Murder in the Schoolyard–an ugly story from the Ibera Wetlands, Corrientes province, Northeast Argentina
Technically, it’s not murder–at least not yet. The victim is an aging beauty, a former home-coming queen, well past the first bloom of youth, but one of the rare ones that acquires in grace and stateliness more than what they lose in freshness and energy. You’ve heard about people poisoned with arsenic so slowly that the possibility of murder is never discovered. They just seem to wither and die of natural causes. The process of dying is so slow no one suspects the truth of what happened. This is worse; what’s going on outside the front door of this schoolhouse is death by slow suffocation. Silent, deadly, unbelievably stealthy. It must be what it is like to be eaten alive by an anaconda. I read that the green anaconda, the big one, the largest snake in the world, always puts the head of its victim in its mouth first, so that the kicking and struggling legs don’t get in the way of progress. The anaconda can unhinge its mouth so that it can open it wide enough to ingest victims many times wider than its own girth. That’s what’s been happening here. The strangler is youthful and energetic, a friend of the family, you might say. And the victim has no concept of danger. It doesn’t suspect. This is like a preying mantis that mates and then kills its lover. An embrace, a light touch on the shoulder that ends in death by strangulation; not as in a sudden snap of the neck but in slow motion, one frame at a time. It’s creepy. To have the life force squeezed out of you so slowly no one notices, no one rushes to the rescue. They walk right by you, barely noticing that you don’t look your usual self. The victim keeps presenting herself in public as if all is well, but just looks a little more piqued than usual. There’s no cry for help, no dramatic terminal event.
At least the anaconda hunts because it’s hungry. But this–this is evil.
It’s happening here, in this bucolic schoolyard:
A Tale of Two Trees
I am of course talking about two trees, one well known, the ceibo, the national tree/flower of Argentina. An aging queen. This is the ceibo in full flower.
The Legend of the Ceibo
The ceibo has inspired tangos, poetry, and folklore music as a symbol of courage and strength in the face of adversity. Once there was an indigenous woman named Anahi, who lived on the shores of the Parana River (pronounced pah-ra-NAH). If you know anything at all about the local history here, a lot of very bad things happened on the shores of the Parana. Anahi was small and not particularly pretty; however she was forgiven her defects when she opened her mouth to sing and her mellifluous voice filled the summer nights with melodies about her tribe, their gods, and land.
When the conquistadors came a-conquering, they took Anahi and others from the tribe as prisoner. When her guard fell asleep, Anahi seized the opportunity for escape. The guard woke up and Anahi stabbed him in the ensuing struggle. She was condemned to be burned at the stake as punishment for his death. The night of her sentence Anahi was tied to a tree and a fire was lit. As the flames roared higher, Anahi began to sing about her land and tribe.
The next morning the soldiers were astonished to find a flaming ceibo tree in full bloom where Anahi’s ashes should have been.