Sunday, February 28, 2010

THE PATIENT TREE

a short story

His life started in the early 1800’s;  his mother, a lady some called nature;  his father a grand old oak of age 100 years.  Tiny white roots no larger than a whisker extended from the green sprout.  They soon swelled and extended across and down through the soil forming the beginning of a web work of roots that would anchor the tree to this spot for its entire life.  The first few years of life proved uneventful to the young oak tree.  A grazing deer did snip off a few new Spring leaves from the tips of his limbs one year but, no damage occurred.  As time passed the tree grew greater in girth and stood tall and straight.  He was a magnificent, healthy specimen indeed.  For several years he became a host for countless insects; one particular species of insect came close to causing his demise and probably would have if an extraordinarily  harsh Winter wouldn’t have fallen upon the land that year. The parasites disappeared as quickly, it seems, as when they first appeared.

Through the years the oak stood against severe storms and even survived a fire that consumed his brethren.  The fire burned dangerously close but, a change in the direction of the wind fanned the flames back toward the pre burned area from whence it came and the blaze was extinguished.

For many Springs and Falls the oak silently observed the formations of geese coming and going.  It was a familiar ritual that punctuated the changing of the seasons.  Nature’s perfect clock maintained precise, consistent accuracy without the aid of mechanical intrusion.  One dark November night a fierce storm brought with it lightning that illuminated the heavens with bolts of red and amber.  An errant shard of red flash struck a lower limb of the oak where it attached to the massive trunk and it severed the limb completely from the tree with a loud bang.  Morning saw the huge shorn limb lying next to the tree on the ground.  The leaves were still rich, vibrant green and wet from the rain of the previous night’s storm.  A nasty wound with jagged, sharp pieces of wooden flesh protruded from the offended area.  The wound, however, would soon harden and heal.  A week later,  sap secreted from under the bark to seal off the damaged area. Termites soon found the open sore and fed voraciously on the exposed pulp over the Spring months.  But, before they could create their colonies, the woodpeckers discovered their presence and eradicated the termite threat.  The birds arrived at the damaged tree four times a day and consumed the entire termite population.  The damaged wood soon hardened and died.  It became segregated from the main tree trunk with the formation of a thick knot growth of wood at the base of the broken limb on the tree trunk itself.  The growth encircled the entire diameter of the stub of limb that protruded from the trunk.  It would act as a barrier to disease.  Seasons came and went.

The sounds of war filled the air with the cracking sounds of rifles and the roar of cannon.  Gray and blue were added to the season’s colors.  The noise was foreign in the wilderness until now.  The round projectiles, both large and small, splintered off pieces of bark here and there on the trunk of the oak tree.  It was a minor annoyance to the now old oak.  The sounds of war were over quickly.  The loud roars and clatter of human conflict lasted but a moment when measured by nature’s clock.

The latter years brought saws and axes to the forest and all the old oak could do was stand firmly rooted to its birth place of over two hundred years and face this new danger as it had done all the previous dangers over it’s life span.  He watched as trees were felled, both small and large.  Soon the axes would arrive at his hidden meadow.  His destiny was arranged by his mother over two hundred years ago when she placed his seed here in the soft loamy soil.  She knew he would flourish and extend his massive root system out and down into the rich soil to protect it from the rushing waters that arrived annually with the Winter thaws and Spring rains.  He withstood all the test that his mother threw against him proving his Herculean strength was unyielding.  He was more than qualified to be the custodian of the precious nutrient rich soil in his meadow.  Yet, the danger approaching him was like none he had ever witnessed.  The sound of axes were deafening.  One sunny morning found two men at the base of his trunk with a long rope that had knots tied in it.   A knot was tied in the rope in increments of one foot between each knot.  One man stood in front of the old oak holding the rope while the other walked around the tree with the other end.  The men then lapsed into discussion while they gazed up into the massive branches above them.  They counted thirty five knots.  The sight before the tree was a mass of cut timber.  Trees lay with their tops pointing in the same direction as if a strong wind blew them all down in an instant.  Nature was witnessing the power of the ax.

A few mornings after the rope measurement was completed; four brawny men approached the old oak.  Each man carried a long handled double bitted ax.  They stared in awe at the size of the old oak.  Each man took a position around the tree and with grunts each drove his ax into oak.  The blades were twisted to loosen large wedges of wood after every other impact of the ax blade.  The old tree withstood the torments of time only to be destroyed by the steel of man;  not to mention greed.  Their axes thudded against the oak’s hardness unrelentingly.   Their grunts and groans could be easily heard.  Then the words “hold up there” were yelled as a fifth man appeared and the four men sat their axes on the ground and kneeled or sat while the new arrival talked.  After a short period of time they strolled away together down the dirt wagon road from whence they came.

Weeks passed and the old oak tree started its recovery from the damage done by the axes.  It would show deep scars but the sap would seal the wounds.  Men came in the afternoon that day in April a full year later with wood and sledge hammers.  The old oak braced himself for the worse.  The men pounded stakes in the ground and hung a five foot wide by four foot tall sign between the posts not fifty feet from the old oak.  The sign read:


GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
all is well that ends well