Sunday, December 02, 2007

Remembering the Aratiles

When I think back to my childhood, it seems that the Aratiles tree (a.k.a Alatiris, Alateris, Aratiris) is an omnipresent fixture. Back then, when there was no Internet or cable, and Atari consoles were rare, I spent most of my time outdoors. I would run barefoot in the hot asphalt pavement playing with friends. We hung upside down from the monkey bars, stood up and jumped off the swing sets, ran up the industrial grade aluminum slides, played in construction sites, and rode our bikes as far away from home as we dared. Basically, everything that our parents would tell us not to do. But it seems that at the end of every day, we would end up under the Aratiles tree. It was a common tree and it could be found all over the neighborhood. We were all very fond of climbing it and eating its berries while sitting on its branches and resting in its shade. Of course, everything would end up being sticky and it would always stain our clothes. I also remember once getting caught with a couple of friends climbing a neighbor's Aratiles tree without permission.

Even when our family moved from our old neighborhood into the Metro, the Aratiles tree was there. The new place was smaller and the gray cement dominated everything except for a triangle shaped patch of soil where a lone Aratiles tree stood surrounded by the tightly packed and narrow two storey houses.

I gained new friends in our new neighborhood and we spent most days playing in the shade of that lone tree. But as the years passed by I noticed it getting weaker, until one day, when I came around the plaza I saw people had tied ropes around it and had pulled it out of the ground. I don't remember why they did that, but I do remember being saddened by the sight of it being hauled away. For a while it wasn't the same and we would talk of how we missed the tree. But as certain as the sun shines life moved on. Children are fickle and they forget easily; to a young mind there are many distractions and there are always new things to love.

That event seemed to coincide with when as a kid, I decided that I was going to be one of the adults; Entering that phase where you stop bragging about your latest toy and conversations with your friends start to change. I sometimes wonder if that was a mere coincidence or if there was more to the Aratiles tree. Could it be that the child was hauled away with the tree? It seemed that something shifted in the world, that the lens had changed. From a soft focus where things seemed to glow and the background was blurred, the image suddenly sharpened and things were suddenly clearer. Whereas before the blur allowed for the imagination, now the world became hard and rational. Those empty houses we passed while out on our bikes were no longer haunted, but merely abandoned. The rustling tree at night was no longer due to its giant guardian shifting in the branches to light his thick tobacco. Tall grasses no longer hid gnome villages, but dangerous snakes. You realize that you will never stumble upon a portal to another world in those thickets. You stop rubbing anything that remotely resembles an old oil lamp in hope of getting wishes. It seems as if that fruit was the source of childhood innocence and wonderment.

What if the berry of the Aratiles is the anti-thesis of the Forbidden Fruit? While one takes away innocence, could the other impart it? As the Tree of Knowledge is hidden away, the Tree of Innocence is everywhere. As men search for Eden to behold the tree where dwelt the Serpent, this humble tree will grow wild in the most barren of gardens. As Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat The Fruit, this will be offered to the children. But then, the child eventually tires of the fruit, and visit the tree less and less. He will forget. His young mind will discover other things and learn to love something new. Still, unlike first man and woman who were well aware of what they lost after being casted out of the Garden, the children will never know the value of this fruit and they join the world of Man willingly.

Sometimes when I come around that plaza, I can still see the outline of that tree. Like a phantom limb of a dismembered arm, it feels like it's there.

Just to be safe, I think I will put this down on my "Father To Do List", for when I have kids:

Plant an Aratiles tree.
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