1957ish I was in my dorm room, there’s a knock, it’s Bob deJong. He’s just come back to campus after a venture downtown to see Igmar’s Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Bob was sweating excitement, he had to tell somebody. One scene Bob reported to me off the bat: the clown has climbed a tree to sleep for the night. He wakes to the sound of sawing. He looks down. Death is sawing the tree he’s clutched to. “This is my tree,” the clown protests. Death keeps the same grim smile: “My tree,” he corrects.
Bergman’s Seventh Seal, Death
I loved Bob’s description, and I’ve loved that and many another scene each of the many times I’ve seen that film since.
It turned out that I’d seen a couple of Berman films by 1957, I even knew the name: Igmar Bergman: though it was not yet my habit or the habit of any of my friends as far as I knew yet to say “Bergman‘s Seventh Seal,” or Kurosawak’s Roshomon, or Fellini’s La Strada. We didn’t yet say Ford’s Stagecoach: though any of us might have said John Wayne, in Stagecoach.
I never think of that scene where Death fells the tree without remembering a time when I was skiing High Mount in the Catskills. It was late in the afternoon. I was skiing a supposedly “expert” slope, alone: I hadn’t seen anyone on that slope all day long. But on this descent I noticed a fur hat up in a tree: like a ‘coon skin cap. Some girl’s father paid a lot of money for that hat, and here some clowns have thrown her hat up into a tree! ? And they they all went away? leaving it there? I don’t think so.
I left the trail to check it out. The hat was out of my reach but not out of the reach of my ski pole. I poked the hat to see if I could get it to fall into my other hand.
It moved but didn’t appear about to fall.
In fact the hat look at me: with beady little black eyes!
It wasn’t a ‘coon, it was a porcupine!
Late afternoon, 3 PM in the mountains, this porcupine was ready for the night.
But I wasn’t Death; I left it alone after that.