IF A TREE FALLS..
“If a tree falls in the forest and no-one’s around,
Does it make a sound as it hits the ground?”
The old Zen Masters used to ask this famous
enigmatic question whenever Desperate Seekers came bothering them for Enlightenment.
Now Zen Buddhism has the virtue of being one of the very few religions with a Sense of Humour (otherwise only the Sufi’s spring to mind) and it is of course a Trick Question, being basically unanswerable and was designed merely to stretch the rational, logical thought processes to breaking point. Upon the synapses collapse the brain is said to be in a state ready to accept the new “Enlightenment” Imprint.
Asking questions that can’t be answered were known
as KOAN‘s and these were a well honed and
effective weapon in the Zen-Master’s
Yet, being the Fool I am, I once set out to answer
that very Question, and against all expectations,
I actually got something of a Result.
Of course, some people might demur that; as the Participants in this Inquiry were both “young and foolish” and also said to have been “tripping” on the local magic mushrooms at the time, the results might be said to be merely annecdotal, or at best, “Inconclusive”.
But as you will come to see, this may be a good thing. For, like the exact moment of the Death of Schroedinger’s Cat, there are some things, perhaps,
that it is best not to know.
The Tale starts one far-away, long-ago sunny, Sunday afternoon; me and my Personal Assistant of the time,
(a lovely lass if somewhat moody) were wandering innocently around the countryside, high as kites and free as birds, when I spotted a precariously tottering tree on the side of a creek bed.
It had long since died, and the creek’s running water had exposed its gnarled roots from the red, volcanic soil.
Merely putting my hand upon the trunk
caused it to creak alarmingly.
I must have been in a Zen-Buddhist frame of mind, because I immediately thought of the old zen koan,
on falling trees.
“If a tree falls in the forest and no-one hears it,
does it make a sound?” I intoned solemnly.
“You pompous humbug,” declared my PA fondly, puffing a cigarette as she sat calmly in a pool of waist deep water.
Then I had a Eureka moment!
“Ha!” I declared, “Now is the perfect opportunity
to solve this Age-Old Conundrum!”
For, despite the fact that we were both naked, my personal assistant still carried upon her person a large cassette tape-recorder, with which to capture any stray words of wisdom I might happen to sprout. (Yes, despite her nakedness she still took her secretarial duties seriously. She wasn’t just some floozy I picked up off the streets, you know! [Actually I found her in a Pawn Shop pawning a wedding ring. But I digress]..)
Now this was the Pre-Digital Age children, the Dawn of Time! Somewhere’s round the Eighties as I recall, so I’m talking about a recording device about the size of a Weet-Bix packet that ran on eight D-size batteries and recorded in mono. Yes, it was the audio technology equivilent of papyrus, but nontheless, it would suit my purpose.
So we flipped the tape over, set it to record and left it nestled at the base of the tree, whilst we wandered off in search of a cool pool in which to swim. It was a gusty day, I thought, surely the tree was due to meet its demise. We would return at sunset on our way back to the car and collect the cassette. Once home I could study the tape at my leisure and analyse the results.
Perhaps I could publish a Paper on the data I collected.
Or so I planned.
What with one distraction and another, we tarried longer than we had intended wandering the lovely countryside, and so it was already darkening rapidly as we retraced our footsteps, and my assistant was getting cold and crabby.
One tree looked pretty much like another in the deepening gloom and for some time I splashed and stumbled fruitlessly along the creek bank, poking into spider-infested nooks and crannies, whilst my assistant whined about the lack of clothes and cigarettes and the need to return to the car to drive somewhere and buy some.
Eventually I located the cassette-player by dint of standing on it after stumbling across the now fallen tree and cracking the cheap, plastic case in the process which caused the tape to unspool rapidly growing in a Gordian tangle. Losing my balance, I shrieked loudly as the cassette-player and I slid down the bank into the shallows.
“If you fell over a tree in the forest and I wasn’t here to hear, do you think you’d make a sound?” sniggered my disrespectful Personal Assistant.
Ignoring this, I gathered the remains of my Dignity and the cassette player and carried them both back to the car. Irritated by her lack of sympathy for my plight, I determined, as I got dressed again, to overcome this minor setback
and continue with my Research.
So I took the tape home, deconstructed the casing, patiently reassembled and untangled the tape, dried it out and labouriously re-fitted it into a new case. Finally, after
much tinkering, I was able to play the “franken-tape” successfully on my home stereo-system
and analyse the results.
Well, as I said, the results were somewhat inconclusive,
but I have narrowed it down to one of two possibilities:
(a) Trees scream like wounded Banshees as they die; or
(b) The dip in the creek did something weird to the tape, because the whole thing was filled with a terrible garbled screaming, like something out of Lovecraft‘s most eldritch, hideous nightmare.
Terrible, terrible sounds, flaying every frequency in the human audio range and beyond. Imagine dogs being boiled alive while hellish, rusty, un-oiled earth-moving equipment is screeing and clanking and grinding and vibrating as it backs over a herd of pigs again and again…
So I have hidden these foul sounds away from human ears, put the tape away under lock and key in a metal box buried in a disused firing range and never played it again to a living soul, not even my Personal Assistant, though she asked to hear it many times.
For like I said before, there are perhaps some things Man is not meant to know.
No, nor Woman neither.
The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Artist,
President of the Kurilpa Institute of Creativity
and an ordained Minister of the Church of the Universe
AND the Church of Spiritual Humanists.
If sighted do not approach. Notify the appropriate Authorities
and secure your possesions.