Stand By Tree
What wonders can a tree tell? With their long lives, trees could tell us thousands of stories, stories spanning the long ages of their lives. A tree sees many things, but can speak none of them. There was once a tree, a little thing that sprouted in a lush, beautiful forest. The tree was so small then, hardly out of the acorn he’d hatched from. But in time, the tree, like all things, grew. The tree grew from but a little sprout to a limber sapling, and from a sapling that bent to the breeze he grew to a tall, handsome tree, with a sturdy trunk, deep roots, and long, powerful branches. The seasons passed by year after year; in spring the tree grew taller, and brand new leaves sprung from his branches. In the summer he gave shade to the forest creatures, and his acorns fell to the ground, to one day become new trees. In the fall his leaves turned bright and beautiful colors, and fell, drifting on the cold breeze. In the winter, his branches grew bare, and he fell into a deep slumber, waiting out the cold days. When spring returned, he awoke and his leaves sprang forth anew again. The tree, growing old and grand into the years, was happy.
But nothing lasts forever. One day, humans arrived in the forest, and they began chopping down the tree’s friends and family. They were turned into wood and logs for houses, burned for warmth, and ground into nothing but sawdust. The tree, his roots firm in the ground, wept in silent despair for years upon years as his home and all his friends were swept away around him. The trees were cut down and uprooted, the animals fled, and the ground became leveled and dry without the trees. The old tree, the last part of his forest, bent and shed tears of dead leaves at the destruction and despair around him, the stumps of his friends standing like graves around the one who remained. He had known those trees from leaf and acorn, he had spoken to them, and many if not most were his own children. The oak tree awaited the saws, awaited the day they would take him too, but they never came.
The tree stood there for decades, still and stoic as always while the humans moved around him. They built towns, neighborhoods, avenues, and very soon where the forest once stood, now there was a grand city, its steel and and concrete towers rising higher than any tree could ever hope to. The tree watched everything as it happened, on his small plot of ground where there was still green and some grass still grew. But the tree was very sad. The tree had known happiness, he had seen joy and wonder, and he had felt family and love. But now that was all gone, destroyed, as the forest had been. He was alone now, with no trees, no animals, and no-one who cared. When the people saw the elder tree, his trunk bent in sorrow, they did not see a being on the brink of despair, just an old, withered oak tree. Acorns no longer fell from his branches, and his leaves, once vibrant and lush green, grew dull and sad. His bark became brittle and crusty, his roots weak and limp, and his mighty branches sagged under the weight of his sadness. The once great oak had become a sad, lonely old tree, awaiting the day his trunk finally snapped in two, and he would fall, his sad existence over at last.
But then, one day something happened. Something the tree had not expected. A little girl came by the tree, her ball having gotten stuck on one of his branches. Though the tree was sad, he wasn’t spiteful to mankind. He twitched his twigs just a little bit, and the child’s toy dropped down into her hands. She giggled, and for that brief, insignificant moment, the tree felt a twinge of happiness warming up his cold trunk. Then the little girl left, leaving the tree to his sorrow once again.
The tree’s branches groaned and creaked with his sadness, dead leaves and twigs snapping off and falling like tears. But then, to his surprise, the little girl came back, a bright smile on her face and joy in her gait. Sitting down on the grass, the girl rolled her blue ball toward the tree, where it tapped the base of his trunk softly. The girl waited patiently. Slowly, the tree reached down one of his branches, and lightly tapped the ball, rolling it back to the girl, who laughed and clapped in joy. Eagerly she rolled the ball to him again, and again the tree sent it back to her, this time slightly faster. The overjoyed child kicked the ball to the tree over and over again, the old oak punting it back with his branches. One time she kicked the ball a bit too hard, and it bounced off the tree’s trunk and flew into the air, but the tree leaned over and swiftly caught it in his leafy branches, rolling it back to the awestruck little girl. The tree was just as happy, overjoyed, even, but then the little girl had to go. The tree became sad again, his trunk creaking as he bent over in loneliness once more.
The tree was sad all through the night, but then, the next day, he felt someone kick the rubber ball into his trunk. The tree rose up, and there he saw her, the little girl, beaming at him like a child on Christmas morning. Joy rising in his old branches, the tree picked up the ball and tossed it back to her, and their game began anew. Every day from then on, the little girl with the blue ball came to visit the old oak tree. As the weeks passed into months, the girl became the tree’s dearest friend, and they spent many days together as she grew. They played ball, she read to him while he gave her shade, and when she slipped and fell while climbing his branches in play, he always caught her. When his leaves fell in the fall, she would dance around their colors. When the cold nights of winter blew, she would hang strings of Christmas lights along his bare branches. And when she found herself chased and harassed by schoolyard bullies, she would come running to him, and he would protect her in his branches.
Over the years the girl grew up, but the tree remained the same. When she sought a place to get away from her worries, she came to him. When she had her heart broken for the first time, he was there to comfort her, and wipe her tears with his leaves. And when she at last left home for the next stage of her life, he waved her goodbye, wishing her good luck in her future. She was gone for a long time, but the tree was not sad anymore. He had been her friend, perhaps even more than a friend to her throughout her life, and he was happy for the time they’d spent together. He loved that girl like she was his own sapling, and he hoped she found happiness too, as he had.
Years went by, but the tree did not despair; no longer was his trunk bent and brittle, but strong and thick as it had been when he was young. His branches grew strong again and his leaves shined, and acorns rained from his branches like snowflakes. Though his dear friend was gone now, he would remember the times they’d shared. He, an old, sad oak tree, and her, a kind, young girl with a heart of pure gold.
It was not until a summer day, many years later, that the tree saw someone approach him; two someones, in fact. When they came to his trunk, he rattled his branches in joy. There she stood, the little girl he’d loved, taught, and played with, all grown up before him. And there was another, a little one by her side, holding her hand and hiding behind her shyly. She gently nudged the little one, and nervously, she took a step toward the elder tree. The tree’s roots creaked; she looked so much like her mother, all except the dark hair. Slowly, the tree bent down, reaching out a branch toward the daughter. She looked up at her mother one last time, who nodded with a warm smile. Then, the daughter clasped the tree’s branch, and found herself pulled into his leaves, cradled in his branches as she she squealed with laughter.
They spent the entire afternoon together, and when the street lights at last came on, the little girl and her daughter left for home. They waved the tree goodbye, smiling kindly. The tree waved back with every branch, and then the two of them were gone. Even if he never saw them again, the tree would not have been sad. He was happy now, happy for her, for them both. If, out of the blue, his trunk broke in twain and he fell over now, he would go with a smile on his branches and warmth in his heart. Though the tree had lost his forest, his home, and many friends, in the end he had found a new reason to go on, and for that he was truly happy.