All around the Parque Central of San Cristóbal de Las Casas there were women in traditional dress. Sometimes they were standing in line. Sometimes they clustered together looking inward at each other. One of them standing in a long line of similarly dressed women told me, “We are here for the government.” There was a uniformed guard who seemed to be looking after them. He told me they had been bused to the city for the government.
We took the fast train to Beijing across hours of deadened countryside where all the trees grow in rows, various heights, but all new and emaciated under the dusting of early leaves. I asked an acquaintance what happened to all the old trees. Was this a result of the Cultural Revolution? He said, maybe they ate them. They ate grass sometimes. Maybe they cut them down for firewood. Now and then you see some that don’t look planted; volunteers, they had been fattened up by age and randomly placed. There are always survivors.
People would tell us to go see the big tree, and finally we flagged ourselves into one of the cheap cabs that go between Santa Maria del Tule and Oaxaca de Juarez on a set route. It was getting dark early under an overcast sky, the remains from tropical storm Ernesto, who had petered out after making some news in the Yucatan.
We found the big tree, a knob made for the grip of some great giant who could use it to lift the entire town – the entire state – out of the Mexican ground. It seemed to squat between the mayoral offices and the church. All the nearby buildings clung to earth like the homes of dwarves.
Three days of dirty weather and everyone saw it on their way home from work. It was dumped onto the Silver Strand State Beach parking lot— the keel naked and scabbed with barnacles, the mast canted. Someone said the park maintenance people must have hauled it up out of the surf. It looked like a forklift had punched two holes in the hull.