Mar 20, 2006

The utopians and the road to the tree

They had heard of it, the tree. People had told them. They would tell people they were going up into the mountains. They'd tell people that they were going to start a utopian community, to start the beginnings of a new world up in the mountains where this tract of land was laid out in a triangle between three rivers. They'd tell people about the book that they'd read, and the idea that they'd heard, and how now they were going.

The people would pause, with nothing to say, and then they'd say about the tree, a big tree.

They'd heard about the tree as a rumor left behind, an inconsequential fact, a point of trivia. When the people mentioned the tree they'd think the people didn't get it, didn't see the vision, didn't hear the voice calling them up into the wilderness. The people would say big tree and it would remind them again of the way they felt displaced from this world, how everything was so wrong but that here was the hope of something better. They would shake their heads about the tree, and about how people always brought it up, and they would long to be already gone up to the mountain, to have already begun.

They built a few homes, first, and a common place to eat and a post office, and then they set to work on the road. The road led farther up the mountain and they worked up the mountain cutting trees and hauling them back down again to be sawn into logs. They worked long days, together cutting and hauling and sweating for the idea of utopia. The cleared brush and talked about someday having a railway and everyday they pushed farther. The wrote promotional literature and read that book again and talked about what they were doing. They talked about what they were doing and why they were there and how they were different and always they'd talk about the future. The world was full of hope, those days, those early days. By the time the road was finished there were 300 of them. Three hundred socialist utopians who'd put in a little money and put in days and days of work and put their hope up there on the mountain. They talked with joy about what they'd left behind and about escaping all that was below and every morning the woke up and went again to the road.

The road was 18 miles long and they thought about that road as the symbol of everything that they were. They saw themselves as changing the face of the world, starting with this hand hewn road rising 4,000 feet closer to the sky. For four years they worked on that road and then at the end of the road they found the tree. They hadn't know they were looking for it until then.

When the came to that tree they stopped. They stopped working and the forest fell silent and they stared. It was the biggest tree in that forest full of the biggest trees in the world and they stopped at the top of their road and looked at that tree. It seemed to them, and later it proved to be true, that that tree was the biggest tree in the world. The next day they all went to see it again, walking their way up the road just to look. They all stood there, 300 utopian dreamers on the side of a mountain with their necks craned back staring up at the age of that thing towering into the sky, staring until their eyes went blind in the sun and longer and until the sun went by and began to set down over the valley.

The day after that they began to talk about it. They said to themselves how big it was and how it wasn't just a rumor and what were they going to name it. After talking all that day all the way up the mountain and down again, and talking over the evening meal and through the night and over their meal the next morning, they came up with a name. It seemed so important, the name they would name it. It seemed historic and like this would name what they were doing up here, like this would be the password separating the past from the future, like this would be the name of the thing calling from utopia, from the wilderness. They talked about it and then as suddenly as they had begun they knew. It was right, as if it had always been as they called it now and they called it by the name of that book that they'd read that had started all this. It was, they said, The Karl Marx tree.

The next year the government came. The government claimed that land, took the land and the road and the tree. Preservation, the government said, and they made the mountain into an official forest and into a park and they gave the tree another name. The saw the tree and claimed the tree and named it, taking it away from the utopian people and naming it after a general from one of the wars. The utopians fought for a while and yelled for a while. For a couple of years they pleaded and argued and made their case and then they despaired. Without the tree they didn't see the point anymore. They went away. The forest grew back and the buildings fell down and the place went silent. The triangle of land between three rivers that was supposed to be the beginning of a new world was wilderness again.

If you go there today the only thing left of those utopians is the post office. And if you want to see the tree, where once 300 dreamers stared into the sky above a mountain, you'll have to go up another way.