Monday, March 4, 2013

After the Hiatus: The End of the Giant Oak

“It must have been somewhere between the years 1600 and 1700 when the giant oak came down.

A team of woodsmen had been dispatched to cut it down and hew the massive trunk into timbers that could be used as structural members in the buildings that were going up all over Paris.

But bringing it down had not been easy.

First, the very thing that made its harvesting a desirable action, that thing being its massive size had come close to being the undoing of the project.  The tree had clung to the rocky ridge of an outcropping from whence it had emerged from an acorn randomly abandoned by some ancient squirrel for so many centuries that its trunk possessed a diameter – the woodsmen soon discovered – far greater than the length of any cross cut saw known to be in existence.  This they had discovered to their chagrin when first they had dragged the massive and heavy blade that they did possess up the difficult, rocky, slippery and very steep incline that allowed them to gain access to the base of the tree.

The blade was probably ten feet in length.  It was far short of being able to do much more than enter the first few feet of the trunk.  That initial attempt had created a nasty and perhaps fatally deep gash in the ancient giant’s trunk, but it had not come close to severing it completely through.  The woodsmen had considered trying to put an equally deep cut into the opposing side of the trunk but the drop off from that side to the ravine below and the extremely narrow and precarious ledge from which they would need to make their cut made such an endeavor impossible unless one were able to invoke some form of levitation.”

She looked at me without speaking

“Are you writing a novel?”

“Not yet. This is important stuff.”

“I t all has been so far.”

“So the tree was wounded, but spared, from that initial attempt.  And with winter coming on, the tree was left to preside over another of the uncountable winters that it had endured and survived.

But that would be its last.

The woodsmen did not rest that winter.  They were hard at work on a much bigger blade.  Before they had left the giant for the winter they had measured what would be needed in size from a blade to be able to re-enter the cut already started and make it all the way through to the other side.  They assumed that the tree would come down somewhat before the saw had cut completely through, but they didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

They visited every smith that they knew. 

It was surprising how hard it turned out to be to be able to acquire a sheet of iron the size that they needed. 

A number of smiths said that they could provide the thing, but they all failed to deliver what had been promised. 

The blades were all either too short, or if long enough, they were made of two or more pieces that had been hammered to appear as a functionally single piece, but their seams told the true story: under the stress of the almost endless back and forth that would be necessary to complete the cut the seams would heat and they would fail.  The woodsmen were not smiths, but they knew the intricacies of their trade so well that they knew that a hammered seam would not stand up to the stress of their intended mission. 

Only a single continuous sheet of iron would allow them to craft the blade that they needed.

As the winter deepened and their ability to acquire the blank that they needed from which to create the great blade that would fell the great oak seemed to no nearer to happening, they began to despair of success.

It was then that Luc, the younger of the two woodsmen brothers, heard of a sort of wizard or alchemist who made a metal from iron, but once made it really wasn’t iron any more. 

He wasn’t a smith and he wasn’t inside the walls of Paris. 

He was a short distance outside of the walls in a place that had a small stream and was in a quite large grove of second growth oak. 

Luc had heard that the wizard had chosen that spot so that he had room enough to build the rather larger earthen structure in which he made the metal and the equally large fireplace or kiln where he burned the oak that he harvested from the adjacent grove. 

In that kiln he reduced the oak to charcoal. 

That charcoal was the secret to the metal that he produced. 

His metal had proven to be a superior raw material for the blades of swords and he was prospering with sales of his product to the sword makers of numerous nobles. 

It was said that perhaps even the king had blades made from this wizard’s metal.

So one day in early February Luc went outside the walls and visited the wizard or alchemist or super smith or whatever he might be. 

Luc didn’t really care.  He just wanted a one piece blank of metal from which he and his brother could craft a blade sufficient to complete the job they had started the previous winter. 

Gerard, Luc’s brother woodsman didn’t have much hope for the venture.

Luc left early. The sun was in his face as he departed his dwelling near Place Maubert. He had put some bread and cheese in a sack slung over his shoulder. He was uncertain of the exact distance to the wizard’s smith and he was sure he was going to need to eat away from home at least once. He took a stout, long and pointed shaft of seasoned oak as defense against brigands or beasts. He had a leather bag with internal waterproofing to carry some wine to complete the away from home repast of which he was sure he would need to partake. He walked to the river, turned right on the Quai Saint Bernard and headed for the gate with the sun continuing to rise directly in his path.

Once through Porte St Bernard he followed the path along the river, past his and Gerard’s mill and stable, past the woods of the Abbey of St Victor, and on until he came to a tree lined stream coming off a wooded butte and flowing into the river.

In the full light of early morning he saw what he had been seeking.’

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