The Birch Tree
When I was 12 years old my grandfather told me that I was to meet with his parents. I was somewhat afraid of them but my grandfather kept telling me over and over the whole way I could never tell a soul not even my grandmother. He told me he had to leave me with my great-grandparents because they wanted to do this particular ritual with me and it had to take place around five days of my 12th birthday. My grandfather told me over and over that I would not be hurt but he couldn’t go with us to perform this ritual because he was not supposed to go. I had to go alone. I was somewhat freightened but I trusted my grandfather and went along because my grandfather who told me repeatedly that my great-grandparents would not hurt me and that I needed to do this. My father didn’t do this because my grandmother would not let him and that is why I could not tell her about this at all. Several years before, my grandfather had promised his parents that he would let me do this with them and that he stood in good favor with his parents because of this promise.
When we arrived along this deserted roadside several miles off the beaten path, my great-grandparents who were already there, met us at the truck. My great-grandfather had a huge machete knife in his hand and my great-
grandmother had on an apron with something in the front pockets that I would later learn were long white strips of fabric cut to about a yard in length. I was very curious of these things. I walked along with them into the woods for what seemed like forever until we finally came upon a large round mound that rose up higher than all the other area around it. A mound planted with what I understood to be many, many birch trees. These trees were spaced maybe no more than 4 or 5 feet apart and seemed to be somewhat contrived into a design as to how they were staggered into this position. These birches would have had to have been planted this way. We crept up and into this mound of trees and very near to the center my great-grandfather took out the huge knife and I braced myself, not knowing what would happen next. My great-grandfather asked that I select a tree from this area. It could be any tree but it had to be of my choosing. I chose a tree that was not as big around as the others. He smiled and nodded to my great-grandmother. This, somehow, seemed to please them. At this point, he used the heel of his hand hitting the end of the long knife to make a cut into the center of this small chosen birch. He sliced it completely through and then he used both of his hands on either side of the knife that ran through the tree to make the split wider pulling down at one point and then inverting the knife to split up the tree until there was enough space to actually place the knife longways to keep the split open that he had made into this tree. The knife would hold the spread birch open. Once this was accomplished, he and my great-grandmother started a prayer. I really couldn’t hear or understand what they were saying. It sounded more like a mumbling to me but I knew it was a prayer because they had their heads bowed and were saying the same things at the same time. With much effort my great-grandfather then picked me up and started to pass me over the knife through this space in the tree and my small statured great-grandmother helped pull me through to the other side. As this was happening neither of them missed the rhythm of what they were chanting. As I was passed through, my great-grandmother pulled me up from the ground and dusted me off and I stood beside her. She had me bow down below and to take up a large handful of this soil from around the bottom of this tree and had me form it into a hard ball. As I watched my great-grandfather retrieved his knife and stick it into the ground by the tree, my great-grandmother placed this hard ball in the middle of the split where I had passed through. They worked together pushing the two spread parts of the tree back into place and around this hard ball of moist dirt. My great-grandmother then took the strips of the white fabric from her apron and carefully wrapped them around the split of this tree as if she were dressing a wound. All of the time these prayers continued. Once she dressed this wounded tree, it looked like a huge knot beneath the wrappings and they both stood in front of me and this tree and thanked me for letting them do this with me. They kissed me on the forehead which they had never done before. I knew something had happened and I no longer had this worry. It was like a flock of birds were released inside of me. I knew this was supposed to mean something. My great-grandfather motioned for me to look up and around. It was then I noticed several other birch trees within that ring had thickened knots that I understood were these scars. All were much higher than I was tall. I realized that these knots had to have been rituals, also. Why was I chosen to do this? Why did I have to be the one to have to go through this?
Many years have since passed and I have asked my family many times about what I went through and why I had to do this. They don’t know. None of the others ever did this ritual. No one has ever talked to me about it. I kept my word to my grandfather and told no one not even my grandmother. My dad didn’t even know this happened until after both my grandfather and grandmother were gone. At this point, I have even asked my great aunts and great uncles who were still alive at the time but not one of them has any recollection of anything like this ever happening or maybe they knew and were told never to speak of it but I know this happened to me.
In the summer 1993, after my grandfather passed, I decided to make a book about this. I chose a scroll to be the form of my book because I realized the trees there were planted in a spiral fashion. I decided that this book would be 3/4” high printed onto linen with hand-hemmed edges on both sides of this scroll. I didn’t know how long the book would be but after it was finished it was a bit over 125’ in length.
It has been shown many times over the years in myriad ways from keeping it in the scrolled form to stretching it in and around the walls about eye-level high until it ended. Once I allowed the beginning of the book to be hung by the ceiling only to drop down into the spiral of the remaining of the book.
Curiously, after hearing this story about these birch trees, many people and friends and even family, wonder if my Cosmos pieces were somehow and somewhat related by the spiraling arrangement of these trees so long ago.