CECILIO: THE SWALLOWED TOWN
The great tree towered above the neighborhood in the town of Cecilio, California. It was a pine tree, the only one for miles. It rose over 300 feet. It was bowed eastward at its pinnacle by the persistent desert winds from the dry mountain pass above town. The land itself was made of centuries of dust settling out from those desert winds.
The tree was estimated to be 400 years old.
The great tree stood in the acreage of the old man whom the neighborhood nicknamed “Abuelo Macho”(“Tough Old Man”). He was a descendant of the tribe Kuupangaxwichem (“people who slept here”).
His home was an original adobe dwelling now deemed an Historic Landmark. That home had been built by the Mexican settlers who inherited the land wrested from Spain.
The family of Abuelo Macho had lived in that home for generations. Now he was the last of his family who claimed the descent from the Kuupangaxwichem.
Abuelo Macho would say that his people had lived by that great pine tree before the Spaniards.
The neighborhood came to think of the tree and the old man as one. They might refer to either as Abuelo Macho.
The humble town of Cecilio had grown from the Kuupangaxwichem settlement that had surrounded the great tree. The town was named for Cecilio Blacktooth, a Kuupangaxwichem chief.
The tree was a place where people would rendezvous because it was so prominent for miles around. On Día de Muertos candles were placed around the tree in memory of a series of children found sacrificed there a century ago.
It came to pass that a coalition of developers came to Cecilio and seduced the City Council with beautiful plans and visions of prosperity. The town was to be renovated with much celebration and many gifts.
The developers could not touch Abuelo Macho’s home but the great tree was interfering with all the planned utilities above and below ground.
The developers were certain that new taxes would force Abuelo Macho off of his land. However, he lived a spartan life and there was an old well on his property. Abuelo Macho said, “My people were removed from the land where our fathers were buried.”
The developers’ meeting minutes recorded that, “The old indian seems to worship that tree. If we remove it we can break him.”
Abuelo Macho stood stoically watching the tree removal service preparing to scale the tree.
He heard a worker explain to his neighbor, “It’s so big we can’t just chop it down. We have to remove it from the top down.
The neighbor glanced at Abuelo Macho sadly but the neighbor had been paid a good price for his home.
Abuelo Macho said nothing and looked up at the great tree. His jaw was working like he was talking to himself.
It took the Utility Specialist three hours to ascend the great tree, branch by branch. Near the bowing crown of the tree the wind suddenly became dangerous, rocking the bigger branches and flailing the young growth.
The branch to which the Utility Specialist was secured split and he fell down into lower branches. He had to be recovered, gashed and unconscious.
The next Utility Specialist was attacked by rats living in the tree. He had to be hospitalized.
No one else wanted to ascend the tree, some saying it was cursed.
They needed a new plan. Eventually one of the project managers recalled seeing a demolition documentary about bringing down large buildings in the middles of cities. The technique used scientifically placed and timed explosives. The demolished buildings would collapse straight down.
After much planning and many days and many dollars, explosives were placed by men in mobile elevating work platforms called “cherry pickers”.
Abuelo Macho painted his face in the Kuupangaxwichem Death Mask and sat down on his land, fasting.
Abuelo Macho finally was escorted away to a safe distance.
The timed sequence of explosions shattered the great tree in a storm of splinters and left a pillar of smoke and dust. For a minute there were no sounds. There was no wind. The roiling pillar stood where the tree had stood.
Abuelo Macho howled and collapsed. Then came the sound. Everyone felt it before they heard it.
The ground rolled and shuddered. The land made of dust seemed to turn into a fluid. People sank into the earth as they tried to run. Buildings were pulled apart and vanished into the cloud of dust boiling up from the surface.
The rescue operation continued for days. No survivors were found. No bodies were recovered.
The site of the Cecilio tragedy was abandoned and considered a mass graveyard. No developers would touch it.
The only regular visitors were a few archaeologists. On Día de Muertos candles were lighted at the places where the homes of relatives might have been. On Halloween night teenagers drove to the location to party and to tell scary stories about a town of ghosts.
A man went there once to hunt coyotes and he was never seen again. People were not surprised.
A tribe of coyotes sang to them all. They were happy to have their land once again.