Just as there are goddesses that embody the essence of the Moon and Sun, all forms of natural life, no matter how insignificant or diminutive they may seem, possess the power of a divine spirit inside of them; from the towering Titan that manifests the abyss of Earth’s vast oceans to the small sprites that inhabit the billions of flowers that travers the expansive meadows and mountain valleys. All of the beings that encompass nature host a mysterious, dangerous, and yet, awe-inspiring ability. One such being, that is well known and revered by the people of Earth, is the goddess of the trees. Unlike the flower sprites and creek nymphs, this goddess’ domain encompasses all of the world’s trees; the massive trunks that embrace the clouded sky, the flowering branches that produce a bounty of intricate blooms, the spiked needles that claw at their mother’s branches. She oversees the blossoming of every individual petal of the cherry trees, the thickening of the mighty oak’s incredible trunk, even the delicate draping of the despairing willow tree. Each tree, in her mind, has an individual personality that it exudes through its outward visage and must therefore be maintained by her delicate hand and intimate care. Their flowers were always in full bloom and the leaves always glistening in deep shades of green that never wilted nor died; at least, before she was born, that is. She came to be in what would one day be known as autumn. Born to two mortal parents, the young girl was as brilliant and wonderful as humankind could wish to bear. She was beloved, first of all the ancient beings, by the sprites who made their homes in the hollow of the flower’s bloom. As a small child, the young girl would crawl amongst the yard’s grass and admire the efforts of the sprite’s toil. Her laughter brought them forth from their slumber and they would fly and fling through the mess of tangled curls of the little girl’s head. She learned from them how to care for even the most fragile flowers and to sing the traditional songs of growth and nourishment; used by the sprites to keep the flowers as happy and healthy homes for themselves. From afar, the tree goddess watched with a sense of curiosity and, though she would never admit it, longing.
“Why? Why does the child pay no mind to the work I do? I too sing my trees songs and they flower much more beautifully than those meager petals on the ground. So why then does my labor go unseen? Why does she love the sprites so much more than me?”
Years passed, and soon more of heaven’s children became enamored in the girl. The Sun’s favor shone in the gold of the child’s hair, for it shimmered with an iridescence no human could hope to muster. The Moon’s presence was evident in her skin, for it was much too pale and fair to belong to the child of a mere farmer. The spirits in the winds told her tales of far off lands and from their knowledge she grew to become not just an intelligent young woman, but also an adventurous one. And still from afar, though closer now than when the girl was small and innocent, the tree goddess watched from the bough of the family’s sycamore tree.
“She has grown so well,” the goddess sighed, “and yet she still does not notice me.”
The goddess climbed lower as the girl came to rest in the flowers beneath the tree, her hands caressing the flower’s blooms as she spoke softly to the many sprites who had gathered.
“Why should I even care?” She seemed to groan, biting back the sound so as not to be heard. “I am a goddess. I can will nature with my fingertips and command that it do my bidding. She is just a mortal. She is not eternal and history will not remember her once the years have cast their shadow over her grave. In a matter of time I will forget. It’s only a matter of years, nothing more,” she takes a shaky breath, dragging her fingers along the tree’s trunk before taking off into the air.
The sprites below, feeling the strange shift, cautiously backed away from the tree.
“What’s wrong, friends? Is something the matter?” The girl stood and walked toward the sprites who had begun to flitter around the spot where the goddess had sat.
They chittered nervously to each other, navigating the dark, prolonged ravine that had tore through the tree’s branch and trunk.
“What is this?” The girl asked, running apprehensive fingers over the jagged edges that protruded from the once pristine trunk. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The sprites looked at each other nervously before replying.
“We’re not quite sure either.”
“It’s unheard of.”
As they continued to utter their disbelief back and forth, the young girl felt something foreign land on her arm. She plucked the object from her skin, twirling it inquisitively between lithe fingers. The article was oblong in shape; a deep scarlet flecked with blotches of gold and brown and signs of decay eating at its tip.
“What is this thing?” She held the object before the sprites, eliciting a horrified gasp from each as they surveyed it.
“Oh no. No, no, no, this cannot be.”
“What is it?!” The girl erupted in frustration.
The sprites glanced at one another and nodded solemnly.
That night, billions of the flower sprites gathered in front of the girl’s sycamore tree. The yard was illuminated in the brilliant glow of the sprites’ wings and the moon shining hauntingly above them cast a grave aura over the meeting place. The leaf sat in the center of the group, a dark circle surrounding it as none but the girl, ignorant of the disastrous omen, dared draw near it. One of the three sprites that had witnessed the events of earlier came forward, standing on the girl’s shoulder so as to project over the gathered mass.
“As all of you are well aware, the inconceivable has occurred today. A leaf, one that has become discolored and shows signs of rotting, has fallen to the ground. This of course could mean one of two things, neither favorable in consequence. Either the tree goddess has fallen quite ill and is on the verge of Death, something even the most powerful of goddesses will not be able to escape once they have set their eyes on them, or she has been corrupted emotionally, whether this be from sadness or anger is what we must discover. If a solution is not reached soon, all the trees on Earth will lose their leaves and fall into decay.”
The many sprites remained silent, allowing the severity of the situation to wash over them. The young girl was first to speak; for the ways of nature were not engraved in her as they are to the fairies and many questions lay festering in her mind.
“There is only one goddess for all of the trees on Earth?” She asked, astounded by the notion.
“Yes, dear girl. While there is only one of us in charge of each flower, the goddess of the trees is a solitary being, entrusted with caring for every tree you have ever seen and admired. If she is lost to Death, you will never again, nor will anyone in this world, see a tree as it is in its peak of Life.”
“We have to do something!” She shouted, causing the sprites to jump back in shock. “We have to find her and set things right or else the trees will continue to die.”
Without waiting for so much as a response, the girl ran inside the house to collect her things. She filled a satchel with all the food she could carry, the few outfits that had accumulated in her closet, as well as a journal her father gave her; for her parents knew upon seeing their child grow that she was born for a greater destiny than a provincial farm life. The sprites were skeptical at first because, though she was a young woman now, she was still precious to them and the journey would be a long and arduous one where she could face many perils. But the girl insisted for, as the winds knew, she possessed a wild heart that desired to break free of the cage of her ribs and the idea of adventure drew her as the Moon draws the evening sky. The girl and the three sprites set out that very morning, using the path of decaying trees as their guiding light to find the tree goddess. The sprites carried an air of concern about them but the girl was full of unbridled excitement, marveling at the many sights around her. Despite the sense of foreboding the fairies garnered from the dying leaves, the girl admired them for the beauty they possessed, even in Death. They radiated a feeling of warmth; a spectacle of shades reminiscent of twilight’s setting sun, a dying fire licking the fueling wood with its embers, the skin of a ripening fruit she would help her father to collect in the harvest month. She saw the same dark marks on many of the trees they passed and she likened them to a trail of footsteps in which to track the goddess. It was many moons before they came upon the slightest clue of where the goddess could be and the sprites grew restless as they became accustomed to seeing the brightly colored leaves gathered upon the ground. Their first inkling of information came from a creek nymph that had spotted the tree goddess a few moons ago. The goddess appeared in quite a state, as she did not even acknowledge the dying leaves she trekked through. The nymph told them that, although she did not know where she may be going, there was no sign of Death about her, so they should not worry for the goddess’ Life. They thanked the nymph and continued upon their way. As their journey grew in days, the trees around them seemed to be perishing ever more rapidly; sickly branches, bare of leaves, reaching towards the sky with their pointed limbs. The little girl was once again astounded by the trees, for she had never seen one so bared before. She marveled at the strength of their rounded trunks and the beauty of their curved and elongated appendages that seemed to stretch on into eternity. For the first time, she could see the birds nested in the tallest branches and hear their songs in their fullest voices as they welcomed the morning. In this time, what would later come to be known as winter, the air grew cold and biting as it elicited chills from the girl’s chattering teeth.
“Why has it grown so cold, friends? Does this
have to do with this tree goddess as well?”
“I’m afraid it is so, young one. The Sun and the winds themselves seem to be mourning the loss of the trees and the cold is a reflection of their empathy. Even the flowers have begun to wilt and die as the air constricts their stems and draws their petals to the ground; a fitting grave with the leaves to blanket them.
“We must find the goddess soon before all of nature comes to fall in her wake.”
It was that very night, nearly half a year since the girl had left her home, that they came to find her, though they were not aware of it yet. They had decided to take refuge in a cave for the night, as the air was much too biting for the girl to last without shelter. It wasn’t until the sprites had fallen fast asleep that the girl heard the sound of stirring in the back of the cave. She moved closer, slow so as not to disturb whatever lay within the cave and cautious in case need of an escape became necessary. The tree goddess, frail in body and frightened by the girl’s presence, lay huddled in a cubby within the cave’s depth. The girl, unsure of herself but with a sense of duty clawing at her heart, reached out to run a hand along the goddess’ arm. She drew back at first, for human touch had a past of being deadly to her kind, but eventually relaxing into the tender touch.
“Are you the goddess of the trees?” She asked, continuing to run her hand in soothing motions along the goddess’ arm.
“It would seem you have finally noticed me, human girl,” her voice was cracked and shaky, as she had never had need of it before.
“Finally? What do you mean?” She asked, bemused by the goddess’ words.
“It is nothing. Leave this place, I desire to be alone.”
The goddess turned away but the girl held steadfast in her spot.
“That’s not true, no one wants to be alone, not even you. I don’t know why a goddess would have such interest in a human like me, but, unknown to you, it would seem, I have always noticed you.”
“That’s a lie,” the goddess mutters, burying her face in her arms as her breathing became labored through her tears. “I have seen you walk with the sprites and bathe with the water nymphs. I have watched as you walk in the Sun’s light and sleep under the Moon and stars. The winds have told you tales while you sat amongst your sprite friends but never,” she chokes back a sob as her voice loses its malice and turns to a submissive whisper, “Never have you come to me as you have to them.”
The girl sat back, watching as the goddess seemed to concave with sorrow, and despite all of it, she laughed. “Never? Goddess, you and I have been connected more so than the others for as long as I have lived. It was you whom my mother and I would hang laundry from every week’s end after the Sun reached its peak. It was you whom my father taught me how to climb when my legs were still unsure and you must have seen how often I fell from your highest branches as I tried to look beyond the Sun’s horizon. In you I carved my name with father’s knife before having it taken away and receiving the harshest scolding I can recall. Even when I was with the sprites or the nymphs, under the Sun and the Moon and the stars, you have always been there, and I have always been here. Whether you think so is not the matter, as we have always been and always will be connected. I may not have known you were here, but in a way, I know I could feel it. If you wanted my company so badly, all you had to do was come down to me and I would gladly call you a close friend.”
The goddess looked upon the girl, bewildered by the simplicity of humankind. The girl continued to laugh, wiping the goddess’ tears with her thumb as she took her hand and guided her to the forefront of the cave. The sprites were overjoyed to see the goddess but the ruler of the trees could not seem to remove her eyes from those of the girl; her comforting smile, her kind eyes, the gentleness she seemed to exude.
That morning, the girl took her hand once more and walked her among the trees. The goddess was horrified by the state of her beloved trees but the girl never lost her smile.
“Why do you seem so upset? I mean, I know they’re dying, but I still think they’re beautiful.”
“But just look at them,” the goddess cried.
“They have never known the Earth’s touch like this. And their color, they were
once such a lovely shade of green.”
“Well, is that necessarily a bad thing?”
Bemused, the goddess allowed herself a smile; for she had never met someone so innocent, so accepting, so enamored in finding beauty within everything.
Still curious about the interworkings of the natural world, the girl bid farewell to the sprites and set out on a journey with the tree goddess. Throughout her lifetime with the goddess, the girl came to know many things. She learned everything there is to know about Earth’s trees and learned new songs and new methods with which to care for the creations. As they travelled, the girl catalogued every tree they came to pass, and the tree goddess would tell her how she brought each one to life, the personality she created, and how their name was brought to fruition. They spent many days in the boughs of the trees, climbing and jumping and laughing; for the goddess had never known enjoyment like this in solitude. Eventually, as these things do happen when you become as close as the two had become, love came to find them as well. They discovered it in a far off land, many a year after their journey began, nestled in the crook of the cherry blossom trees. It was an innocent love but it flourished in their years together. The goddess created many natural creations to please the girl, and that is how the seasons came to be; for every autumn, the month that the girl had appeared in the world, the goddess would will the leaves to change once again, no longer an omen, but a gift. Every winter she would require rest, as changing the leaves was taxing upon her form, and the trees would be bared to the elements. In the spring, she would hang the leaves once again, and they would shimmer a bright green as a symbol of Life’s presence within them. In the summer they would become the dark green of the days of old, reminiscent of when the girl was still a child and the goddess was still alone in her sorrow. The years passed like this and, as humans tend to do, the girl grew old. Their adventures shortened as the girl became tired and frail, though they were still full of enjoyment, as they had each other, and that was enough. And soon, the girl’s last days were upon here. The goddess searched in vain for a way to make the girl immortal, but there was nothing that could stave off Death, even in all of her power, once their eyes were set upon their mark. The girl, knowing the goddess would once again grow lonely and solitary without her by her side, left her with all that she had learned from her; for we often impart many lessons on one another without learning them ourselves.
“In this life with you, I have never not known happiness, I want you to know that,” she grasped the goddess’ hand tightly as she felt her soul . “You need to understand, because I’m not sure that you ever have, that that which you create is beautiful. Death, whether it be of the leaves or of me, can be indescribably magnificent. The leaves become enveloped in vibrant colors because they know that Death is near, and they want to let us know that they are accepting it. They want us to see that beauty can be found in Death, just as it can be in Life. I want you to keep creating that for people. Humans need hope. They need beauty in this world to keep them going. Give them something, for me, please. Don’t think of this as the end, it’s just the last sentence in our story, but other stories will always be written. I’ll see you in the next life, love.”
The goddess nodded, brushing back tears as the girl closed her eyes, ending the adventure of a lifetime she had set out on that fateful day.
That winter, all of nature mourned. The air grew cold and the flowers and leaves died and sunk into the Earth, only to be reborn in spring; for Death is not the end, and Death is not ugly, as we have been taught to believe.
And that, dear humans, is why the leaves change as they do. It is a gift, a memory, and a symbol of the ideals the young girl held to be true and, most of all, it is the tree goddess fulfilling her love’s dying wish, as she continues to do to this day.