They started growing slowly, day by day. Each passing moment welcomed a further inch, creeping unnoticeably higher. The sun shone, the rain pelted, the arms thickened. Soon the sapling was a plant, and the boy was no longer a lad. The cedar had grown tall and thick as the boy reached the cultivation of manhood.
Across the field, a pine tree swung fluidly, conforming to the breath of Mother Nature. She drifted to and fro as her soft spikes gently waved in unison. The bristles resembled the girl’s thick hair that drifted seductively as she reached femininity. The pair had blossomed perfectly and now the time of harvest had arisen.
The pine and cedar trees were destroyed, only to be reconstructed as a canopy for the couple’s wedding. Irrevocably intertwined, the branches weaved in and out of each other, forming the frame that consummated the longing. When the man and woman stood under the shelter of the canopy accepting each other’s vows, they were shaded by the trees that had been planted one month after their births, following their town’s tradition.
Yet the ritual had not accounted for the couple’s growing impatience, their midnight quarrels or their bitter hostility. Soon distanced by a force as strong as the couple’s early lust, their fairytale had been chopped short. The canopy had been dismantled and all that remained were the rotting and broken pieces of wood.
Soon the man’s heart ached for another woman; A girl whose pine tree was tall and lush. But as sturdy as the girl’s pine tree grew, it was not able to build an entire canopy. The wedding could not proceed, so their cravings were suspended. Pending indefinitely. Digging away at their heartache.
So too, the town’s widows had never been able to fill their voids. The tradition had no answer for love’s volatility or the abyss of a lost one. The trees could only yield one wedding canopy for each citizen, and so, each town’s member was given only one chance at finding true love.
The widows and divorcees pined mournfully for a companion to temper their losses, but without the wood, they would find little consolation.
Much to the dismay of the elders of the town, the custom was appealed and replaced with a fresh idea. It was decided that a tree would be planted for every birth in the town. Rather than using the tree for the construction of the wedding canopy, each citizen’s tree would be used to build his or her coffin.
All too soon the new custom was deemed a disaster. The baker’s wife had taken her last breath as the baby girl had emerged with the cord wrapped around her neck. The silence in the room was choking. There was no tree for which to build a coffin for the baby, so she was wrapped in a blanket and laid to rest beside her mother’s final bed. The optimistic townspeople had not considered early death. The thought that young children might need wood for a coffin was too painful to have envisioned.
The Mayor of the town proposed a new plan for the trees. It seemed natural to institute an idea that reversed the ache of cutting down a tree upon someone’s passing. The new policy saw a tree planted for every death. Embracing the brilliance of such a simple notion, the town’s people rejoiced at being able to perpetuate the memory of their loved ones.
As the deceased decomposed, symbolically, they grew taller and taller through the outstretched branches. As if a relic of their lives would never die, the field became a vestige, a footprint, a trace of something, or someone that was no longer. When the leaves gently rustled, or argued with whooshing fury, it was as if the deceased were conversing.
In many ways this new tradition was comforting in that the dead were never really dead, being that the trees were ever truly alive. However, as the trees continued to sprout, the way in which life moves fluidly and rapidly was soon noticed. Rather than immortalizing life, the field became a microcosm portraying the way in which life moves away from us and no matter how desperately we try to hold onto the past, the current is too strong, life too endurable. And death, being a part of life, is unavoidable.
Over a number of years, the field of trees became overcrowded. Instead of being able to hold onto a loved one through his or her corresponding tree, the chaotic thicket served as a reminder that life goes on, and one day, everyone will be lost in the landscape of nature. Eventually the field was forgotten as a monument, and merely regarded as a messy forest on the outskirts of town. Each town’s member knew that the field carried some historical and traditional significance, but over time no one remembered its meaning.
In an effort to utilize the open space without desecrating its importance, a new plan was composed. Since the people of the town understood that on some level the field carried some sort of value, they decided that the trees must have special healing and curative qualities.
Following this train of thought, the entire cemetery of trees was bulldozed so that a fresh tree could be planted for every sick member of the town. The doctors and nurses focused their attention on weeding, ploughing, pruning and watering in the hope that through the trees the patients would grow strong.
Sadly, in the same way the old field was remembered for its tradition and not for its meaning, the health of the sick was soon forgotten to the urgency of nurturing each tree. The purpose was lost to the method, the goal to the technique.
And so, the sick remained sick and the field remained a field. Oblivious to the fruitless efforts of nurturing the patients through the trees, people began to help the doctors and nurses with the gardening. Believing that they were assisting the healing process, the town’s members revelled in their constructiveness.
On a daily basis, numerous citizens made their way to the grassland carrying shovels, rakes, buckets and clippers. Very soon the messy bushland transformed into orderly rows of plants. The effort of the masses was truly worthwhile for the field.
However, the prosperity of the trees was detrimental to the functioning of the town. People no longer showed up to work, gave their children less attention and allowed relationships to slip away. Ironically thinking that they could overcome their struggles through gardening, the people invested too much of their time in the field. This distorted focus rendered the cyclical disaster. Not only was the field unable to solve the town’s problems, in many ways it was invariably causing them. Believing that the field was the resolution, definitely not the cause, the town’s people justified tending to the trees as responsible. Blind sighted by their false hope, and willing to accept solace through distraction, the people abandoned their real problems.
One night, a frail and bent-over man slowly approached the field. His movements were noticeably languid, yet cognizant, as if he were sleepwalking through a beautiful lucid dream. Listlessly determined, he carried on through the terrain. Eventually his tired legs could not continue. The man sat down against the trunk of a tree and let out a deep sigh. It was as if he were weighted down by something that had the ability to lighten and uplift him, to alleviate him of his burdens and bring him peace of mind. And while the relief was so tangibly near, the understanding that he had almost reached the pinnacle was bittersweet. The man looked at the trunks around him and followed their tall figures with his eyes. Gazing upward, he dwelled on the branches that shrouded the night sky. As if the forces of nature were competing, it was discomforting to know that the trees veiled the stars.
Suddenly, a strong wind shook the branches and for a fleeting moment the natural kaleidoscope allowed the man to perceive the lights of heaven. In his last moments, the man’s thoughts reverted to how he had come into the world- thrust into existence upside down. He pondered the way in which people are born head first, while their feet, their roots, reluctantly let go of whatever they were once grounded upon. ‘Perhaps that is why babies cry when they are born,’ he thought, ‘perhaps that is why they spend months learning to walk on this ground.’
Reflecting on his life, the man understood the root cause of his downfalls. Trees.
Deeply imbedded in the ground. Clinging to solid earth. Grasping physicality for sustenance, for survival, for life.
Using the little strength he had left, the man slowly carved three words into the trunk of the tree; “We are not.” As he closed his eyes for the last time, two leaves gently fell from a branch, allowing for a twinkle of the night sky to glimmer through the gaps.