The carob is one of nature’s less illustrious confections. Unlike honey, the carob doesn’t look much; a hard brown pod, warped, dry and on superficial examination, disappointingly ungooey. The locals call carobs keçi boyunuzu or goat’s horns. But looks often deceive. The carob is the treacle of life. It is virility and life force in seed form. When crushed and boiled for hours in a cauldron, thick black molasses are formed; this dark elixir is endowed with all sorts of powers; it boosts immune systems, enriches haemoglobin, and sends libidos rocketing to Mars.
Carob trees are two a penny in my neighbourhood. But there’s a special one. A secret one. One I haven’t told anyone about. Until now. Rotty, Apo and I pass her on our morning walk each morning. She’s an incredible carob tree. Probably a good 60 – 80 years old. I call her the Wisdom Carob, and I climb into her ample arms whenever I have a difficult question to ask. Well, she’s seen a lot that carob has. Her eyes run long and far through her wood. An enormous umbrella of boughs sprout from her multiple trunks. In summer she’s a leaf-spattered dome of shade spanning about twelve metres in diameter. Well, she was...
Every moment, the Old is leaving and the New is arriving. Just recently I’ve been hearing the New knocking, albeit timorously, at the door of my own soul. Only I’ve not known quite how to let it in, or even if I want to. I’ve been in decent places before only to throw them away for ‘a dream’ which inevitably became a nightmare. I have no dream now though. No idea of how I could better the now. Yet I know I’ve filled the container of the Old to the brim, to the point it’s overflowing. There’s a surplus of joy and wonder and life. But there’s also a great unknowing. When you feel complete, where do you aim for next? Is there any point aiming?
So a few days ago, I walked to the Wisdom Carob. Her massive woody hand reached out of the earth and plucked at the warm autumn air. I climbed between two of her trunk fingers and sat for a while, back cradled by those huge boughs, legs swinging. I let my dilemma float from me. It wafted through the branches and swirled between the evergreen leaves. The sound of an accordion drifted hauntingly up the valley. I shivered. The sky darkened momentarily. Gusts of wind agitated the carpet of dead leaves below the carob’s canopy. Then Wisdom Carob spoke.
“You have to let go of everything for the New to have a chance,” she said. “The past, the images in your head. Let go of prejudices and dreams. All of it. Everything. Every preconceived notion you have about what the New could be. Because the New simply isn’t the Old.”
Urgh. I hopped down and mooched back to my land. I didn’t have the slightest intention of letting go of everything. I mean I don’t mind letting go of a bit here and there. But everything? I wouldn’t know how to even if I tried.
The very next day I headed for the city to visit a friend. I stayed overnight and the next morning indulged in a sound therapy session. As I relaxed on the couch, my friend randomly picked an oil to work with. It was chamomile. Turning the page of a well-fingered oil book, she read aloud, “German chamomile promotes a letting go of the old and stale, so that the fresh and new can evolve...”
I closed my eyes and groaned. There's no escaping the talons of destiny, eh?
The following afternoon I returned to the sun stroked folds of the valley, stopping by at Dudu’s house to drop off some bread. Dudu sat on her sofa, her brown green headscarf slipping off her silver hair. She was rocking a new born baby to sleep, the grandson of the late Celal, my loyal garden help who died of a heart attack last year. This little baby has also been named Celal. Yup, Old Celal, and New Celal. I sat by the baby’s head and began rocking the cradle with her while we chatted.
Suddenly, the dogs began barking. Dudu and I looked up. A white haired man appeared at the entrance to Dudu’s land. I recognised him immediately as the man who owns the land with the Wisdom Carob. I hadn’t seen him since mid-summer when he’d harvested the pods.
“Do you reckon we can get our tractor up this road?” He called from the track, while shooing off Dudu’s polka dot mongrel which was yapping at his ankles.
“Yeees,” said Dudu. “If the pomegranate truck made it, you can.” Then she turned to me. She was sitting at baby Celal’s feet. I was at his crown. “They’ve cut a carob back there. It was sick,” she said rocking the infant so vigorously his head shook.
I sat stock still and felt my eyeballs straining. No, no, no.
“He’s cut down that amazing carob tree? That beautiful, massive old one?”
Dudu grinned at me affectionately. She found my emotional attachment to trees somewhat unfathomable.
“Not all of it,” She cawed through her wrinkles. “Just the dead boughs. The tree’s still alive.”
I left Dudu’s in haste. Rotty the dog and I marched down the earthen track (well I marched, Rotty skipped and jumped and ran in and out of the forest oblivious of my concern). We passed my land, and walked along the forest edge. The dirt avenue opened onto the Wisdom Carob land. Mount Olympos rose in the distance, his southern flank bathed in coppery fire. I stopped. The umbrella of Wisdom Carob was gone. In fact most of her was gone. There were a couple of branches left with plumes of green spurting out.
I expected to feel devastated, but I didn’t. Even from this distance, I knew it was all alright. But I decided to wait until the next day, until the owner had cleared the wood from the site, before inspecting any closer.
It was yesterday that I approached the small fountain of green that is the New Wisdom Carob. What I saw made my arms prickle. The owner had cut off exactly the same two boughs I’d been sitting on two days prior. It was too eerie for words. The muscles along my spine shivered as I took it in. When I inspected the severed limbs, they gaped like ligneous arteries, hollow and dead. Dead boughs drain the life of a tree. They slow its growth. If they are diseased, they can even kill it. Then something else dawned on me. I noted with intrigue that the severed boughs had been the original trunks of the tree. What was left were two new trunks that had sprouted from the old. There was nothing remaining of the original carob. Yet it was still very much alive. Just disconcertingly New.
Hmm. Yes. And isn’t that the way of it? For all of us? All the time?
I turned from the tree. As I ambled along the forest edge back home, I considered the various ‘mes’ scattered along the tracks of my past, the dead limbs of my youth, the severed branches, the hollowed out pieces of me I’d forgotten about. Some of them no doubt infecting me. Those Old selves felt like strangers. Was I really once her? I wondered. And yet somehow, those defunct Kerry’s begot this one. And this one will beget the New. And once it does, it too will be the Old.
Perhaps it already is.
I arrived home. That evening something else dawned on me. I searched for my wallet which is always a little time consuming as it only sees the light of day about once a week. Eventually, I found what I was looking for. A slip of paper from my dentist given to me two weeks earlier. There on the white square I read the date and time; 11am, 18 November 2015, extraction. Two of my wisdom teeth are slowly rotting. If I leave them in they’ll slowly infect the gum. It’s time to let them go.
Wisdom teeth. Wisdom trees. Carobs only know what’s coming next. But something is.The New.
Atulya K Bingham
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