From the elm, by a branch elbow-to-elbow
with the next tree, he passed on to a carob, and then to a mulberry tree. So I saw Cosimo advance from one branch to another, suspended high above the garden. The moon rose late and shone above the branches. In their nests slept the titmice, huddled up like him. The night, the open, the silence of the park were broken by rustling of leaves and distant sounds, and the wind sweeping through the trees.
At times there was a far-off murmur—the sea.
From my window I listened to the scattered whispering and tried to imagine it heard without the protection of the familiar background of the house, from which he was only a few yards. Alone with the night around him, clinging to the only friendly object: the rough bark of a tree, scored with innumerable little tunnels where the larvae slept.
At one time the pines must have dominated the whole area,
for a few tufts still sprouted out here and there down the slopes as far as the beaches. The oaks then were thicker than they seem to me today, for they were the first, most valuable victims. Higher up, the pines gave way to chestnuts, which went on and on up the mountainsides as far as the eye could reach. This was the world of sap amid which we lived, we inhabitants of Ombrosa, almost without our noticing it.
The first to give any real thought to all this was Cosimo.
He realized that as the trees were so thick he could move for several miles by passing from one branch to another, without ever needing to descend to earth. Sometimes a patch of bare ground forced him to make long detours, but he soon got to know all the necessary routes and came to measure distances by quite different estimates than ours, bearing always in mind the twisted trail he had to take over the branches. And where not even a jump would carry him on to the nearest branch, he began to use various tricks of his own.
He reached the last tree of the park, a plane tree.
Below him the valley swept away under a sky of wispy clouds and smoke curling up from the slate roofs of cottages hiding behind rocks like piles of stones; the figs and cherries formed another sky, of leaves; lower down thrust out the spreading branches of plums and peaches. Everything was clear and sharp, even the grass, blade by blade, all except the soil with its crawling pumpkin leaves or dotted lettuces or fuzz of crops: it was the same on both sides of the V in which the valley opened over a high funnel of sea.
Through this landscape was rippling a kind of wave, not visible, or even audible, except now and then, but what one could hear was enough to create a sense of uneasiness;
a sudden sharp cry, and then the faint crash of something falling and perhaps even the crack of a breaking branch, and more cries, different ones this time, of angry voices, converging on the place where the cry had come from before. Then nothing, a sense of nothingness, as if things were happening in a completely different part of the woods; and in fact the voices and sounds now began again but seemed to be coming from one side or another of the valley, always from where the jagged little leaves of the cherry trees were moving in the wind. And so Cosimo, with a part of his mind meandering on its own—while another part seemed to know and understand it all beforehand—found the thought crossing his mind: Cherries talk.
He began moving toward the nearest cherry tree, or row, rather, of cherry trees, tall, of superb leafy green,
thick with black cherries; but my brother had not yet trained his eye to distinguish at once exactly what was and what was not on branches. He paused; the sounds of before had gone. He was on the lowest boughs, and felt all the cherries above weighing down on him; he could not have explained why, but they seemed to be converging on him, as if, in fact, he were on a tree with eyes instead of cherries.