CHAPTER X: STAND LIKE A TREE

A KREAN NOVEL

 
The Child of Spring   
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Introduction. The last exercise of the morning practice and Master Coldstream can take over from Winter. But Ker seems to have misinterpreted the instructions.
 

Ker what are you doing there!? I said stand like a tree not climb on top of one." Some people say they find solitary contemplation difficult. I dare them to train twelve children.

"Master Kao says we must become one with the object of our meditation. To do this, the mind must become intimately acquainted with the focus of its attention."

"Can't you get acquainted from a safe distance?"

"I don't think that would work, Wintersai. Master Kao did say 'intimately,'" Grass explained, eyes wide and innocent.

"Hmm... there might be a way," Ker said, eyeing the ground as if he had just realised how high the tree was and how far he had climbed. Where there is a will, there is a way. "I mean, I did once hear Master Kao say goodwill transcends time and space."

"I am sure it does. Now will you please join us on the ground?"

"I would love to do that, Wintersai."

"Well?" I noticed I was being 'Wintersai'-ed again.

"There is just this small matter..."

"Yes?"

"I don't think I can climb back down," he said. "Would you please come and get me?"

I immediately saw that this was rather optimistic. "That branch is not strong enough to support us both."

"I will find a more robust tree next time, Wintersai."

"There will not be a next time."

"Yes, Wintersai."

I circled the tree. Once. Twice. And then one more time before I rested my palm against its bark and sighed. I looked up and searched for Ker amidst the branches. Our eyes met and he squinted back. "There isn't much I can work with here, Ker. I can't hold onto the trunk with only one hand and scoop you out with the other." I examined the trunk again. "How on earth did you manage to get up there?"

"Just you come up... I'll climb onto your back and you can take us both back, Wintersai. See, it will all work out, trust me. I've seen Torrent do it," Ker said. "I'm willing to crawl on my stomach and meet you at the head of the branch."

How chivalrous of you to offer, Ker.

"I don't have Torrent's strength," I said. "If I try to carry you, we will both fall."

"That's all right, Wintersai. All we have to do is fetch Torrent."

"And in the hour it would take me to hike up to the monastery, find Torrent and trek down again, who will catch you if you lose your grip?"

"You don't have to go yourself, Wintersai. I volunteer Cloud."

There are wild creatures in these ranges, and wildest among them, Man. I thought I caught an echo of the early morning on the wind. If the Port of Nor falls...

"No one is going anywhere," I said.

"Wintersai, you are not going to leave me up here, are you?" he said, and waved a forefinger at me. "Now, what would Master Kao want you to do, Wintersai?"

The vigorous waggling of the forefinger caused him to wobble and almost knocked him off the tree. He snatched the branch with both hands and wriggled closer to it. "I'll give you a hint."

He adjusted himself on the branch by means of further squirming. "Master Kao says: Compassion is the religion of the monk." To make sure I understood, he added a line of commentary, "That means we must all aspire for more acts of kindness." There was no edifying finger this time.

"I don't think I heard that one before," I said.

"You can take my word for it, Wintersai."

"'Kindness is the religion of the monk,'" Grass corrected, doing such a perfect impression of Master Kao that he took us all by surprise. Ker stared in disbelief for a moment before he recovered.

"Cloud, you can stay. I volunteer Grass." (Ker can get very possessive over quoting Master Kao.)

"No one is going anywhere." I cannot say whether it was the rhythm and cadence of repetition, or the distant sounds of waves gnawing away at the mountain, or something else entirely that brought to mind sounds from an earlier argument: Will you do nothing? Will you do nothing? Will you do nothing?

"Why are you being so cruel, Wintersai?" There was a tremor in Ker's voice and I could sense tears bubbling up beneath the surface. Then his voice hardened. "Did Cloud bribe you?"

"I did not put you up there, Ker - "

"That doesn't mean you shouldn't help me get down!"

"Ker, I want to help you. I want you to get down to the ground safely - which is why you must climb down yourself. If I try to come up, we will both fall. Here, on the ground, I have a better chance to catch you."

"All right. If I fall, you will catch me, right Wintersai?"

"I will do everything in my power."

"It seems to me there may be a difference between the two, Wintersai."

"Oh come down, you! I can't stay like this all day! This stance is brutal - my legs are killing me!"

"Glad to hear of your newfound respect for trees, Cloud," I said. "Ker, you can do it. Just gently make your way down the tree. Remember what Master Kao says? 'The best way out is through.'"

"I don't think that was Master Kao at his best," Ker said. Over his reply, I also heard Grass mutter something along the lines of "More like: The best way down is... umm... down?"

I watched Ker. He briskly rubbed his hands together a few times whilst squeezing the branch between his thighs and then patted his cheeks. "I can do it. And if I fall, well, it won't be the end of the world, will it?"

"No, just the end of you," Cloud said.

Ker's eyes watered for a moment, but he went on stoically, "The tree isn't that high. What's the worst that can happen? I'll break an arm and then Master Kao can set it back. It's fine. I'll heal. All will be well." He nodded to himself, "A broken arm is not that bad."

"Oh no, no..." said Cloud. "That tree is so very high. If you fall from there, you will break MUCH more than an arm. And if you land on your head..."

I corrected Cloud's stance and sunk his weight further into to the ground. A tree must have strong roots. Cloud grunted in protest.

"I don't think I can do it, Wintersai," Ker said.

I felt a word of encouragement was called for. "You've climbed many trees before, Ker. Sure, this one might be a bit higher, but the principles are the same."

"I'm scared, Wintersai."

"Then this is an excellent opportunity to meditate on your fear," I said.

"How long should I meditate for?"

"Until you are no longer afraid."

"Done."

"Then come down."

"I don't think so, Wintersai," he said. "I think I will meditate some more."

Eventually, Ker started climbing down. And it all went well at first. One ped. A ped and a half. A fly buzzed around his head. Under his elbow. Around his back. Up his neck on the other side. It landed between his eyes. He tried to swat it away - and slipped.

I called the wind, but the wind did not come.

Ker fell.
 


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