fiction

The Wandering Tree. {fiction}

{Photo credit: Paula McHenry Barkmeier via Toby Israel}

{Photo credit: Paula McHenry Barkmeier via Toby Israel}

Once, a tree unlike any other grew in the forest.

As he grew, his roots dug deeper into the rich soil, his branches reached higher and higher into the sky, and his trunk grew thick and heavy. But as he looked around him at his neighbors of decades — even centuries — he felt unsatisfied.

Each day, he would speak to his brothers and sisters of the same stars and sky, earth and rain, and they in turn would speak to their brothers and sisters around them. All the other trees appeared so very content with their station — so terribly comfortable to root ever more deeply below and to stretch ever further upward.

Yet this tree was not content. Something deep within him rustled and groaned with restlessness; at his core, where the others were solid wood, there was something of the rivers in him.

And the mycelium — that dark and mysterious underworld that clustered at his roots and stretched far, far beyond — whispered to the Tree of other places, mysteries he could never imagine and would never see.

The Tree wept to think of all the world beyond his circle of brothers and sisters around him, sky above him and earth below him. And still his roots grew ever deeper, his branches higher.

Days passed. Months, years and decades passed, and still the Tree held his peace.

And so time passed, the Tree growing and groaning and yearning, until one day his longing became too much to bear.

With a heavy heart — he knew his decision would greatly sadden his neighbors — and the stiffness born of centuries of stillness, the Tree began to move.

Slowly, slowly he pulled one great cluster of roots from the earth, and then another, and another. As each limb broke free, clods of dark soil rained back to the ground, and the air around the Tree became a furious dark swirl as he worked to free himself.

With a final groan and burst of strength, he wrenched free of the place that had supported him all his life, and he began to walk. The other trees were sad to see him go, but they knew it was too late to change his mind.

Thus began the great Tree’s journey through the world.

Slowly, slowly he would wander on his way, and when he grew tired and hungry, he would throw down his roots and draw sustenance from alien soil. He found the brothers and sisters he met during these stops so very similar to the ones he had left behind, and he told them tales of the places he had been.

Each time he readied himself to leave, he would drag his roots from the earth once more and ponderously continue on his way.

Like this the Tree traveled all the world around, crossing rivers and mountains and lonely deserts, and though the trail was often arduous, he continued to grow and thrive. Whenever he set down to rest and eat, the Tree’s roots would grow even longer, his trunk even thicker, his branches even higher.

He grew and grew until no tree he encountered matched his height, and his roots rivaled the mycelium for scope.

When finally the Tree completed his journey and returned to the place where he had begun, his brothers and sisters greeted his return with amazement. Another, younger tree had taken his place, but the Wandering Tree was untroubled. He wished to continue wandering, anyway.

And so after a brief rest, after telling his tales of the places he had been and the things he had seen, the Tree continued on his way. By now, his roots were so long they circled the globe, his branches so vast they touched the sky. He told his brothers and sisters, who wept to lose their brother again so soon after his return:

Do not be sad at my leaving, for I am always here.

Look below you, and you will see my roots.

Look above you, and you will see my branches that reach the sky.

Listen, and you will hear my stories.

Look within you, and you will find the same water that runs through my core.

Do not be sad at my leaving, for though I must depart, I carry you with me, and you hold me here.

With that, the Wandering Tree went on his way, and the others passed the story of his life down through the generations. Each time he returned, the younger trees would know who he was, though they had never seen him before.

And though he groaned and struggled each time he freed his roots to set to wandering once more, the Wandering Tree was the strongest of them all. In his endless movement, he held the world together.

 

*****

Toby IsraelToby Israel is an incorrigible vagabond. She travels in search of dragons, mermaids, adventures and searches… and cross-cultural understanding. Avid dancer, yogi, cook and lover of words, she is inspired by movement and poetry, good food and new things. She studied Anthropology at Middlebury College and now seeks to squeeze by as a freelance writer. She writes a column for Elephant Journal, and a travel blog, Next Stop World. You can also follow her journey on Twitter and Facebook.

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