She can’t be far”.

The dogs milled around uneasily. Sniffing at the bark, making odd sounds, they refused to go further. The men fanned out into the surrounding area while the dogs curled up against the oak’s trunk. Returning empty handed, the frustrated men took it out on the dogs. Yelling at them to go on, they waved a sweater with her scent on it under the hound’s noses. The dogs scratched at the bark, ripping their pads on the rough texture. Curses resounded and became absorbed by the sentinel trees. Leashes were snapped into place on the collars of the reluctant dogs that were then dragged from their worried site. The last curses faded, as men and cowed dogs retreated. Silence returned to the oaken circle as light beams moved across the trampled moss.

*Growing up in rural Connecticut kept Ellen close to the earth and nature. As a visual artist and as an art instructor, she has over forty years of experience; her foray as a spoken word artist is more recent development.

While working as a children’s librarian in CT her interest in picture books grew and she attended many SCBWI conferences but sometimes life gets in the way… In 1998 she began taking writing classes with poet Kate Gleason in Keene New Hampshire. After moving to the Pacific Northwest, Ellen started painting sumi-e in 2002 with Fumiko Kimura and continued with morning pages and poetry keeping the stream of consciousness writing flowing.

“As an artist I am constantly involved with that process of transformation: spirit to image on paper: sumi-e, mixed media, collage, Precious Metal Clay to make jewelry and exploring other media are an outlet for my creativity. Writing appeals to Zen simplicity – paper, pencil and contemplation.”

Ellen’s art may be seen at The Gallery, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts on Bainbridge Island WA, Gallery Boom in Tumwater WA and exhibits regionally and nationally.