The Slaughter of the Sacred Tree: A True Story


They came in the season of white nights, when the sun never fully sets and so the night over Moscow is never truly black, but instead glows as if it were sheened in magnesium, or better yet, like a scaled salmon’s scale lessside.  They came early, before the sun, before blue took its turn, before the people of Lazo Street awoke.  In that way there would be no witnesses to the slaughter.  While they annihilated the other trees openly for all to see, with her it was almost as if everyone understood that her death was shameful and so they did their best to hide it, to make her end quick and barely seen.

The assassins did not kill for any cause or purpose.  They were knights to no lord, lords to no king, brave soldiers of no government, but merely mercenaries whom anyone could hire to slaughter helpless things: rats or cats, or trees  Sometimes disobedient grasses; things so plentiful and so commonplace they had long ago lost value and been deemed annoying.  Nor were the sins the assassins committed theirs,   They only did what they had been hired to do, and as they worked they dreamed of their treeless steppes, their razor sharp mountain peaks, and of their almond eyed women, their flawless children, their short horses running like milk through their minds.

They fixedly worshipped one God and hence saw no others, and so they read no omens save perhaps for what they heard coming from moaning herds, or in the crying of mother camels who could not love their calves, and of course, in the movement of the winds across the steppes.  But they knew nothing of sacred trees such as the people of many lands had known from the beginning.  How a tree could be sacred, or belong to a god, or be a place from which omens were cast.

She was that and more to me.  Through the years she grew closer and closer to my touch.  In warm weather I would write out on my small balcony, one hand laying across the sill, letting my fingers run through her leaves thoughtlessly, carelessly as one strokes the head of a dog, the back of a cat.  In winter she enchanted me with her show of colors, holding her branches, encase in ice, out before the sun so I, yes, I, would delight in the beauty of refraction.  When it snowed,she delighted in gathering it up as if it were a spew of clouds pausing to rest in her outstretched  arms.If there was any  beauty on Lazo Street, she gathered it before my eyes.

It would take me nearly a decade of living finger to finger with her to understand that she was more than just my companion.  She was a sacred tree where omens were made manifest.  It took time to understand that the pigeons did not enter her body because they were not and never had been bearers of omens.  They stayed in their places on the edges of buildings, or on electrical lines or most generally on the concrete outside the buildings where they lived off the generosity of human beings; as if their purposes was just that, to show the kindness of men and women who shared their bread and water with them ; who worried after them and saw their beauty.  ‘But the only messages they ever conveyed were the random sparks of their desire, as they spoke softly of the universal desire to mate.  No omens, no wisdom, no messages, no advice ever came from them.

Instead the messages came from the smaller birds on the outer branches who spoke of small things the weather or the coming of minor confrontations or struggles in my life.  In was in her very heart, literally, that the most ominous birds came to speak their messages.

At her very center, was a great ball, wider than her trunk, with branches spreading in all directions, like electric charges, and it was from there that the ‘crows and blackbirds and sometimes even a hawk, would settle and speak to me, ‘telling me whether something I wished changed would change, whether someone would be good or bad for me, whether a situation would resolve itself or continue unchanged. Whether sorrow would live in me,  whether happiness would dissipate.  Most important were the questions about loving and being loved.  It was never that I asked, but always that I would be told, and in time, accepted what would be.

While I slept as if drunk on some magic potion, they gathered below my window just before her ,holding growling madness in their arms, its sharp teeth glinting in the summer scorch, and then began her dismemberment.  Not satisfied with the parts of her body scattered around her they ground out her core, the large roots and the small and even the very fine strings, those parts of her barely formed. As quickly as they could they loaded them onto carts and took them away.   In the end, there was nothing left of her in the spongy Russian soil and it was as if she, brought to life in the days of Khrushchev, guardian of the old wooden bench on which generations of old and young had sat to feel the comfort of her shade, to listen to the breezes run through her leaves, had never existed.

When something loses its life so suddenly and unexpectedly there is always the question of why.The fact of the matter is that she never brought forth fruit or nuts – she served no purpose that way.Neither did she bring forth flowers with fragrances so beautiful they entered our dreams at night.    But no one hated her for that; it was enough that she cooled and shaded us.  And if she was not particularly beautiful like the birches or the weeping willow neither was she blighted and rotten and shredding with disease like a leper.  Instead she was killed because she had crossed the line, come too close to the human world.  Hadn’t she laid her fingers on the sills of their windows, hadn’t she scraped at their rooves in storms, clawed at their shingles in winter gusts as if begging to come into their warm worlds.  Hadn’t she dared to touch their world?   Hadn’t she sent the crows and blackbirds to speak to them?  So, she was slaughtered because she had come too close to what it meant to be human.

And I want to tell you the most remarkable thing.  When she died, even I, who felt her loss in my life, still thought to myself that well, the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the morning glories which I planted on my sill and balcony would flourish now that she was not there to block their sun, but they did not.  They grew to be sure, they grew large and healthy, but they produced no fruit, no flowers, as if to punish me for expecting something positive to come from her death.  Only in one large pot on the sill in the living room did life take a firm hold…something strong and healthy was growing.   And when it grew large enough and I looked at it carefully, I saw that it was her offspring come to life.  Holy that she was, she had risen from the dead.

And this is a true story; a real miracle.

Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.


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