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Splitting

By Carol Bergman

Because I am not, as yet, a tenured college professor, I remain guarded and deliberate at all times. One cannot be too careful, I say to myself. One must not get swept away by mysterious, inexplicable, or catastrophic events. We’ve had our share of those recently. Our country is at war. Need I say more? And so I maintain discipline. I reflect, I deliberate, I discourse with my colleagues. How I admire that word: discourse. To whit, I never fall in love or even imagine that I am in love. I tell no one—male or female—about my intuitions or my desires.

Let me explain further: I am an arborist—my subject is trees. All 60,000 species in the world are alive to me. I much prefer their company to that of humans: they are not conscious, they do not hurt one another, they do not hurt us. And so, one morning, when I read in the paper that two European Beech trees in Central Park had “cried out” as they were being trimmed by the foresters, I was skeptical.

The trees were easy to find as their location had been well described in the article. I found a bench directly opposite them and sat down. My intention was to stay as long as possible and to take careful notes. I would return to the site until I was satisfied that the “crying out” could be explained in a scientific and meticulous manner.

Oddly, I found myself alone in this pursuit—alone on the bench, alone for most of the day. It was cold, perhaps that is why. But I had dressed appropriately and I was comfortable sitting on the bench. Also, my mission warmed me.

I took out my notebook and began to record my observations. Some of the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn, others were still richly green. My next notation was as follows: The trees are conjoined, grown into one another, and seemingly inseparable. I could see their two trunks: the one on the left was thicker than the one on the right. The branches did not look tangled; they were draped over one another. The larger tree’s branches were so heavy with growth that some almost touched the ground obscuring the trunk of the smaller tree. But as soon as I got up, I could see the smaller trunk clearly. Its growth had been stunted by the shadow of the larger tree and it was struggling towards the light. Evidence of the attempt to slice the trees apart so that the smaller tree could breathe—broken branches, torn leaves—was everywhere. One of the workers had left a saw leaning against the larger tree. It looked like a stage prop. I was surprised no one had stolen it.

I drew back to the bench and sat quietly for a few moments. My notebook was by my side open to the page where I had written the words “conjoined” and “inseparable.” I felt paralyzed, without will. Then I recovered and continued to contemplate the trees. I searched for the boundary between them but only saw their interconnectedness. This was troublesome to me and I could not record it properly. My hand shook and faltered as I wrote: a strange howling sound, not the wind.. My confusion persisted until a group of Italian tourists walked by. They were chasing squirrels, tossing them acorns and laughing at their antics. Thus was I returned to scientific thought, hypothesis—the sap rising, roots crushed against each other—none of which explained the sound I had heard with my own ears. “These trees have hearts, they have lungs, they have speech,” one reporter had written. I continued to listen but heard nothing further—no soft rustling of emotion, no ululation of despair, not even my own. When I wrote up my findings I ommitted the sensation of pain I had felt on behalf of my beloved trees. I struck the word beloved from the notebook. I struck it from my heart.

Carol Bergman’s short stories and creative nonficiton have been published in Willow Review, Onion Review, A Room of One’s Own, Absinthe Literary Review, The Bridge, Potpourri, Epiphany and many other publications in the US and the UK . “Objects of Desire,” appearing in Lilith and Whetstone Literary Review was nominated for a 1999 Pushcart Prize in nonfiction. “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories,” was published by Orbis Books (US/Canada) and Earthscan Books (UK/Commowealth) in October, 2003 and was nominated for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize. It has been translated into Korean and Chinese. Her articles, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in numerous publications in the UK and the US including The New York Times, The Times (of London), The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily News Magazine, The Amsterdam News, Newsday, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s World,Family Circle, Art Times, Cineaste, and Salon.com. She is the author of two film biographies (Mae West & Sidney Poitier) and the ghostwriter of Captain Kangaroo’s autobiography, Growing Up Happy (Doubleday, 1989). A memoir, “Searching for Fritzi,” was published in 1999. A book five novellas, “Sitting for Klimt,” was published in Fall, 2006. She is one of the founding faculty of Gotham Writers’ Workshop and has been teaching in the NYU writing program since 1997.

Photo "Beech Leaves On Granite" courtesy of John Evans, Winchester, UK.


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