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The Tree That Was

The tree was. But it did not know it was. It had been this way for a hundred years.
Winters and summers had passed in this state of un-being and the tree had grown and thrived.
It was a particularly handsome tree with dark rough bark and an abundance of dense shady leaves; it had been a home to generations of woodland creatures and birds.
Perhaps it was this beauty that attracted the fairy to it. She had arrived in the tree’s centenary year and had rejoiced at the size, health and beauty before her. She used her wondrous earth magic: the tree came to know. To know itself and all around it; to know it was.
For another century the tree and the fairy conversed daily and the tree experienced the joy of life. It felt the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the earth; a summer storm, rivulets of water refreshing and rejuvenating; the hatching of chicks in its branches and baby animals in its knotty hollows, and the tree was happy. The fairy healed its ills and nourished its roots and it grew more beautiful each year.
Then the people came.
Each day the tree awoke to the mechanical clash of chainsaws and bull dozers; the rumbling of falling trees and the dust and mud and destruction of progress. The fairy and the woodland creatures took flight.
The tree stood alone in the shrinking forest – for the fairy had not thought to give it the company of another of its kind. All those around it were mute and unthinking.
Whenever the machines came close, the tree would push a root or a branch into their path to foil their progress. Then a man with a red angry face came with a noisy saw and tried to cut away the offending barrier; when the root slid into the ground like a snake in front of his eyes he yelled in alarm and did not return.
The men left the tree alone after that.
All alone.
Every tree, every shrub, was chopped down around him and it was left standing in a sea of mud and destruction.
The sun beat down on the exposed earth and sucked the moisture from it. The tree felt thirst. The bulldozers compressed the soil and the tree felt suffocated. The leaf litter and rotting timber was cleared away and the tree felt hunger.
The tree had not known despair before. It gave up all knowledge of its surroundings and slumbered, giving in to its depression.
How long it slumbered it did not know, but the next thing it knew was the feel of tiny hands.
The tree opened its awareness to find a child making a seat of its gnarled roots and gazing up into his light-dappled branches with awe. The young girl stroked his bark and spoke in a strange language with a coaxing voice. The tree thought of the fairy, for the child shared the same blue eyes and golden hair. When she left, the tree mourned her company.
Whether it was the same day or not he could not recall, for he drifted in and out of slumber like a man emerging from a coma, but the child returned. She came in a stumbling rush carrying a heavy watering can almost as big as herself. She smiled at him and then knelt at his base with a small trowel and began to dig out the weeds that had accumulated around him. When the area around him was clear she heaved the heavy container and he felt the cool rush of water soaking into the ground. He drank deeply.
Refreshed, he took in his surroundings. He was in a large grassy clearing surrounded by houses; a children’s playground had been constructed on one side. Some of the houses were half finished and the sounds of construction echoed off the surrounding buildings. The sky was blue and the sun was hot; his leaves were green, but not as thick and healthy as they had been. There were no animals about, but he could hear the melodic chattering of birds and realised that the offspring of his old friends had returned to the sanctuary of his canopy.
The child returned regularly and, in time, so did some of the small woodland creatures. His knots and hollows were filled with new life, his health returned and he became a shady oasis in a land of concrete and clay. He never forgot all that he had lost, but with the passing of time, his grief mellowed and he found contentment once more.

© R.M.Selg 2017