when shall we three meet again? // #TheIsolationJournals

‘When shall we three meet again // In thunder, lightning, or in rain?’

Choose a line from a book – you can grab the nearest one and flip it open to a page, or pick an old favourite you’ve memorised… Whatever grabs your attention; whatever intrigues. Use it as the opening sentence for today’s journal entry and let the words flow – Erin Khar #TheIsolationJournals
Image of hands and feet layered in a mirror, as per the theme of "when shall we three meet again?"

My #TheIsolationJournals prompt response for today is a nod towards Macbeth, because I do love me a bit of Shakespeare.

‘When shall we three meet again // In thunder, lightning, or in rain?’

Thunder, lightning, and rain.

I have always wanted to write my own version of Macbeth. I love the intrigue, the betrayal, and, finally, the march of the trees.

(However, I thoroughly agree with Tolkein: the trees should be able to walk themselves, please and thank you. They’re not dogs, after all.)

I remember going to see what is said to be the last tree of Macbeth’s wood in Perthshire–the Birnam oak on the banks of the River Tay.

It was what one might term a quasi-spiritual experience, mostly because I was really hungry and over-caffeinated. Still, the tree calmed me, and visiting it remains one of my favorite memories of Scotland.

Some of its limbs are propped up with wooden supports. It can’t walk by itself now.

It’s an old man, still weathered and enough for gardening, but in need of canes and medication and regular bedtime, and probably quite tired of being looked at.

I sat beneath its branches and listened to the river. I had the audacity to presume that both the tree and the river could use my company.

Goddamn hominids, going around presuming the land needs them. Perhaps I wasn’t so dissimilar from the treacherous Scottish kings of old after all.  It began to rain.

I imagined speaking to the river and slowly, ever so slowly, my limbs twisting into the spine and trunk and outstretched old limbs of the tree, my hair becoming moss and my clothes being left on the riverbank, like an empty, discarded snake’s skin.

I would be a Daphnean fantasy that would stand beneath thunder, lightning, and rain for another five hundred years. Perhaps I would even see the return of the three witch-sisters. 

When shall we three meet again? I imagined asking the tree and the river.

Illustration of the witches' incantation from Macbeth. "When shall we three meet again?"

I opened my eyes. To tell you the truth, I would love to be a tree, but I wasn’t sure I would have run away from a catch like Apollo. Gods are built like gods, after all.

I watched the river carefully as I walked away, unsure of when I would be back. I was leaving Scotland soon. I hoped it wouldn’t be forever. When would we three–the tree, the river, and I–meet again? In thunder, lightning, or rain? Perhaps Apollo, guardian of truth and prophecy and poetry and light and music, would have been able to tell me.

I imagined myself a laurel tree striking out in search of a lost and prophetic god, tiny roots growing out of the soles of my feet and carrying me a half-inch above the ground, supported by little threads of living wood that would always come back to the Tay but always search for the next river.

It was really raining now, and I was no nymph, just a soaked, hungry woman with wild hair who had sat against a tree for too long.

I wanted coffee, and badly, and I wondered if the little Birnam corner shop near the bus stop still sold the hummus and crackers I liked.

Image of boy plunging into Pennsylvania river water. Photo by Rebekah DePretis.
Pennsylvania summer – via Rebekah DePretis

Within a few days, I would be gone. Gone from Scotland. Away from the northern lights and munros. Back home in the bear-hug of Pennsylvania’s humid summers and soft, striking autumns.

I still wanted to write something like my own version of Macbeth–a fantasy story, one with betrayal and justice, but with all the characters mixed up, and one where dragons and trees talked to each other, where some mountains looked like munros, where some creeks looked downright Pennsylvanian, and where witches cast spells over whole continents.

This story comforted me as I left, itself a patchwork quilt of stories and images and places and trees and memories and hopes to arm me against trepidation and the fear of transition.

– Emily

Help Save the Birnam Oak!

It’s an old man. Visit the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust to donate to help keep the last tree of Shakespeare’s famous forest on its feet.

About Emily Lynn Cook

I’m a fatalistic feminist with a mountain problem, rigorous anthropological training, and a poetry habit. My four years at university in Scotland fostered a love for the mountains and hitchhiking. Local Pennsylvania crags, rivers, creeks, and slopes sustain my love for rock climbing, kayaking, swimming, and skiing fast. I currently live in Pennsylvania where I write for a living. I’m also the founder and editor of this blog.

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