It was late November. The air smelled of snow and the wood path was a carpet of acorns, which crunched underfoot.
When Sandro and I reached Tellaro, we found that winter had been there before us. It had closed the shops and driven everyone indoors. But curtains twitched when we walked through the empty streets, and we felt as if we were in an early Twilight Zone episode.
We took the long way back, climbing a steep mule track overlooking the islands of the Gulf of Poets. Half way up, we found the tree. It was a tall oak that surveyed the sea from a terraced olive grove. A year ago, Sandro had spent nearly an hour cutting away the ivy wrapped around its trunk. We had argued about it. The way I saw it, the ivy had as much right to live as the oak tree. And he had no right to play God.
My mind cast back to the day, when Sandro had worked tirelessly to cut away the plant from the tree. It had nothing to do with the ivy, nor with the oak. It was some score he was settling with himself. By cutting away the parasite from the oak, he was freeing himself of something. He worked silently and meticulously, sweating profusely under a cold winter sky. He didn’t stop until he had freed all the bark from the ivy. When he finished, he wore a sad smile, like if he had lost something in his frenzy, and he was now embarrassed to look for it. I pretended not to notice. That is what friends do.
We had come back to this place because Sandro wanted to check his work. One year on, he wanted to show me that he had saved the tree, but the opposite was true. The parasite had grown even more pervasive, and it now covered almost all of the bark. Sandro turned towards me and asked for my knife to chop it away once more. I refused, telling him that some battles we’re are not supposed to fight. And I saw he knew what I meant. We leaned into the slope and resumed the steep climb.