Next to the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean, in our garden grows a sapling called The Tree of Life. It is Lignum Vitae and from it comes the hardest wood we know. It will neither burn, float nor rot. It is a medicine tree that can cure the sick and offers aid to the blind. It is called the holy tree because once upon a time the poor people of Europe prayed before it’s slivers and timbers as they could afford no other medicine.
We planted the sapling because it’s from the timbers of this tree that the Hermitage is built, trees that likely grew on the same spot 400 years ago, trees that were likely 1000 years old. When my father first saw the house he bought it that very same day, with no prior consideration and with no hesitation. He explains very simply it was because the house spoke to him.
It is an earth-fast house, its post planted directly into the ground with no other foundation. The unique cross bracing of the ceiling gives the house its stability, and the awesome weight of the Lignum Vitae itself gives the house its strength. When I am still, I can feel the resonance of the ancient timbers still drawing energy up from the same ground from which they once grew, and at night, on my own, I swear I can hear the walls talking. Perhaps it is the echoes of voices from over the years, perhaps it is the murmuring of the many prayers this house has heard.
This week the sapling has shown its first flowers, deep periwinkle blue. This week we also built a tea pagoda in the garden, by the big rock, beneath the mango tree and above the swimming pool. The pagoda just appeared as though it had been brought by the flowers, as easily as if it just knew its spot and slipped simply from the intangible to the real. My father said it spoke to him and he knew it had to be built. I sit looking through the window where the Lignum Vitae grows wondering about the voices that inspire us.