Compared with other parks, the Temple of Heaven in early spring, except for the scattered spring flowers, there are no other flowers in bloom, and the magnolia in the Zhai Palace has to wait until the end of March, and the famous begonia can only be seen in mid-April.
The Temple of Heaven, which is gray and dreary, relies on ancient trees to lift the air at this time. This is indeed unmatched by any other park. There are 3,562 such ancient trees in the Temple of Heaven today. If it were not for the chaotic erosion of man-made wars and natural disasters during the 600 years of the Temple of Heaven's existence, the number of ancient trees would have been even higher.
The most notable ancient trees in the Temple of Heaven are the cypress acacia on the north side of the promenade and the nine dragon cypress outside the Echo Wall. The ancient trees there, because they are too famous, are surrounded by iron railings, so people cannot get close to them. For me, my favorite is the three ancient cypresses outside the West Chai Harvest Bar Gate. For many years, almost every time I go to the Temple of Heaven, I will visit these three cypresses, as if they are my old friends from the wind and rain; sometimes I will draw them, and I never get tired of drawing them, nor can I draw them like that.
In the Temple of Heaven, there are two firewood bar gates, divided into the root of the wall of the Temple of Prayer for the East and West, at the beginning, is for the sacred chef to slaughter cooking cattle and sheep and other offerings to provide firewood. These two doors, nowadays are the Temple of Heaven's office, the West Chai Harvest bar door with a clean tricycle, not open to the public, so the visitors here is close to nothing. In front of the door, three ancient cypresses, arranged from east to west, winter, summer, spring and autumn, dense branches and leaves, lush, such as three mighty warriors, standing there, underfoot is the lawn like a cushion, behind the red wall like blood, there is a hard and majestic sense of vicissitudes. Especially in spring, the tender green of the grass, the pale green of the trees, the fire red of the walls, and the diaphanous green of the tiles, the colors contrasted so strongly and vividly that I always thought that they best represented the hues of the Temple of Heaven. These three sturdy cypresses are very old, one is over 560 years old and two are over 620 years old. It's hard to find three trees with such a long history standing side by side in the entire Temple of Heaven.
At noon on March 8 Women's Day, I walked along the red wall from the south to the corner at the end of the wall, and I could see the three trees. Suddenly, I saw, at a glance, a girl standing in front of the innermost cypress. She just stood there quietly, not moving, for a long time, always looking up at the canopy. I stood there, also did not move, I did not want to disturb her. Rarely do I see any visitors to this place, and I've never seen anyone standing there so still, looking up at the tree.
I saw the girl moving, slowly circling the cypress, her arm stroking the cracked old trunk from time to time. That look, like a child around the knees of the old man, the old tree thus became kind, telling her a long story. There is a wind blowing gently, the branches and leaves rustling. The midday sun, through the branches and leaves, warmly sprinkled on her face and body. Because she was walking around, the sunlight jumped from time to time, a while down light, a while backlight face and body, like butterflies fluttering.
I was suddenly a little moved, for this girl, but also for the ancient tree.
The girl is so reverent to the ancient tree. Ancient trees deserve such reverence from the girl.
It's just that today, many of us don't seem to have or lack such a sense of reverence for trees. We are generally willing to worship the idols, but we do not know that trees, especially ancient trees, are also gods, the gods of nature. In front of nature, man is small. In front of the five or six hundred years old trees, people are also small.
I think of the ancient Roman philosopher Augustine, ashamed of his lustful entanglements and wanting to kneel before God in repentance, he did not go to the church cross, but fell down under a fig tree.
It also reminds me of the ancient Roman poet Ovid, who wrote in his great poem "Metamorphoses" about the old couple Fidel and Baucas, who wished that they would not become anything else after their death, but only two trees guarding the temple, an oak and a lime tree.
In those distant times, trees were so awe-inspiring. In today's commercial age, the tree is just a commodity, or ornamental item, and no longer a nature god. We no longer call a tree a sacred tree, much less fall on our knees under one, or wish we were a tree when we die.
I saw the girl circle in front of this cypress, then walk to the second one, and keep circling in silence in front of all three of them.
I said hello to her as I brushed past her, and she stood still and greeted me politely. I chatted with her briefly and found out that she had come to Beijing from Shanghai to play during the festival. I was about to ask her why she was so interested in these three ancient trees. But she asked me first: Do you know there are older trees than these three in the Temple of Heaven? I told her that there was a cypress not far ahead that was about to fall down but still alive, and it was worth seeing. She couldn't wait to say goodbye to me.
The girl is less than thirty, pretty face, ponytail, a sports outfit, white sweatpants, red sports fleece top, plus a beige vest, wearing a white baseball cap, carrying a brown shoulder bag, and the three cypresses as pale green as a deep lake, and the red wall, and the green lawn, colorful, like a strange seven-color flower in full bloom.
These days, the epidemic in Shanghai is serious, suddenly, I remembered this girl.