Subhash Jaireth, ‘From Tommaso Campanella’
From Tommaso Campanella in To Silence: Three Autobiographies
Let me tell you about a fir, a tree like which I have never again seen in my whole life. No, I have come across many firs, pines, junipers and spruces but this was a special tree, as if made just for me. I don’t know how and why it suddenly graced my life with its sudden appearance, but I
do remember clearly the day when I first laid my eyes on this beautiful creature. I was fifteen and had developed a habit of taking long walks in the forest. On these walks I would talk to myself, relaxed I think by the unhurried rhythms of the natural world, but the content of my ramblings,
was rather trivial because I don’t remember anything of significance about them.
One afternoon it had started raining and I took shelter under a leafy chestnut. It was late in August and the autumn was at its peak. Sitting under the tree I saw on the opposite bank of the river a fir, tall and mighty, standing alone amongst sweet chestnuts, reluctantly shedding
leaves. The late afternoon sun was behind the tree, and the light refracted by the moist air had created a rainbow-like halo; as if the tall conical shape had just descended from the luminous sky, eager to breathe new life into everything scattered around it; God’s will and grace I must have
thought then, so omnificent and magnanimous. But the true meaning of the word grace I discovered later, when after an hour’s walk across the river I touched the dark grey bark of the giant fir—rough, warm and resinous. Surrounded by the stony walls of the prison cell, I would will
myself to recreate a semblance of the same touch—perhaps to convince myself that there still was some hope that I might survive the ordeal; that my Lord hadn’t abandoned me forever; that He was watching over me, asking me to wait for the right moment.
The ground around the fir was covered in leaves, needles, cones and shreds of bark. The moist air warmed by the sun had initiated slow decay but the smell was strangely pleasant. The grass was littered with red and brown chestnuts, their oily shells shining like bright beads. I took off my shoes and walked bare-feet a few hundred paces; the touch was exquisite; at first a cold shiver shot through my body, but slowly a state of calmness descended, drowning me deep, as if in the waters of a tranquil lake. I decided to sit down; my pulse had slowed and my mind was emptied of thoughts and intentions; for a few minutes it felt as if I had ceased to exist. Luckily it didn’t last long. Why luckily? Because the feeling of being not alive and still remaining conscious of that sensation, wasn’t only new but quite unnerving as well.
I would visit the fir, yes, ‘visit’ is the right word, often, and slowly discover the plenitude of life coexisting with it; it followed an intricate logic of interdependence—harsh perhaps, but not cruel, controlled merely by necessity rather than greed. I was startled by the rational design of this living world at the centre of which stood the tall fir. It didn’t take me long to understand that the fir itself was part of something larger and more intricate.
I once managed to climb up the fir to look inside the hollows and found in one a few eggs guarded jealously by a beautiful owl. She smiled at me with her glassy eyes and then ignored me completely. I soon discovered that the squirrels were more brave and adventurous. There was a pair that seemed to wait for me, wanting to be fed. I also saw a few snakes and was lucky that they chose to show no interest in my presence. There were ants and worms, birds and bees, fungi and lichen and, most surprising of all, large spiders hanging from the branches, weaving their delicate webs. I am sure you don’t want me to explain what the word ‘grace’ has to do with the giant fir. Any further explanation, you know well, would make my narrative redundant. The wings the words span isn’t limitless; often they fail to fly and it would be prudent to remain cognisant of their failure; if they cause infliction, the cure for it resides in close proximity to them, and
the cure, my dear friend, is silence.
Yes, just silence.