GB No. 3(22)/96
To People, Trees and Gods
The sun was burning forests and meadows; it seemed it would never end. The grass went red, trees lost their foliage. Animals and birds sought shelter in the depth of the woods ,where in overgrown ravines, feeble springs trickled. In the Valley, near the bed of the dry river, a few huts stood. Darkened logs, straw thatches and the empty eyesockets of the windows. Not a living soul.
The villagers of the Valley gathered on Beech Hill. A group of dumpy bearded men. Several women with severe, expressive looks. Three babies rapped in plaids. A flock of children and teenagers. All of them half-naked, sweating, exhausted by the unbearable heat. Two skinny jades harnessed to a cart standing beside, driving away gadflies with sluggish movements. A couple of wolfish dogs panting with their tongues out.
The people stood motionless, gathering around the One Who Sees the Four Sides. The Deity, carved in a cherry trunk, was taller than the men by two heads. The grain and knots of the wood had became one with the features of the Four Faces of God. Swiatowid gazed over the heads of the people. He could see more and further than them, he could see all around him simultaneously. Therefore they trusted Him. And therefore they came to Him. For the last time. To bid their farewell before the long journey into the unknown.
The Oldest made the speech. A grey, long haired old man, clad in a hemp shirt reaching down to his knees.
"You, who see so much... Look down at us. Your children are going away. Abandoning their homes and going away. Leaving the Valley, the forests, the mountains. Leaving You. We have nothing to eat. The river have gone dry, the springs are dying. For four moons the rain has not come. The Gods and Demons do not lend their ears to our prayers but You can look in four directions. The fire falls from the sky and burns everything down here. We have eaten our animals. The hunters return empty handed. The crops fail. So Your children are going away. I am staying. My flame is dying out. Soon I will lay my old bones by You."
At the feet of Swiatowid there stood a platter with smoldering ambers; bunches of herbs lie nearby. The old man kneeled down. He crushed the herbs and, humming, threw it by pinches to the platter. He let the fragrant smoke wrap around him. Then, with both hands he grabbed the vessel and raised it. He approached those who stood before the Face of the Morning. He sang an overwhelming well-known tune, without words, with his mouth closed. The heads lowered, the hands gathered the smoke, touched the hearts, throats and faces. The children attentive, the adults concerned and sad. Those already chastised by the smoke joined the old man in his song. The Oldest strode slowly around the Statue, like the Sun. He passed the Face of the Day, than of the Evening. When he stood against the Face of the Night, all of them had already been singing. There he laid the platter. Before the Face Seeing in the Dark. Its power was what the people would need to await the Dawn.
The old man added some more herbs. In the embracing smoke Swiatowid was appearing and vanishing again, waving to the Tune and to the rhythm of people's hearts. Power saturated the bodies and minds, all the world. But the time came when the Smoke went away and the Tune silenced. The Oldest spoke once again.
"Your children are pure. Their hearts are clear, their language is true, their bodies healthy. They are going to places where they will not be able to sing about You. Down there, by the Big River, there live other people. They wear iron clothes and swords. They have a god hanged on two logs. And they fight everyone who does not want to pay tribute to the god. There your Children have to build their homes: there is water, fish and game, there the soil yields the crop. They will bow to the god and be touched with water. But nothing will take them away from you. You are in the four seasons of the year, four directions of the world, in the faces of day and night. You are in Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Your Holy Faces have always been here and they will last when people vanish. Do not let them go astray. Let them remember that all they look at is blessed with your look. Stay with them. Do not let them forget you."
The old man sighed. He raised his eyes at the people gathered in the circle.
"Yes. Now you go. Go, the time has come."
They came up to the Oldest, touched and embraced him, whispered, talked to him and he laid his hands on their heads. They looked at the mysterious Swiatowid's Faces for the last time.
They went away. Carrying bundles, on overloaded creaking carts with dogs running around. They followed the trail of the scouts that had gone earlier. Now and again somebody looked back and, raising his hand, greeted the old man who stood by the statue. Daughters, sons, grandchildren, wives and husbands. They were going away for good. At last even the creak of the wheels died away. The Oldest leaned his forehead against the Deity's breast. The statue shook of a deep, the deepest, sob. But the Four Faces kept looking ahead steadily and calmly. Further than people could see. Further than the Oldest could.
The centuries passed. In the Valley villages emerged and disappeared, a forest grew, the river changed its bed. Floods and droughts came, and long frosty winters. Then the forest was felled and a new village rose. Wars rolled over - the first and then a second one. The village has been swept away, and the Valley is lonely again. There are only animals, plants and birds. And trout in the rapid spring. And... Yes. There is Somebody left.
On a wooded hill an old four trunked beech grows. Its roots had sucked the remains of the Oldest and the Statue a long time ago. Four massive boles has twisted around one another and together they carry one broad crown. In some places the bark has developed strange knots and bulbs, like eyes or faces...
Nobody wanted to cut down such a knotty and twisted tree. And the beech has been growing undisturbed. It has seen highwaymen, farmers and soldiers. And crosses that scattered over the hill later - and as years went by turned into dust. It hosted wild boars digging in search of tasty beech nuts. And they sew new trees. And it kept growing. It has been growing, it persist.
The roots penetrate the Earth in all four directions, and downward.
The crown opens to four sides of the world, and upward.
And the mighty trunk ties it all - from the depths to the sky.
Ten directions. And the constant flow of four gifts - earth, water, fire and air. The old twisted beech. Maybe some day a traveler will recognize God in it. But it stays indifferent. It sees further than people. Further and broader than Swiatowid. It reaches deeper and higher than the One, whose cross has rotted and whose metal statue grows rusty in the moss nearby.
The Old Good Beech simply grows. It exists. More than any God man can imagine.
reprinted from Zielone Brygady, Apr. '96