That Sycamore

by chuckofish


“Xerxes, I read, ‘halted his unwieldy army for days that he might contemplate to his satisfaction’ the beauty of a single sycamore.

You are Xerxes in Persia. Your army spreads on a vast and arid peneplain…you call to all your sad captains, and give the order to halt. You have seen the tree with the lights in it, haven’t you? You must have. Xerxes buffeted on a plain, ambition drained in a puff. Your men are bewildered…there is nothing to catch the eye in this flatness, nothing but a hollow, hammering sky, a waste of sedge in the lee of windblown rocks, a meager ribbon of scrub willow tracing a slumbering watercourse

Ruins of the Persian Palace at Persepolis

and that sycamore.

Xerxes and tree at Persepolis

You saw it; you will stand rapt and mute, exalted, remembering or not remembering over a period of days to shade your head with your robe.”

He had its form wrought upon a medal of gold to help him remember it the rest of his life.” We all ought to have a goldsmith following us around. But it goes without saying, doesn’t it, Xerxes, that no gold medal worn around your neck will bring back the glad hour, keep those lights kindled so long as you live, forever present? Pascal saw it; he grabbed pen and paper and scrawled the one word, and wore it sewn in his shirt the rest of his life. I don’t know what Pascal saw. I saw a cedar. Xerxes saw a sycamore.”  (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)


I think this spring I will plant a sycamore at our camp and hope it grows into something as magnificent long after I have gone.

(pictures of the Persian palace reliefs and ruins at Persepolis from google image; picture of the tree from here)