In the park, the wild cherry is the last tree of autumn. The others have already embraced winter, skeletal limbs clawing at the sky. But the cherry still shimmers with golden leaves that drift drowsily to the ground. A pool of saffron encircles its base. Where the other leaves in the park are crisp and shrivelled, those from the cherry are sleek and shiny as though they still live. The tree is like a beacon on this otherwise grey afternoon. It draws the eye and not only because of its colour but because it is clearly something ‘other’ in the drab landscape.
Walking under the cherry is like walking into another time or place. Time slows as the leaves descend. I am in a different world, lit from within by the gold-clad branches and the fallen sun beneath. My skin sings of yellow and gold and I’m sure that if you saw me, I would be glowing with light. At this moment, the cherry is a threshold to another world. I feel different standing underneath it. I’m in the park but outside of it. Beyond the cherry tree is a different place altogether.
On this evening, I am between: between an amber sunset in the west and a half moon in the pale southern sky. Between a blazing cherry and a congregation of sleeping naked giants. Between seasons. It is no longer really autumn, but not quite winter. The shift from one to the other is often impeceptible, and this is the time of uncertainty, when there may or may not be frost on the grass, when my breath might cloud the air or my winter coat may be too warm.
As a child I was entranced by a world at the back of a wardrobe, enchanted by a garden that appeared when the clock struck thirteen. I have always been drawn to thresholds, the places that are between. I’ve come across unexpected portals: a tree with a swing in a darkened glade, a bridge overgrown with grass and lichens, towering stones and a circlet of trees. I wonder why these places are so enticing. It is because this world isn’t enough? Or because we sense that the world really is suffused with magic and these between places give us a glimpse of it.
Stories are portals too. Even those that are tales of the most ordinary places still transport us to another world for a while. Writing a story is like being in another place: I become apart from the world as it is and engrossed in a world that isn’t – yet. Most of my stories offer a hint of the between, a thread of magic brought back from that other world.
Some places are so soaked in magic that they are always between places. But sometimes, it takes only a shift in the time of year, or a crease in the fabric of the landscape for the door to open. It will not be open long, but it is enough to show a glimmer of something else. In a week or so, the cherry will shed the last of its leaves and the between place will wink out. The grey will close in and cloak what was for a while a crossing point to another world. But I was here. I stood for a moment in that place of gold and light and knew the enchantment of the in between.