“The tree which moves some to tears of
joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green
thing that stands in the way. Some see
Nature all Ridicule and Deformity...”
Further to my previous post, I had a wonderful week in Holland, have tried to write about it but got stuck. The rest of the time I’ve been deeply engaged with the art, poetry and life of William Blake. By coincidence, this story, “Everything Knows”, is profoundly Blakean: but that’s Ghetu’s input, not mine.
Once there was a lonely tree, despised by her species and shunned by every bird. For she was a sinner. It made no difference that she did not sin on her own account, derived no benefit from her transgression. Her fault was simply to aid and abet the sinning of others, by having taken root in this particular spot.
When spring came, the time when trees put forth blossoms in myriad colours, she obeyed the same joyful impulse: she blossomed too. With her branches outstretched and laden, she offered red flowers to the Universe, for the bees to exchange her essence with another of the species, which she could thereby claim as her lover. But the bees didn’t come. There were cuckoos in the neighbourhood, but none stood on her branch to sing: not a cuck, not a coo. No bird took refuge in her foliage to utter a single tweet.
Thus her time passed in silence. She still grew fresh leaves and shed them, according to the calendar of seasons. In winter, her rugged bark was exposed; she shrivelled and closed her eyes in pain. She lost her finery, stood stark and skeletal. But then always, her disappointment was forgotten with the turn of the year, when her sap rose and all her dashed hopes rekindled. In spring she would dress in green, adorn herself again in red jewels: all to find a mate, someone to call lover.
Once more the boycott of bees; silence instead of coos and tweets. They didn’t just refuse to play Cupid in her courting rituals, they refused to use her branches for their own wooing and mating. For she was a sinner.
Glancing down at her trunk, she felt tears welling up at the sight of a new flock of goats tied to her trunk. They stood there bewildered. Later, they were paralyzed in horror, seeing one of their family hanging from a hook. A man had slit its throat. Now he came back to chop pieces of flesh from its helpless carcass.
They knew they were facing the same fate. The youngest was a kid six months old, bleating in fear, frantically seeking the mother’s teat, its sole comfort in a cruel world. It pulled against its halter but the rope was too strong and the tree wouldn’t yield.
With each pull on her trunk, the tree cried out. If only she could yield! Then this bleating kid could escape. She’d give him wings if she could, but was powerless. She was literally rooted to the spot. If trees could wilfully end their lives, now would be the moment.
She’d known the butcher for the last thirty years, ever since she was a sapling. He was good at his job, wielding the knife with no expression on his face. For every poor animal dragged to this spot in full knowledge of its fate, her heart would thump fast. The air would be full of anguish. That unconscious lot, the humans, could hear the goats’ cries as they went about their business. The awakened ones, the spirits, could hear the tree weeping as well. She was no mere bystander. Had she not given shelter to each unfortunate animal, offered her precious bark for it to chew upon? Souls connected. There was a brief illusion of family.
Silent weeping was the only protest she could make. Why couldn’t she just die?
The butcher applied his knife to the kid’s throat. She saw its four legs helplessly kicking. She felt as though a devil were crushing her chest, freezing her rigid. If her cry could have been heard, it would be “I want to live, I want to live! Don’t kill me like this, I don’t want to die!” She was pleading to the butcher, to everyone around; to all of Existence.
One day she saw the butcher—his name was Rehman—arguing in front of his shop. A group of people were showing him something. They had strange instruments and charts.
The next day she saw Rehman with other shopkeepers sitting in a row across the road, to stop any vehicle passing. They had closed their shops. For once there were no goats tied to her trunk. She could breathe easy.
Some uniformed people with sticks and guns came to disperse the protest. They struck Rehman heavy blows. Blood dripped from his head and he cried out in pain. She was moved to compassion. Had they not known one another for thirty years? He was a mere lad when he opened the shop and they had grown up together, like brother and sister. She wept too.
A few days later, the shops were all flattened by a great machine. It didn’t take much to turn them into a pile of rubble. His eyes still blackened from the beating, his head bandaged, Rehman watched in bewilderment. He stayed till evening, stroking the broken bricks, saying farewell. Then, as darkness fell, he came to the still-silent tree and hugged her too. Their two souls communed. This was their last meeting, they both knew. He left, followed by a flock of ghostly goats, with the six-month-old kid gambolling joyfully in the lead.
The road was to be widened. Now came the time for felling the trees, the humble ones and the arrogant—those who would despise her till their last moments. At last a woodcutter drew near. It was the turn for her own beating heart to be extinguished, like all those goats, all those other trees. At the sight of the glinting axe she stopped breathing. “No, I don’t want to die! No! No! No!” The invisible spirits around her were in anguish too.
She hollered. The unaware—the humans, that is—paid no heed. Life went on. Being thoroughly rooted, she couldn’t escape. No earthquake arrived in time to save her.
There had been rain the previous night, first rain of the season, releasing its special scent from the parched ground. The sun now rose higher in the sky, to bake the soil surface dry again. The woodcutter took his time. Paperwork had to be completed. But then it was done, and he swung his axe, embedding its sharp blade in her trunk. She felt the pain but regarded him clear-eyed while he paused. “So, this is death? Just this? Why, it’s easy! A little fear, a little pain . . .” Suddenly, she was ready to meet death face-to-face.
The woodcutter wasn’t young. That day, he’d already cut down a mahogany tree. Two blows on this one was enough to set him sweating again. She felt a kinship with this man, his face as gnarled as her trunk, his mouth dry and panting. She had kept some raindrops on her leaves, folded them away, hidden them in crevices against the fierce Sun. She loved water, treasured every drop. At the third blow, which seemed to exhaust him, she shook her leaves to give him a little cool shower. That much she could do on his behalf. And she whispered, “Be well!”
The man looked up, pleased. Two souls met, he thanked her. She smiled kindly, the surrounding spirits danced. A cuckoo arrived on one of her branches, cooed. Some little birds followed, and filled the air with their twittering.