I turned 60 recently. It is a milestone age, one that reminds me all too well that we all are here but for a fleeting while, that our days are finitely numbered and that I, you and we shall all pass over. That is as sure as life itself, death.
Taxes? That all depends how good your accountant is. But at 60, I am all too aware of the great ledger, the tabulation of days, awaits us all, some sooner, more later.
I had all sorts of plans of how to mark 60. Coronavirus and the inability to freely travel, for others to do the same, put mostly paid to that. Social distancing too. And the limits of how many can be in one place at the same time. There will be opportunities for that and many more family and friends’ celebrations when the time is right. It is not now.
A gift to myself
So, on the morning of my 60th birthday, I walked along a riverbank and a forest tail in the hills of central Wales. It was a clear day, a good day, one where the leaves, like me, have taken on the golden shades of a season where the cold frosts of winter’s death will surely follow. Birds sang, there were speckled trout in the river’s currents teasing an angler in waders with rod and fly. It was a good day to be alive. They all are – but this afforded the time to appreciate nature and the beauty that is before our eyes if only we could see. It was a day for the seeing.
I took rest under an ancient oak, its large limbs reaching up to the cotton clouds, reaching back through time. And in its shady cover acorns lay, ready for the squirrels and dormice to collect and store before winter would bring hibernation and scarcity.
I placed three acorns in my pocket, to be planted, a natural science experiment that I might get them to germinate. I would not hold out hope.
Kept in abundant light
The three were planted in some soil, lightly watered and placed on the kitchen window ledge where light is abundant. To be honest, I expected little. They have been moved from left to right and back again depending on the dish soap and pot scrubber.
But one has germinated. At first, it was just a fleck of green against the dark soil. Had I been mistaken? The next morning, the smallest of shoots rising above the compost. The next day, a little bigger, with a brown stalk. The next, a second green bud on the stalk – and by the following day this would be even bigger. This is the beginning of an ancient oak, one that has the potential to be big and serene, mighty and green for generations to come. If I can nurture this, care for it, transfer it from pot to pot until it is big enough to be transplanted into a garden, it will be a legacy that will last long after I and others are long gone.
Who will lie under its boughs? Who will think and reflect on their life under its shady leaves? What will fly in the skies above? What creatures will live in its roots, its bark, its limbs and its leaves?
Right now, it is barely a centimetre tall. I will soon move it to a small pot, keep it in the light, with the right amount of water and nutrients. But I have a decision to make too. Where will I plant its roots for good?
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe