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Serendipity and the Boob Tree



Do you believe in serendipity?

I do.
In fact, I have had so many serendipitous moments in my life that I have become a firm believer in what I call the theory of cosmic design. Do not confuse cosmic design with predestination. I do not believe that God has foreordained all things in my life (Seriously, with wars, famines, floods, hurricanes, terrorism, and diseases, I doubt God has the time to plan out whether I will have bran cereal or left over pizza for breakfast on March 23, 2012), but I do believe that some things are just meant to be.

For those of you who are not familiar with my concept, cosmic design is the idea that there are unseen forces in the universe pushing us along the path to self-discovery and fulfillment. In other words, I don’t believe that every happy accident is an accident. As I write this, I realize that my theory is at odds with serendipity and that perhaps I should leave the deeper thinking to philosophers and theologians.


What I really am trying to say is that I would like to tell you a story about one of my serendipitous moments.

And so, let me begin.
Once upon a time, a little girl spent a lonely Saturday wandering through a dusty, old library. Quite by accident, she found a battered biography about the glorious French queen Marie Antoinette. She settled herself comfortably in a quiet corner and read the book from cover to cover. The girl was moved by the queen’s incredible life and tragic demise. She vowed she would learn all she could about the queen and that one day she would travel to France and visit her glittering palace. The end. (Well, not quite. It would be an awfully boring story if it ended there, wouldn’t it?)

When I finally visited the Palace of Versailles, I spent hours exploring Marie Antoinette’s rooms at the Petit Trianon and meandering down the paths in the gardens of her private hamlet. It was during one of my visits to le hameau that I happened upon a magnificent beech tree. Towering and grand, the tree had enormous branches that twisted and stretched in all directions. It also had a magnificent tumor that greatly resembled a human breast. I thought it amusing that a woman who had once been known for her spectacular breasts – it has been said that the Sèvres urns used at the palace dairy to hold milk were modeled after the queen’s bountiful bosom – was the owner of a rather well-endowed tree. I snapped several pictures of the beech and one of its breast-shaped tumor and then took a seat and gazed up at its vibrant, waxy green leaves, rustling in the gentle summer breeze.

I had a picnic lunch beneath the Boob Tree, resting my back against its bark-covered trunk. While I was enjoying my croque monsieur, a palace worker happened by and we struck up a conversation. He told me that the tree was over 210 years old and had been planted by Marie Antoinette. As the stooped old man shuffled away, I thought it was surely serendipity that had led me to my idol’s prized tree. After all, there are thousands of trees planted on the 800 hectares of land that make up the palace gardens, yet somehow - by magic, divine cosmic design, predestination, call it what you will - I ended up eating my picnic lunch beneath a tree that had been planted for and by the queen I had spent most of my life adoring.

The Rumor about Thomas Jefferson’s WoodI was told by a fellow Marie Antoinette fanatic that the queen’s beech tree had been a gift from Thomas Jefferson. Phone calls and emails to the palace gardener and curator have gone unanswered, so I can’t confirm the veracity of the statement.

Although I have no proof that Thomas Jefferson gave Marie Antoinette the beech tree, I do know that he was generous in spreading his seeds around (I am talking plant seeds here, people, honestly). Jefferson gave Marie Antoinette two tulip trees, which were planted on the grounds le hameau. Unfortunately, these tall, beautiful, broad-leafed trees were destroyed during a vicious winter storm in 1999. For those who find such minutia interesting: the wood from the tulip trees was sold to Laguiole, who used it to make handles for expensive, collectible knives. For a mere 732 Euros, you can wrap your hands around Jefferson’s wood.

Thomas Jefferson was not the only forefather to spread his botanical seed. During a delightful stay at Chateau Bouceel in Normandy, I learned that George Washington gave four trees to the Marquise Rocquefeuil as thanks for his service during the American Revolution. The marquise planted the trees in his gardens at Chateau Bouceel. George Washington’s transplanted trees provided shade and beauty for two hundred and seventeen years until the aforementioned winter storm toppled them. Today, guests of Chateau Bouceel can still see a cross-section of the trunk of one of the trees, which is kept on display in the front salon.

The Tempest
On Friday, January 23, 2009, hurricane-force winds tore through Europe, killing thirteen people, destroying homes, and uprooting millions of trees. Sadly, Marie Antoinette’s towering Boob Tree, the one that had survived the Revolution and 223 years of storms, was one of the uprooted trees.

Off With Her…Branches
Ironically, Marie Antoinette’s grand beech tree will suffer the same fate as its lovely owner. It is going to be chopped up. Though Marie Antoinette’s body was carted to a common cemetery and thrown into an unmarked grave, her tree will be sent to a mill where it will probably be turned into copy paper, wrapping paper, or toilet paper (perish the thought).

I would have hoped that the wood from such a noble tree could have been put to a more dignified or clever use. Surely the palace carpenter could have constructed a garden bench that would have then been placed on the very spot the tree had once stood. Instead, the tree will be pureed into paper.

It does thrill me a bit to think that the next ream of copy paper I purchase could be made from the branches of the queen’s beech. How serendipitous would that be?

Could Leah Marie Brown be related to Marie Antoinette?  Click here if you would like to find out.

Do you know which patisserie supplied Marie Antoinette with delicious treats?  I do!  Click here if you would like to find out.

Click here to take a look at the 10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World.

1 comment:

Fanny said...

"you can wrap your hands around Jefferson’s wood": you clever, mischievous you :-)