The first time he saw the tree, he was so overawed by its size and shape that he stared at it until people around him began to ask each other what the gringo could possibly find so interesting in that old wreck of a tree. To most of them, it had no beauty at all, but to him, it looked like a mountain in a Chinese painting. Towering and ancient, its sides craggy and its top covered with the green of trees, some in groves, others spilling down its sides, it was far beyond any tree he had seen. Its massive scarred and gnarled trunk looked as though it would take thirty or more people standing side by side to ring it round. About fifteen feet from the ground, the trunk divided, forming a half arch from which three slender branches rose like new trunks. He had no idea what kind of tree it was, only that it was massive and ancient. Walking up to it, he touched it with the palms of his hands, caressing the roughness of its bark and its creased and crannied trunk. How old it was and who had planted it, those things he didn’t know until later when the old shaman Gerardo Pulido de los Dios told him.
“It is an ahuehuete tree,” the old shaman said. “A Mexican cypress. The old stories say it was Moctezuma who planted it when he was a boy. Some say it is five hundred years older. No one knows for certain, not even me. But when Moctezuma was a boy, this tree was already here, sturdy and tall. An old legend calls the ahuehuete the ‘Tree of Life’ because when the great flood came, the last man and last woman on Earth climbed to the top of an ahuehuete tree and saved humanity from destruction. But I wonder,” he mused, pulling a wry face, “if that will be enough to save us from our foolishness today.” He ran his hands over the ancient tree’s trunk. “She has seen so much in her lifetime, señor Manning.”
~ ~ ~
(This is an excerpt from a chapter in my new book, “The City Has Many Faces, a love story about Mexico City.”)