The Landscape of Dreams

The Landscape of Dreams

The art of remembering

Sarah kept returning in her dreams to a place where she had once felt secure. It was her grandmother’s garden in Winchester Street. It had a high brick wall all the way round, and against the wall were espalier apricots and apples. When the tender apple shoots came out, they could easily be trained along the wire. They seemed not to mind, and fruited cheerfully. She always had the sense that no-one could hurt her in that garden, and in her dreams she sat there in the sun, eating the fruit and hearing the bees. She was four years old.

It is a truism that dreams have a habit of fading once the dreamer awakens. But this one remained with her always. The other dreams, now: they did fade, and before she was able to decode them or commit them to memory in a detailed way. One dream recurred many times. She was in a forest and came across a clearing. There in the sunlight stood some old stone columns. They were sandy in colour, and made of irregularly-shaped blocks. They might have been ancient: who could tell? But every time Sarah tried to fix them in her mind, and decide what they might mean, the clarity of the image was lost as the bright waking day progressed. All she knew was that, walking in her dream among the columns in the wood, she was sublimely happy. She wanted to be so again.

Something had to be done. How many columns were there? By great mental effort, Sarah recalled that there were five of them. What other fives were there? In a flash, she thought that there were five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. If she concentrated on each one in turn, she might be able to settle the columns in her consciousness, and go back into the forest whenever she wanted. She would conjure them up.

Sight. Sarah looked steadily at one of the columns, and gradually, as she concentrated, it became suffused with images of different places, varying lights as they fell on mountains, contrasting skin tones and colours. The column was a living rainbow, and it seemed to sway and to be solid at the same time.

Sound. Sarah could hear it all: the heron’s call, the wind’s rush, the child’s cry, the lover’s pleasure, the laughter across the field. It wasn’t a cacophany, but a piece of music in which no one instrument was dominant.

Smell. Sarah walked round the third column, and every time she stopped, a new perfume swam out of the air. It was a lemony balm from the south, it was sweet, it was sour, it was blood and sweat and roses, all scents distinct and yet moving like a cloud.

Touch. Sarah reached out her hand to touch the fourth column. Parts of it were like warm skin, pearly and smooth. Parts of it were like the rough hair of animals. Parts were the cold blandness of metal. Parts were rugged like tree bark.

Taste. When Sarah walked round the last column, she realised that she would need to use her tongue and her teeth. Parts of the column tasted like chocolate. As she moved round, she licked and nibbled the stone, which tasted like toffee, sausages and oranges.

There the columns stood, humming and shining. Sarah knew then that this was what embodiment was. She was in the real world at last. The world of the senses was now a conduit to memory. There would be no forgetting this dream, not ever. It was a shining path. She could now recall it, and walk down it, whenever she wanted.