Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our team of medieval warfare scholars is hiking across a European landscape. Coming over the crest of a hill, we all see the body of a 13th-century peasant woman, blond, wearing course but clean clothing and a snowy apron, her arms and legs extended cross-like, murdered, her hands and feet severed, her tongue cut out. She is young, pretty, her face calm. We all hover around the body, searching for clues, and all the other scholars, simultaneously, decide she represents a medieval murder that should be filed under "H"--I suppose that this is because of the symmetry of the butchery. I'm standing by her head, and I look out over her feet and notice, in the distance, an old tree that's been blasted by some storm, its roots torn out of the ground, hanging naked in the air. "Look over there," I say, pointing, and all the medieval scholars gasp and take off running towards this new clue, which appears to be much more "significant" than a murdered and mutilated peasant woman. The scholars enter a heated debate over what sort of tree this is, the exact trajectory of the tree trunk (north-north-west, or north-west-west?), the causative event (earthquake? storm? war? supernatural force?). "H" is left far behind; this new event merits a "V", a "W", possibly even an "X". The scholars argue passionately, pacing around the huge felled tree. I realize that this is the sort of event is what they long for, an event that is much more mysterious than the mundane ritual murder of the peasant woman. The tree has druid connotations; it's ancient. Indeed, the death of this gorgeous old tree--either through natural or human means--fills me with deep sorrow while the discovery of the peasant woman's body only made me feel a little sad.

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