Two Oaks on a Limestone Ridge

Gaillard Monument

Wandering around our new suburb, Gaillard, I came on a grey granite slab standing upright, under two huge oaks. One simple sentence on the slab informed me that seventy soldiers, French and Austrian, had been buried here, together, after a battle on June 21, 1815 (three days after the Battle of Waterloo).

This was sobering message to read, on a limestone ridge rising from the River Arve, with the huge bulk of Mount Saleve, dark green and grey, to the south. But it was the oaks that grabbed my attention. Vast furrowed trunks, too wide to grasp, amidst the thick green foliage of spring, they were the largest and oldest trees I had yet encountered in the whole suburb. They are the Old Ones, ancestors and guardians of the local forest.

Their roots were feeding on our bones – French bones, Austrian bones, but, at this depth of time, did their nationality matter? I thought of what lay rusting away beneath the soil, rifles and buckles, the visible symbols of our identity. The oaks held the long view, and maintained the older cycles.

I felt welcomed to this area – the ridge, the river, the wide valley, and towering Saleve. Each place has its own spirit, its own guardians. My presence here, the work of eco-justice, takes shape in their shade, on this soil.

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