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The Spirit of the Tree, 1996

Eighteen years ago I bought a cottage in the Owl Mountains (Eulengebirge) in the charming locality of Michałkowa. Once this cottage belonged to the Thal family of Michelsdorf but the vicissitudes of history made this family disperse and make room for people who came from the lands on the Soła, Raba and Wilenka Rivers. Meanwhile it used to be the abode of an individual nicknamed Firebrand Rabbitskin (real name Mandziej) who every Sunday was in the habit of chasing his wife and children round the house, wielding an axe. I bought the cottage from a guy bearing the melodious name of Cawrycz (probably Cavrić) whose ancestor used to dry plums over the fire in sunny Yugoslavia. My partner in the purchase of the cottage was my husband born in Subocz Street in the city of Wilno on the Wilenka, who at the behest of sclerotic Churchill, mucky Roosevelt, and cynical Stalin was transported with all his family, as if at the touch of o magic wand seven hundred kilometres to the West and thus got in my way. This husband, at first infernally lean and energetic, and later on fat and languid, shuffled all over Lower Silesia trying to become an artist at the exceptionally misbegotten academy of fine arts. He moved in a rather strange manner and at the co-educational Students Hostel in Ulica Henryka Pobożnego he took three of four steps at a jump, going to or returning from the lame academy. Being genetically determined and due to incessant hormonal, activity, this crazy individual found himself in the vicinity of my pubic mound. Obstinate like a Pediculus pubis he remained with me for years in Wrocław and the surrounding countryside, for l myself was a little uneasy being deprived of the safe ground of Żywiec-Zabłocie, where, in a way, the mickey was being taken out of the overbearing burghers of Żywiec, or of the precipitous neighbourhood of Ulica Sobieskiego in Bielsko-Biała from which I went to primary school and then to secondary school of fine arts or weaver’s craft, I can’t remember which.

In short, the cottage was purchased. At that time strikes would break out in the coastal towns, secretaries, prime ministers and VIPs kept falling like cut-down poppy-heads, and the shops sold only mustard and vinegar. Awash with vinegar and mustard, I got into a relationship with Nature for the cottage stood on a precipitous mountainside, on beautiful and primeval land, Ivy, false dill, horse-radish, cowslips and thyme grew on the ground now owned by me.

Nature reciprocated like a cocotte for soon I was eating lettuce, beans and tomatoes from the garden patches that I would reclaim with maniacal obstinacy from the kingdom of weeds at the back of the cottage.

A small brook was running past the cottage and after a rainfall it would babble romantically outside the windows. The babble of the brook, the quick-moving dragon flies and mosquitoes turned into phonic music the voices of the indigo bunting and the blackbird who had settled in the wooden bird houses nailed to my pear and apple trees.

The bird houses had been built and nailed to the trees by my neighbour Sałapatek, who by a devious route had first come to Lutomia and then by way of Świdnica had parachuted into Michelsdorf, i. e. Michałkowa. It was this neighbour who informed me that the cottage was situated on a step mountainside, Talberg, and the road to the cottage was the property of the state-owned forest and led over a bridge on the mill-race.

The cottage was and still is marvellously mysterious. Many a time I pattered round the rooms, kitchen, anterooms, bathroom to marvel at the size of the cottage. In the loft wasps and hornets chirped and flew about like bombers. At night, summer and winter alike, I would come out into the yard and listen to the babble of the brook. Minute willow twigs grew on the brook.

Years passed and my garden patches yielded green peas and beans. Strange withes appeared on the brook. They grew like hemp and with a persistence worthy of a better cause they formed a green anemone of withes. The cottage began to hide behind the willow withes. Inquisitive as always, I enquired of my neighbours why there was such a thicket. And my diligent neighbour, expatriated from the region on the Soła, explained to me that the willow thicket had been sown by a byelorusska. This is a rather peculiar vehicle that can change the configuration of a piece of land with the help of an excavator bucket. And it was this machine, produced in Mińsk, now under the rule of a queer guy of the name of Łukaszenko, that while widening the brook-bed and enlarging the back yard, accidentally ground and powdered the willow growing on the brook.

The ground and annihilated wood-pulp rose like a phoenix from its ashes, first as withes and then as bushes and trees. The harder l try to clear the thicket, the larger grows the spirit of my tree. It so happened that one willow, having been crushed and dismembered by an active byelorusska, had become the nucleus of vegetative seedlings. As years go by small bushes grow into trees.

I wish to make a work of art of the willow sticks and leaves that tend to dog my brook. I am anxious to get into a relationship with the spirit of the tree, my tree. I am intent on transforming the tree, now growing with maniacal stubbornness and developing thin withes, into material for a picture. And so I grind all the willow withes into a fine powder to get at the essential nucleus. It is powder that I put on the canvas and want it to remain stuck there forever to become the leaven of Art., i. e. Mystery.

The brook is babbling today, but a month ago it roared with frighteningly deep waters and the fate of my cottage at Michałkowa seemed to be dependent on incalculable chance.

However, it so happened that my (our) cottage was saved and the excess of water flowed meekly into Bystrzyca Lake where my willow withes sank within a few minutes. I must systematically cut down the redundant willow withes. So I will also cut down the Spirit of the Tree which thanks to byelorusska has grown bigger than expected and in fact has risen from the dead. I treat the wood powder obtained by grinding as oil paint and put in on the canvas.

In this way the moribund wood-pulp rises from the dead as material to build a work of art.

Natalia LL, 1997

Translated by Henryk Holzhausen