Speaking to you from the peace and tranquillity of these my golden years, I would ask you to spare me a minute or two from your busy lives to listen to the ramblings of an old elm.
I was planted here in the heart of my village in celebration of the Treaty of Utrecht some three hundred and eight years ago, although to be honest, I cannot remember much about that event, or any of my sapling years. In fact, I never really celebrated my birthdays at all until my third centennial, a truly momentous occasion I would like to tell you more about a bit later.
During the early arrogant years of my youth, I focused much of my strength in the flexing of my branches and the increasing of my girth and so was far too wrapped up in my vanity to notice happenings around me. Mind you, I did enjoy the antics of all the boisterous youngsters climbing up and all over my branches to play. At the same time, I was always very careful to ensure that the youngest little munchkins did not harm themselves as they explored my lower leafy limbs.
Then early one morning in the spring of 1887 (I know it was in springtime as I remember being in blossom at the time), there was a tremendous earthquake. Never seen anything like it before or since, and it caused a fair bit of damage to many buildings inside my poor village. Shook me right down to my very root tips too, it did. However, by then I was thankfully strong and healthy enough to resist. I think I can say that is when I learned a little humility though, which would serve me well later on. Many a year trundled on after that and I was left in peace to just be, and to observe the passage of time.
Middle-age was already upon me when one of the most momentous periods of my life occurred, and a very grim time it was, I can tell you. All the citizens of my dear village were placed under house arrest inside their homes whilst an army of fierce, foreign-sounding uniformed men marched up and down and paraded all around me. In the silence of the dark evenings though, I was proud to be privy to clandestine gatherings of a few brave rebellious individuals who wanted rid of these invaders and who planned their courageous resistance under my branches. After witnessing far too many bloody struggles, I am pleased to say they finally managed to have their way, and freedom was returned to my people once more.
Afterwards, I enjoyed quite a number of blissful and uneventful years until the time I was very nearly killed during a severe thunderstorm. I cannot remember exactly what happened myself, but apparently I was struck by a bolt of lightning which left me paralysed, blackened and ugly. All I know is that when I regained consciousness, I shed tears for the first and only time in my life. My villagers poured out of their houses to see me and many amongst them cried too. My memory is somewhat hazy of that interval in time as I was fighting bitterly for my life. Experts, farmers and well-wishers congregated around me, arguing and making suggestions. My existence was left hanging in the balance throughout the remainder of the winter.
There are no words grand enough to tell you how relieved I was that spring arrived early that year. When I felt her invigorating vibrations coursing through my damaged limbs, I was able to send forth a smattering of green and all talk of felling was thankfully dismissed. They realized that, with a little help and encouragement, I was capable of pulling through, despite my trunk remaining entirely hollow.
Yet more years passed, and although half of me was well enough to send forth healthy new branches, I remained but a husk of my former self. Eventually, about a decade before my three hundredth birthday, a tree surgeon, a true expert within his field, paid me a visit and gave instructions to my caretakers. Thanks to that man, my saviour, we have been able to ingeniously disguise my handicap and I am thrilled to say I have now regained a little of my former magnificence. My girth now measures five metres sixty centimetres, and I am told I was recently voted one of the hundred most remarkable trees in the whole of France.
Anyway, back to the birthday party of a lifetime in 2013, when all my villagers reunited to celebrate my third century. For over a year, they had held meetings, planned and toiled over elaborate costumes. On the big day, I was groomed, decorated and fussed over, as all around me they flocked. Holding hands. Drinking. Eating. Dancing. Making merry. Every single one of my cherished villagers dressed up in the costumes of their medieval ancestors; those who had planted my seed. What a truly wondrous celebration! You cannot begin to imagine how honoured and proud I felt to be so revered. Throngs of outsiders even came to capture my image with little machines called television cameras.
Since that wondrous birthday celebration, life has quietened again and I have been left in peace once more. This does not bother me in the slightest. Here I still stand, observing the daily dramas and comings and goings of my villagers, exactly as I have done all my life.
One thing which never fails to amuse me is the commotion I seem to cause whenever they take to their noisy, four-wheeled devices to circumnavigate my trunk. Should they circulate from left to right? Or from right to left? It appears nobody can decide.
And the highlight of the day must surely be when the Gorbio village bus, that long, ambulant contraption carrying many of them at a time, rolls up on its daily visit and parks next to me for a while. Thus, we halt life in the square for a moment. What havoc!
I smile to myself benevolently as I observe these futile yet hilarious traffic jams. Whatever next? I continue to wait, and I wonder when people will learn to just … simply be.