A snowflake lands on the old, cracked knot that is my nose. It sits there a moment then fizzes away, leaving my nose tingling from the not-unpleasant brush with winter. Would this be my last?
I have seen countless seasons come and go. Gentle spring breezes and rains ease me into growth. Leaves soak in the sun’s hot rays to turn lushly verdant before autumn’s winds blew hard, tearing them from my twigs, throwing them to the ground and trampling upon them with violent drops of rain or hail. But they had done their job, providing food enough to sustain me through bleak, harsh winters. Now they would merge with the soil, relinquishing their parts to nourish the earth. Always the cycle. Reassuring. Unending. In years to come, perhaps my rotting bark would nourish the young oaks already growing around me, jostling for space in the busy undergrowth, reaching for light hidden by my long, stretching limbs.
Ungrateful youths, they attacked my strong, deep roots with their twisting tendrils of seekers, oblivious to the protection afforded by my greatness. Another snowflake. Another. Soon my brown, gnarled, twisted ropes will be clothed with soft white as hoary frosts drench me with their damp, frozen fingers. An echo of sadness filters through with the cold. This was just the beginning of the season and already I longed for the leaf buds that always reassured me another year of crowning the forest with my glory would ripen.
A squirrel comes dancing and tripping along a bough, perfect imprints of its feet compressing the new ice crystals. It was a pattern interrupting my spartanism, a brief moment of life lacerating the veil of death. The squirrel continued its hunt through my upper branches. I drooped, certain it would find nothing of value. There was a time when acorns strained my branches with their abundance, and squirrels would flood over me, tiny hands tickling as they rooted around for the choicest morsels.
Dusk falls swiftly, cloaking first my ungainly protruding great roots, gathering my spreading trunk in its embrace, disguising the deep fissure at the base splitting my body into two, hiding the imperfections of age. The clouds drift and a new moon rises, illuminating my snow-laden branches, laughing at the darkness. I no longer feel the squirrel. Perhaps he sleeps now, the cold breath of a winter’s night lulling him into hibernation.
A noise. I listen. It comes again and I recognize the sound of man. Over the centuries I have learned both to fear and love man. I have watched neighbours felled by the teeth of something they call a saw. The only thing I saw, as my sap bled for my companions, was destruction of life. Later, I learned to appreciate the new life that sprang in place of old. I wondered why I was left. Was I too big? I remember one man patting my trunk and calling me ‘grandfather’. A grand father. I grew proud that year, adding to my girth, increasing my grandness.
The man who called me ‘grandfather’ also reached his hand into the division of my trunk, I could feel the air moving, refreshing, as he waved around. What was he looking for? He tried to push his body in but I defeated him. I didn’t want this man, who had just stolen my companion’s heart, to come near my own.
I see him now. Shoulders hunched against the cold. Long, brown hair disguising his face. His boots crunch over the snow; I cannot help but compare the size of his imprints with that of my squirrel friend. He pauses at my base. Coughs. Looks up into my essence. Putting his hand on my trunk, he calls to me. ‘Remember me, grandfather? I have come to seek shelter within you, I have lost everything I hold dear, but not yet life.’
His hand is cold. Colder than my trunk. I perceive that under his ancient coat he is thin. I relax, every fibre stretching, widening the hole that he now pokes around in. ‘Well, well,’ I hear him mutter. ‘My memory serves me correctly. This will do for tonight. Not such a tight squeeze anymore.’
I feel him fitting himself inside me, the cold, dank air warms, and soon he is breathing evenly. Asleep. Was it time for me too?
Not yet. I recognize the familiar scuttle of the squirrel. He has come to pick over my body again. Do I have anything left to give you? I draw deep within myself, calling every ounce of nourishment from every root, every branch, every twig. Sap flows, startling me with its living ooze. The squirrel pauses in its restless wandering. Digs with its hands. Success! He scampers back down my trunk with his bounty, tucking it away in his den. Comes back a second time. A third. There is no fourth.
The man rests within me. The squirrel rests in his den.
Weary, I relax into the cold and, finally, rest.
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