I disclaimed previously any memory of what is written in the very old Journal that I have brought with me. It was a long time ago when I wrote most of it and I was in a mental state that was as close to insanity as a person is ever likely to have experienced without actually sinking into the state.
All of that is strictly true. But, sometimes in flashes of reverie, and other times woven into the dreams that populate most of my sleeping life, I have had what might be called insights. So it wasn’t a complete shock when I opened the yellowed and fragile thing and read the following.
But I am unable to explain it.
I guess, when laid side by side with the other occurrences already recounted, it doesn’t really need explanation.
“The tree was first noticed by one of the people as a thing of significance due to happenstance.
There were a few among the people who for reasons unknown were of a sort to wander beyond the normal distances that hunting and gathering would require.
One of these had become a frequent visitor to the rising ground on the left side of the river from his island home.
In the spring he would only touch that side of the river, gathering the new green shoots of the bracken and the pitted brown protuberances of the morels. It was at this time of the year that he and his mate would celebrate the advent of spring with the replacement of their humdrum winter fare of stewed dried fish, stewed dried meat and stewed dried fruits with the greens and browns of the shoots and the mushrooms. In spring the fish also began to run up river in profusion. They found that a particular one, an oily pink fleshed one, was especially flavorful when cooked with the mushrooms and the green shoots.
In the summer he ranged further from the river. He hunted the hares, squirrels and rabbits that abounded just beyond sight of the river’s banks. When he had harvested all of these that he could strap to his body and carry he would return to his mate. Summers were the time of plentiful fresh meat.
In the fall he would go even further, into the fringes of the highlands and into the oak forest. There he could not only gather the squirrels, he also could build snares for the ground dwelling birds that gorged on the acorns. Many ptarmigan and grouse fell to his snares as did the hares and the rabbits.
And he, like the birds and animals, gathered large stores of acorns.
It was in the course of one of these fall expeditions – very late fall - that the tribesman discovered the great oak.
On this day he had gone much higher than he had ever been before. It had not been a necessity. He was getting more than he could carry where he was. But the day had been clear and cold and beautiful and he had become curious about what might be above his normal haunts.
So he climbed and climbed.
He had not paid proper attention to the position of the sun in the sky and had found himself atop the crag that was the tree’s home as the sun was finishing his descent behind the island and behind the crag. With the imminence of darkness the man took the only possible course of action. He prepared as best he could a place to sleep, a place with as much shelter from wind, rain and foe as possible.
He took up temporary residence on the lee side of the tree, out of the always prevailing wind that came down the river and always – even in summer – chilled things at night.
Up to the moment that he had laid down the extra garments that he had carried with him in case of rain - those garments having been so laid down as to allow for as much shelter and insulation from the coldness and the rock sharpness of the bare ground as possible – he had not thought of the tree as anything special. He was not of a sort or of a mind to have any thoughts of any kinds other than mate, hearth, home, food and safety – he was not of a sort for philosophy or conjecture. He was doing the best he could in a manner similar to everyone he knew, and similar to everyone that, from the memorized and occasionally chanted history of his people, he or his people had ever known.
He was just trying to get through it.
But he was at a moment – “that moment” – when things were about to change.
He had put the ground cushioning extra garments between the splays of two huge exposed partially above ground roots of the tree. There was room enough between those roots for the man to lie down with neither his head nor his toes touching either of the roots. They formed a sort of head and foot to his bed. As he lay there with the wind rising and falling, and the stars – for it was a crystal clear and cold (in what would be called the month of December in much later times) early night, he began to think about the tree, starting with the fact that it was so large that he - and he was one of the larger members of his tribe - could lie between two of its roots and still have a good amount of root beyond his head and beyond his feet.
Such a thing, he thought, surely, if not a god, must be in communion with the gods. To be of such a size, the tree must be nearly eternal, and wasn’t some form of immortality one of the characteristics that men, in their dimly perceived view of the gods ceded to those gods? So should he not treat such a thing as the tree with reverence?
As he stared at the wonders of the darkening night sky: the individual stars and the massive cloudy white smudge that streaked it from horizon to horizon, and the moon as it rose and brightened into a thing of prominence, the tribesman, bedded down between two of the massive roots of the giant oak, drifted into sleep.
And then he dreamed.
But those being times primitive, and the tribesman being a product of those times, as he recalled the dream later after having returned to his island and having returned to his people, he believed the dream to have been something that had really happened. And it was in that way that he told the story of his dream to his people, under the watchful eye of the Spirit One – the elder tribesman who was believed to have contact with, and deep understanding of, the spirit world and all of its manifestations.
Here is the story that the tribesman told.
“I didn’t have a fire. Except for the stars and the moon, it was dark. I was lying between two above-ground roots of a huge tree. It was cold. I was cold. Then the tree began to sing. It sang a song that I almost knew. But I couldn’t make it out exactly. I didn’t know the language. Then the tree stopped singing. And then it made a great laugh. And then it sang again. It sang very loudly.
I wanted to see if I could find the tree’s mouth. I wanted to see if I could find it so I could ask it to sing in my language. So I got up from my furs that were piled between the tree’s roots and walked around it. It is so large that walking around it took some time. It had stopped singing.
I came to the other side, the side with the wind, when I saw a man. He was lying between two of the roots just as I had been.
He didn’t look like any man we have ever seen. He had shields on his eyes that reflected the light from the stars. And then he pointed a star at me. He had a star in his hand.”
The Spirit One cleared his throat and rocked back and forth in the kneeling position that he had assumed to listen to his tribesman’s story. At his right hand was a much younger man. He was much larger than the Spirit One. He was the largest of all of the men gathered there.
The large man spoke.
“He has lived all his life outside of the laws of the tribe. He has wandered at will far away from his home. He has gone where none of us have ever gone or will ever go. And now he has seen the evil one. He must not be allowed to remain.”
The Spirit One spoke.
“We have warned you of this. And now it has happened. You must live with us no more.”
And on that day, as the sun was setting, the people cast him off in his tiny boat and told him to come back no more. They followed the boat as it drifted toward the tip of the island, toward the beginning of the third island in the little chain of islands, and watched him as he, dipped the paddle for the first time, casting back into the current, between the third island and the shore and disappeared from sight.
For it was said among the people, led by the thoughts of the Spirit One, that one who has seen such things must be forever set loose to wander, not to ever again be among the people, but to search and perhaps to find, the meaning of such a vision as he had experienced, and in finding it, if he ever did find it, to perhaps find oneness with that which had reached out to him. But since that which had reached was clearly evil, he could live no more among the people.
If he never found that meaning – that oneness - he was to die alone.
But he was never to live again to live among men. So the Spirit One said and so the people agreed.
And any that he left behind were to be killed.
And time went forward as it always had with little change, with the sun making his daily trip across the sky, except on days when the clouds hid him from view.
And the tree grew ever bigger.
I wrote this in that journal many years ago. What had been the background for this? Had I been thinking about writing some sort of novel? I know I have always – as does everyone – thought that I had one good novel in me. But I have no recollection of ever scribing one word to that end.
These questions, although obvious from a certain point of view, and pertinent from that point of view are really just defensive obfuscation. Because these words, at this late date, and as a part of this series of little stories that I have been telling about my various adventures here are not out of the blue. The maddening truth is that these words from some distant and not remembered past fit perfectly into the ongoing fabric of the story that has been unfolding in the here and now. That group of words in the here and now has taken on the coherence of a tale. These words from the journal seem to be about those events that the woman in the clearing on the island told me about. I not only had no idea what she was talking about, I only dreamed about her in the first place. She has no reality. She is the product of that hyperactive dreamscape that has bedeviled me my entire life.
Or so I have chosen to believe.
At the outset of this “tale” – when it was still very new and very much smaller – I wrote the following:
"Real events and imagined events and dreamed events and invented events have all converged on the project with surprising vigor. And they all have begun to assume a mantle of coherent reality. It has become as if everything, even the dreams and the imaginings, have really happened.
I wonder how that could be, but no answer seems to be forthcoming. All these events – once written - have joined the fabric of a compellingly real story. They are a story that I have been witnessing, and I feel that they are not the end of the story. I can’t help but wonder if the balance of that story is one that I will ever discover.”
Apparently the discovery that I had hoped for early in this document’s existence has been made. A very old journal seems to be providing the missing pieces of something genuinely strange.
That, from any normal point of view, seems to point to some form of imbalance. It seems to say that I am and will continue slipping into that abyss from which I had thought myself spared so long ago.”