Marianne knew the forest. Not as you know a close friend, or the way around a town, but as you know a lover. Over the years, she had explored every corner, every tree, and yet it still filled her with wonder. Each time, the experience was new, but equally potent and sensual. In the forest, she was home.
Marianne knelt by a stream, dipping her hands into the crystal water, and watched as it run over her fingers. A gentle smile touched her lips at the reflection - it seemed as if she was wrapped in vines and leaves, as the green of her dress melded with the trees around. She threw her head back, ran her damp hands through her flowing black hair, and slowly stood up. Closing her eyes, she paused, taking a moment to decide which path to follow today.
It has been some time since she had been to this part of the forest, and she was drawn to it, unsure why. The path was familiar and well trodden. As she walked, the trees grew more dense and wild, until she reached a grove that was so sheltered from the light that it gave the impression of being in darkness.
Not one to be deterred, Marianne made her way through. A flicker of movement caught her eye, and she went towards it. Suddenly, she was face to face with a young man standing still in the middle of the grove, with a look of confusion on his face. His eyes focused in on her, and she noted that had it not been for the frustration, his features would have been quite handsome. As she approached him, he broke into a relieved smile.
"Are you lost?" Marianne asked.
"Yes! I am so lost. I have been trying to make my way home for what seems likes ages. How did you find your way through this mess?" He looked at her questioningly
"Oh. Me? I'm never lost in the forest. And if I am, it is easy to find my way back. All you have to do is listen."
"How is that possible? I feel like I have just been going around in circles. I went into the forest with a joyous heart looking for love, but I just can't seem to find it. And at this point, I just want to go home."
"How have you been trying to find your way so far?"
"Well, I've been looking for the right tree. I know my home is just around the corner of one of these trees, I just can't quite figure out which one. I've been so sure that it was that one, and another one further back, and then another one still, but I just end up more lost. And now I am standing here. Paralyzed. I don't know how to choose another tree anymore, they all seem to be the right one... How can I tell which one actually is?"
The young man's blue eyes conveyed a deep pain and longing.
"You've just been standing here? Aren't you scared of lions and tigers and bears?"
"No, he replied. "I know how to handle them. I am only scared of choosing the wrong tree."
Marianne paused. "Let me help you then. I can teach you to listen to the forest and find your way home."
"Yes." Marianne walked up to a young birch. "Let's start with this tree. Close your eyes, and touch your hands to it. Listen closely. What is it telling you?"
The young man did as she said. "It's whispering that it wants me to choose it, to admire it, to tell it that it's leaves are beautiful, that it will make it happy if I do so."
"Then is not your tree. Try another."
"This one wants me to layer moss on its roots because it will look better and prepare it for winter."
"Then it is also not your tree."
This process repeated itself a number of times. The two of them kept walking, and finally they came across a dark twisted tree in a small clearing.
"Oh no, definitely not." The young man said. "I thought that was the one I was looking for, and then I ended up even further from home."
"I know it's not." Marianne said. "But go up to it anyway, and just see what it has to say."
Hesitantly, he placed his hands on the crumbling bark. "It's... lonely. And sick. And it doesn't know how to care other than to cause pain since that is all it has felt for the longest time. I guess that is why it led me astray, because it is unable to love."
"Yes. And what about the other trees? Did they love?"
"They may have. But they just wanted things from me."
"And that's not love?"
"No completely. I guess if they loved me they would also want to give."
"So then the tree you are looking for is one that gives, and that you will wish to give to in return."
He looked at her, and his eyes lit up. "Right! That is how I will recognize it!"
Marianne smiled. "Let's see if we can find it together."
They kept walking, and finally at the edge of the grove, they came upon a black cherry tree. It was lush and green, and had just finished flowering. The young man was drawn to it, and immediately placed both hands on its bark. Marianne stood watching silently. After some time, he turned to her, with a wistful smile on his face.
"It wants to.. shelter me. And feed me. And protect me. To keep me warm and safe from the harsh winds."
He paused. "How come it is so different from all the others? How does it know to love? It's just a tree."
"Oh, but it knows to love you specifically. It is alchemy. Your presence transforms the tree. It wants to give with no expectations, and no conditions. It wants to guide you home."
"It does, it told me, it wants to guide me home!" he gasped.
The young man broke into a run, and turned the corner. Marianne followed him, and soon they found themselves in a clearing at the centre of which stood a little cottage.
"Home." the young man breathed.
Turning to Marianne, he took her hands in his and knelt. "How can I ever thank you for helping me?"
She smiled. "You don't need to thank me! All I did was walk by your side, it is you who learned to listen to your heart."
The young man stood up, and began to walk away, towards the cottage. Marianne made her way back to the cherry tree.
Suddenly she was aware of a presence behind her, and she turned around to find the young man standing there.
"I thought you had gone home?"
He looked at her and smiled. "I had, but felt this growing sense of separation as I got further away from the tree... and from you. How can I walk away from something that gave me so much and cared for me so deeply for no clear reason?"
"Is it just because you are grateful then? "
"Yes. In one way. But that's not it. It is more like recognition. And I suddenly cannot imagine my life away from this connection."
"This connection. Is it love?" he mused.
Marianne smiled, and reached out a hand to touch his cheek. "Yes. It is. Recognition. The desire to give. The sense of unity and connection. All that, and then - a choice. That is love."
Placing his hand on hers, he looked around at the grove that stretched out in front of them. "Isn't it funny, I guess I found what I was looking for after all."
"Yes you did. Do you know why?"
"Some sort of blind luck?" he laughed.
"No, silly. Because while you were looking for that love, it was looking for you too."
"Was it?" he turned to her.
"It was. In fact, I was looking for you every day that I was in the forest."
The young man smiled now. Smiled with his whole being, his blue eyes shimmering in the light. He took Marianne's hand, and led her away from the tree and towards the cottage.
When they had neared the door, he paused. "But what about the tree, will it not feel abandoned?"
Marianne threw her head back, and laughed. "Why of course not! Why would it feel abandoned? You are holding the spirit of that tree by the hand at this very moment."
"I am? But... How?"
"This forest is my home. I carry it in my heart. Always. We can return at any time. It will always be your shelter and your safety. If that is what you choose"
The young man turned to her as they crossed the threshold of the cottage, reached out his hand, and said "I do. I choose."
I hope you enjoyed this little story.