Here began the last and most wondrous leg of my fantastic journey, filled with marvels no tongue can tell. Here, as I threaded my way among the radiant portents of the silent shining trees, I felt as if a great hand were gathering up the all the varied strands of my serpentine wanderings and weaving them together into one magnificent pattern, a pattern wild, free, tangled, and yet as beautiful, significant, and permanent as the borders in an illuminated medieval manuscript. This, I know, must seem a strange way to speak about my feelings as I traveled through that wood at the world’s end, but I know no other words to describe the impression it left upon my soul.
On and on we went, further and higher into the forest, the path growing steeper and the trees more numerous with every step of the way. My friend and I spoke little, yet I knew somehow that we were at one in our thoughts and feelings. To our amazement, the lushness and beauty of the undergrowth on the forest floor increased dramatically as the trees drew closer together and the shadows deepened. At first the plush green carpet of grass between the trunks was starred with an abundance of tiny white flowers; but as we pressed forward the floral growth became more exotic, astonishingly vivid and variegated. Huge sunflowers bent their yellow heads in blessing above us. Poinsettias glowed red in the dim light. Mauve and lavender orchids strung themselves from pine bough to pine bough. Here and there the garish Bird of Paradise showed its red, yellow, and purple plumes among the branches. Everywhere nodded the kind lilies. The poppies, daisies, and primroses turned their smiling faces up to us as we passed. As the canopy grew thicker and the gloom deepened, tiny lights began to twinkle in the trees.
But these were only the first and least of wonders. For soon, as we walked on, brightly colored birds of every imaginable hue – scarlet, blue, violet, green, and gold – began to flash across the open spaces athwart our line of advance, singing to us sweetly as we gazed up at them in amazement. Nor was their singing like the music of the birds on the other side of the sunset; for they sang with human voices and in words of human languages. Some of those words were familiar and homey. Others were as beautiful as they were strange and unintelligible. At moments I caught snatches of verse that I clearly understood, some of which seemed to come down out of long-forgotten corners of my memory. At other times, though the words were utterly foreign – even otherworldly – they stirred in me nameless thoughts and longings that seemed for that fleeting instant to be but briefly glimpsed outcroppings of the bedrock of my being. By turns I found myself weeping with nostalgia and sadness and pure joy.
At length I came to the realization that these birds not only sang with human voices, but also had human faces – not cruel and vengeful faces like the Harpies of old, but kind, gentle faces, with soft wrinkles overspreading their features like the ripples on the surface of a clear, deep pool. As we approached, some of them hopped down to perch on the lower branches of the pines and firs and spoke to us words of greeting, comfort, and encouragement. Some wore pearled and gem-encrusted crowns upon their heads, others tall mitres embroidered with scarlet cording and thread of gold.
As I looked, I saw that the boughs of the trees were themselves decked with golden crowns and crystal orbs and silver trumpets and other bright ornaments and treasures of every kind. Nor was that all – for on closer examination I found that the pines and firs were also heavy with ripening fruits of every variety and color: apples, oranges, pears, peaches, pomegranates, persimmons, and even rich, dark clusters of dusky grapes.