Marshal_Forth's Sandbox

There Should Be a Marker

In a far corner of the Library stood the Tree. It could be found in a tall courtyard, five stories high, which was rimmed with marble balconies and topped with a skylight of frosted glass through which diffuse light always shone. The Tree was planted in a small patch of earth, hemmed in on all sides by marble, with smooth benches beneath it so that you could sit in its shadow and read for hours.

The remarkable thing about the Tree was that it, very pointedly, was not a tree. Rather it was the Tree; the cloth from which all lesser trees are cut. It was the Platonic ideal, the universal. It was not tree the object, but tree the category. To it, all other trees are but a shadow, an imitation. Its bark rippled with shagbark, peeling beech bark, the barks of cinnamon, oak, eucalyptus, mango, and maple, a million colors and textures that dazzled the eyes. Among its myriad branches were leaves of oak, ash, and gingko, needles of juniper and pine, fronds of palms, cycads and ferns, and thousands of others, some of which I knew, many of which I had never known and never would. It was a remarkable sight to behold.

I’m sure upon describing this to you, you’re envisioning a kind of mutt, a hybrid of every possible tree you’ve ever seen. You’re thinking of some sort of lopsided Frankenstein’s monster, stitched into a single entity from a million incongruous parts. This is not at all the case. Each element seemed wholly at peace with every other; the fronds and needles and microphylls and flowers and hanging moss all existed harmoniously with each other, each slowly shifting in an unseen wind.

If you look closely, you could see the components of this Tree which were imitated in the lesser trees you’ve seen all your life. If you compare it to a date palm, you begin to notice how similar the tall central trunk and tuft of greenery near the top is to every date palm you’ve ever seen. If you think of a pine tree, you’ll be astounded at how the pine needles bring themselves to the forefront of your perception, and you have no trouble seeing the Pattern from which the Apprentice wrought lesser trees.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a bit hard to visualize. Despite my best efforts, everyone I’ve ever told about it has had the same difficulties. I’m convinced the fractal complexity of the Tree leaves it, in some profound sense, essentially indescribable. Just like every other tree cannot compare to the original Tree, no description, no matter how precise or complex or earnest, can compare to seeing it in person.

I stumbled upon it once, long ago. I’d heard rumors, but I think I might have been the first to sit there and contemplate it. I thought myself possessed of my own sacred Bodhi tree, that somehow I could find the path to enlightenment if I were to rest beneath its boughs and meditate in its presence, in the presence of this manifestation of the form from which all trees derive. I am a little older and wiser now, and my humility will no longer allow me to compare my amateur efforts then to those of the Great Masters, but even so, I don’t think I’ve felt peace like that before or since.

One day, the Bookburners broke into the Library, seeking to destroy as they always do. The Docents came for them, to defend the Library and all it holds. The Bookburners fought them off, first with guns, and then with bombs. Soon they felt the need for a physical barrier, and retreated to the room of the true Tree. They cut it down, ripped it from the earth and chopped it into rough logs piled in the hallway as a ramshackle barricade. Of course it didn’t stop the Docents. They drove the Bookburners out, but the damage was done.

I went there a few days after the skirmish, just to see the mangled corpse of the Tree, the thing that was to trees what God is to men, what the Library is to lesser libraries. It wasn’t a coherent whole anymore. It was a disgusting mess of different trees, pasted together with no Pattern or Plan. I couldn’t see any trees in it anymore, only a misshapen chimaera of splintering wood. It looked like a cancer, a tree hybridized so many times, it wouldn’t resolve into a single entity. Whatever magic it had once had was now gone.

I searched far and wide for one who could restore it. No one knew a method. Even those who would have had the power to restore a tree to life, those who could easily un-grow an ancient tree down to a sapling or create a thousand trees from scratch with a thought, either couldn’t bring back this one, or refused to even try.

I burned the logs. I couldn’t bear looking at them. They were a mockery of the beauty the tree had once had. No one stopped me.

The only thing I left was the stump. All stumps look like stumps; it was no uglier than any other stump. I couldn’t bring myself to burn it as well. There should be a marker for what was lost.

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