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The Last Winter
Silence. The lovely sound of the silence pulsed and grew in the dark, cold, winter air around me. As the last slivers of light faded in the western sky all noise had gradually diminished. The only light that penetrated the universal darkness was that which came from the moon and the stars. The moon hung like a crystal ball, radiating and drowning in her beauty. The millions of stars that surrounded her were tiny flecks of gold that made the velvety, black-blue sky richer than any king in existence.
I observed my surroundings and was unable to detect any beings that were still awake. The beavers had quit gnawing on fallen branches and had clambered back into their dams. All the little rabbits and mice had crawled into their holes and huddled to sleep, conserving and sharing their warmth. The deer had finished their meals. With the leaves and ferns in their warm bellies they had rounded up their young and settled down on beds of needles and moss. The squirrels had finished their chasing, scavenging, and burying to settle down in the hole that resides close to my heart. The only one who was missing was the Great Horned Owl. He had left at dusk to scout out his meal to prepare for the long night ahead of him. I was not worried, for near dawn he would return. He would settle into my branches, close to my trunk, and hide behind the rich green needles sprouting from my every twig. It is here that he would rest until the next night, where his routine would begin again.
Satisfied that all my companions were safe for the night, I relaxed my roots and branches. The rich earth that surrounded my roots cushioned them and kept them cozy. My branches swayed and danced in the cool, occasional breeze that swept through the forest. I looked around and saw the other trees doing the same thing I was. They had made sure their close companions were safe, and then they had let all their worries go.
I allowed my consciousness to slip and expand. I could feel the souls of trees, millions of trees, all around me in every direction. They covered hills and mountains for miles of end. Most of these trees I had never, and would never, see. But we all know of each other. We can fell each other’s existence. That’s how it is in a forest. You may not know a tree by appearance, but your hearts and minds are connected with a special binding that can never be broken.
Thoughts and feelings of every tree in the forest rushed into my mind. Many of the trees were saplings, mere youngsters, for they had only seen three, maybe four cycles of the seasons. Their thoughts flitted like a hummingbird from one thing to the next. There was hardly any time spent focusing and honing in on each topic. Their minds were jumbled like the sand at the bottom of a waterfall. Another great number of the trees were in the middle of their lives. It is a great canyon of time that they straddle, for most of their time is spent in that period. Their thoughts run like the water in the middle of the river. It is a quick yet comfortable clip. And then there are those trees that are like me. We are the oldest and wisest in this family. Not many trees live to be as old as us, and if they do they don’t remain here very long. I, and the few like me, have seen at least one hundred cycles of the seasons. We have grown and experienced the changes in this forest: good and bad. Our minds tend to linger on one thought for a period of time, drinking in all the details. We resemble the slow, swirling water at the bottom of a deep pool.
I settled down into a comfortable position and fell into a deep, relaxing half-awakeness. My mind moseyed along down beautiful paths. I thought about nothing and everything in particular. This is how I stayed through the hours of the night. I was grateful for these times, for you never know when it will be your last. When I heard the nearly inaudible sound of air being sliced I became aware of the owl’s presence. The morning light had just begun to show in the eastern sky when he landed on my branched and walked towards my trunk. With every stop he took the owl’s talons relieved tiny itches on my bark. He ruffled his wings and settled down to prepare for the day.
Not too long after the owl had returned the other animals began to wake. They left their beds and got ready for another day in our lovely forest. A light snow had begun not an hour prior, and when the animals emerged they left tiny paw and hoof prints in the dusting of snow that already covered the ground.
Over the next few hours while I was watching over the animals the snow began to fall a little heavier. The snowflakes had increased in size, making a fluffy, soft cushion along the ground. I was admiring the weather when I heard a strange sound not too far off. It was unlike anything I had every heard before. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. It came at equal intervals. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Once the animals heard the noise they pricked up their ears in alarm and ran to hide from whatever was approaching. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. And then I began to see it emerge from behind a hill not too far off. When it reached the top I could see it completely. I had never seen anything like it in my entire existence.
I was unsure of what, exactly, this creature was. Its features were so strange. The bottom half of it was shiny and black. The top half of it was a bright, cherry red color. The crown of it was dark, dark blue like the sky at night. A small section between the red and the blue was a pale cream color, but only on one side. Of all the creatures I have seen, none of them had quite so strange coloring: animal or plant. I saw it turn in a circle, as if looking at its surroundings. I then decided that this creature was no plant. It had to be an animal, for plants can’t move that way, and the strange animal had no roots in the ground.
When the animal turned around I saw that it had some sort of a shell on its back, making me wonder if it was a turtle. But then I realized that turtles are small. I kept on pondering over what this animal could be when I realized it had turned to face my direction and it was staring straight at me as if to examine my soul.
The animal started down the hill at a slow pace, placing its limbs carefully. It was aimed straight for me. Every step it took made the same sound. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Fear and curiosity filled my roots, trunk, and branches. The creature stopped at the base of my trunk and pulled off its shell. It opened it up from the top and pulled out a small circular object. From its side the animal pulled out a thin, white vine. It left the end of the vine on the ground and walked around my base with the circle. Once it reached the tip of the vine against the strange animal put it up against my bark and pulled the other side, tightening it against me. As the vine slid against my bark a strange sensation erupted inside me. Oh how it tickled! My bark began to itch horribly and the feeling didn’t go away once the animal put the vine back inside the circle. How I longed for the squirrels to scamper up my trunk and dig their little claws into my bark to relieve me of the itch.
The animal pulled a small white square and a thin yellow object out of its shell and began making strange markings upon the object. Once finished, the animal put all of its belongings back into its shell, replaced it upon its back, and walked back over to the hill. From there it pulled a small black box out of a pouch in its fur and put it up to its pale face. The box made a faint click and a bright light flashed. I looked around me with confusion; tiny silver spots flecked my vision. I reeled back into my core, waiting for the sensation to pass. Once I could feel my vision clearing I came back to the surface. I looked in every direction, but the animal was nowhere to be seen. It had left just as it had come: with no warning.
Throughout the rest of the day I paid little attention to the animals of the forest. I busied myself with pondering over the animal. I was so withdrawn that I didn’t even notice when the light turned to dark, the animals went to sleep, and the Great Horned Owl left the safe confines of my branches. Through the night I remained deep within the core of my trunk, barely opening up my soul to the other trees of the forest. I could sense their worry tickling the edge of my consciousness, but I paid into mind. Once they realized I was thinking deeply about something extremely important they left me in peace.
As the night progressed I calmed down. This had never occurred before in all my years, and I realized it would likely never happen again. This incident was probably just a tiny length of rapids in the enormous length of the river. By dawn my mind had cleared and I could once again assume my duty of a guardian in the forest. Energy pulsed through my branches as I held my crown high and prepared for the day. When the owl returned he hooted. It was a flustered, worried sounding noise, and he was restless for a time after he had settled into his spot, but sleepiness finally overcame his worry and he fell into a deep sleep.
The other animals in my vicinity soon emerged for another cyclic day, but not soon after they had appeared a strange noise reverberated throughout the air. Dread seeped through me as I looked about. The animals had scattered and the other trees and I were all that remained. The sound we heard was loud and choppy it sounded like thousands of moose marching in unison. The sound soon became deafening. As I looked up I could see a strange object slowly falling out of the sky. From its appearance the closest thing I could compare it to was a dragonfly. A massive, black, noisy dragonfly. Its thin wings spun around over the body at a deadly clip. Smaller wings sprouted from above the tail and spun in unison with the larger ones. Four legs extended from the outer edges of its belly and all the horrible, black feet were connected. The worst trait of the dragonfly was a pouch that hung down from its belly. It was the color of a poisonous, white mushroom. When expanded to its full size it could be larger than me.
The large dragonfly landed atop the hill from which the strange animal had appeared the day before. The pouch fell onto the ground first, just contrasting with the pure whiteness of the snow. The insect followed. Once it touched down the terrible sound made by the wings began to slow. The air got quieter and quieter until all that I could hear was the sound of a blue jay in the distance. I kept my gaze on the intruder all the while, rearing for what it would do next.
For what seemed like an eternity I waited. I waited for something, anything, to happen. Finally, a section of the exoskeleton on the dragonfly peeled back and out from its horrible innards jumped the animal from the day before and six more of its kind. What was occurring right in front of me seemed so strange, so unnatural, that I wondered if all sanity had vanished.
From within the dragonfly the animals, all with different colors of pelts, pulled strange objects and instruments. They were shiny; the sun that pierced through the clouds hit their sides and bounced off in blinding sparkles. The silvery-grey color resembled that which resided in some of the boulders surrounding me in the forest. The objects were beautiful.
The animals then removed the dragonfly’s pouch from under its belly. They piled their various shiny objects in the middle and, all together working like ants, dragged it over next to me. They placed one end next to the base of my large trunk and extended it in a straight line away from me towards the base of the hill.
Curious as to what the animals were doing, I relaxed and watched them. Their movements were strange. They walked upright on their two hind legs while the two remaining hung down next to their sides. No animals I had previously seen moved quite like that. I pondered over their strange habits and appearances. I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I paid no attention to the harsh, gurgling noise that one of their shiny objects began to make.
Moments later I was sucked from my daydreams by an intense pain near my base. I looked at the animals. The red and black one from the day before held one of the objects. It was vibrating back and forth, shaking the animal. Its noise drowned out all other noises. It had bitten my bark, making a cut in it. I expected it to pull back out but it kept eating away. I braced myself. It felt like the claws of a bear as they sharpened against me. It hurt, yet it was tolerable.
I was extremely relieved when the teeth pulled out of my bark. The pain remained there, throbbing, but it was better than the beginning. The animal looked into my cut and blew. The cool air chilled and numbed that area for a few seconds, which lightened my mood. My happiness was short lived, though. The animal then thrust the teeth back into my wound and they sank deeper. They broke through the inside layer of my bark and into the soft wood of my trunk. The pain exploded and was forced into every branch, needle, and root inside me. I could feel every single fiber of my wood being sliced in two without effort as if it were water against a rock. The hum of the object poisoned my mind and the vibrating that extended in from my wound was unbearable.
In complete agony I withdrew into myself further than I had ever gone. I neither saw nor heard a single thing as I screamed in my mind. I could sense the worry and surprise from all the other trees as they felt my pain, but I pushed them away with great force, wishing for none of them to catch a glimpse of what I was going through. I screamed in my mind for the pain. This was truly the most painful thing I had experienced in my existence. The pain felt as if it would overtake my soul and torture it for all of eternity. I screamed in my mind for the terror and the heartbreak. I was panicking uncontrollably as I realized what they were taking from me. They were taking my friends, my family, my home, my life. And I screamed in my mine for the helplessness, for I knew there was nothing I could do to reverse this terror.
When I felt the teeth finally pull out of my wound I allowed myself to look all around me. The snow at my base was littered with tiny bits and pieces of my flesh. The strange animals had all moved away from me and the pouch. Then I realized that the edges of everything in my vision had gone blurry. I could no longer make out individual needles on my twigs. I heard and felt a crack appear in the remaining part of my base where the teeth that not bitten. A wave of dizziness overtook me as I slowly began to lean. Having no control over my movement, I braced myself.
It felt as if all time had slowed. As I slowly began to fall the air rushed through my needles. I felt more cracks, and then there was nothing left that kept me secured to my base and roots. This was the beginning of the end. I let out a long, drawn-out groan of anguish as the forest floor slowly made its way up to meet me.
Thousands of thoughts rushed throughout my mind on the way down, but one stuck out. I thought about the safety of my family and friends around me. The owl, I realized, had luckily taken flight at the sound of the first crack. A single feather from his wing floated down with me. But the trees around me didn’t fare so well. My large branches took off the branches of some of the middle aged trees close by. I even snapped some of the saplings in two, preventing them from ever reaching the later, wisdom-filled season cycles in their life. It pained me so to harm those who I cared so deeply about. I reached out with my mind to express my worry, but I found that I could not. When my body had been severed from my base the connection between me and the others had been severed.
I was filled with anger as I realized that the only connection I had to my family had been robbed from me by the alien animals. I fell onto the pouch, causing tremors to run the entire length of me. The force of the impact had made a great boom. As the sound echoed throughout the forest dozens of tiny birds flew from the treetops to search for safety.
I was numb all over from the impact as I lay there on the ground. I took in the beauty of the sky above me. It was the perfect shade of clear blue. There was no snow falling today, for the sky was cloudless. As the sun shone down and onto me I could feel a small hole within my soul. It had begun as a tiny pop, and with every passing second it grew a tiny bit more. I could feel the energy from around the little hole slowly draining into it, being washed away to never return. What I felt from this was not pain. No, it was discomfort and unease.
I lay on the ground, utterly helpless, as the animals began to communicate with one another. Their jumbled chatters and barks were so foreign to me. As hard as I tried I could not make sense of what they were saying to each other. The red and black one raised its voice above all the others.
“Alright boys. Let’s get this baby back to Rockefeller Center. We have millions of people to cater to.”
One of the animals trotted over to the dragonfly and crawled back inside. The wings began to turn: slowly at first, but their speed increased. With every turn the chopping noise grew louder and the wind could be heard slicing in two. It jumped up in the air not far off the ground and flew over to the rest of us. It was situated right over me, and I could feel the other animals begin to re-attach the pouch to the underside of the dragonfly. Then they all jumped into the massive insect and resealed the exoskeleton.
As the giant dragonfly lifted farther into the air I could feel the sides of its pouch close in on my limbs. I was squashed against the bottom, twigs snapping and needles falling off. My larger branches bent in strange directions that I had never experienced. This is how I stayed as we gained altitude. Out of the ends of the pouch I could see expanses of my forest that I had never seen before. It extended for vast distances. I filled with emotion as I realized I was looking at my life-long home for the very last time.
I then fixed my gaze specifically on my territory. There lay a great bald spot of earth. Chips of my wood lay littered on the ground all around and on my stump sat the owl. His large, yellow eyes, full moons against his dark face, stared up and after me. He kept his gaze as he opened his dangerous beak and called out with a painful hoot. I cried out with my mind. Not only had I lost my home but also all the animals I stood guardian over. The small hole inside my soul kept growing, little bits at a time, as I threw my sympathy out to the animals of the forest.
Thunder clapped and lighting flashed in my mind as the danger took hold of me. I imagined myself as a bear. I tore the intruders apart and their strange steed as well. They lay on the ground, splinters of their bodies rotting away. My mind flashed with violent scenes as we flew over the land. Forests and rivers passed by under us, along with strange clusters of rectangular objects with smoke rising from their tops. I looked out in the direction we were flying and could see that we were aimed for another cluster, yet it was much larger than the ones we flew over. There were hundreds or even thousands of rectangles which, I could now see, were made of stone. They stretched up taller than any tree I knew, almost touching the clouds.
Once we entered the cluster I noticed how all the stones were all extremely close to one another. The dragonfly maneuvered between them with the skill and ease. We at last came to a small clearing: the large stones rose up on every side to form a barricade around it. The insect lowered me onto the cold, hard ground. The same animals that had secured the pouch now leaped out of the dragonfly and unsecured my cradle. The material fell to the ground as the insect flew out of the clearing and around the stones, out of my sight.
I looked all around me and saw hundreds of animals. From their features I could tell that they were the same species as the ones that had come to my forest. Every one of them had a strange but unique pelt. The animals came in all different shapes and sizes. It was easy to tell the young from the old, but difficult to tell the age for those you knew were straddling that canyon of time. They were bearing their teeth and making loud, harsh sounds with high pitches. They moved their paws together over and over which made a loud popping noise. The red and black animal raised its paws high into the air and the herd got quiet. It waved the paws towards me and cried out, “New York City, I give you the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree!”
The herd of animals began to make the same sounds as they had before, but the decibel of their screeches had gone up. One of the other animals from the forest then reached for a large red band that lay on the ground. It secured it around my trunk near the top, and then secured another one near the base. An enormous, straight, branch-like instrument that gave off a deep hum then began to pull my top into the air. As I went up I could see the animals arching their necks to see. As the seconds passed they grew smaller and smaller, until they looked to be the size of mice.
With great relief I was soon standing upright in the air. I could feel the paws of the animals moving my large base. They situated it above a large hole, and then the instrument lowered me down into it. It fit snug around me and I felt extremely restricted. It felt as if that part of me would not be able to breathe. I continued to worry about my safety and comfort while the animals secured large vines around my trunk that secured to the stones all around us. I paid everyone little attention, for I believed they did not deserve it.
Once the vines were secured all around, the band around my trunk was released. I readied myself for the worst, but I did not tumble to my death. The herd raised their screeching and throaty yells higher yet, and I withdrew deep within myself to drown out the noises. For a short while the herd remained, but soon after it began to disintegrate. By the time the sun had fallen and the moon had risen even the animals from the forest had left, and I stood in the clearing all alone.
I asked myself what I had ever done to deserve such a thing as this. I could give myself no answers. I became acutely aware of the hole. It was growing. I began to worry. It was the strangest sensation to have a wound not only of the flesh but also of the mind and soul. I looked up at the sky to clear my mind of such depressing thoughts, for I believed the night sky could cure all remedies. When I looked up, though, all I could see were the tops of the tall stones and blackness. As hard as I tried I could not make out the stars. The lights from around the clearing made them invisible to even my gaze. Their brilliance was lost to me, and the sadness threw me into myself. For the rest of the night I stayed withdrawn. I had not a care in the world. I saw no point to life now.
The following day was just as depressing as the first. Animals came regularly with large brown squares that opened up to reveal great lengths of vines with tiny, colorful spots all over them. All day long the animals were scrambling in and out of my branches, individually wrapping each one tightly with these vines. By the end of the first day only a small portion of my whole was covered. I began to feel the restrictiveness and discomfort as night fell again.
For the next ten cycles of the sun and the moon I remained the subject of humiliation. Every day was the same. Animals crawled all over me like little ants. They wound all my branches in the vines, taking away my true splendor. Passer-bys would stop and watch for a while, then continue with their lives. Many brought their offspring to see, and with their tiny, grimy paws they would cling onto my branches and screech. The anger, sadness, helplessness, fury, and sickness pulsed throughout me. I fell into a deep depression that would not lift. Every day the hole in my soul grew larger than the day before, to the point where it seemed ready to burst.
On the eleventh night a great herd of the animals gathered into the clearing. There were so many of them it seemed hard to believe they all fit. The lights around the clearing shone bright and glinted off the faces of the animals. The faces were all different colors. They ranged from pale white like the snow to deep black-brown like the earth. One man stood close to my side with a young one next to him. He spoke into a strange object that projected his voice out into the night. The sounds he made had little importance to me. I had not the strength to try to listen and solve the puzzle to his words. I sat there, drowsy and dizzy, and stared out into the open. After a short while he handed the young one a small green box with a red circle on it and stepped out of the way.
When it stepped forward I fixed my gaze upon it and one word that meant little to me came to my mind: girl. I could not fully comprehend the meaning of the word, but I had heard it multiple times during the man’s speech and it had stood out to me. I believed this was a word that embodied and described the young one that stood before me. It was only a small fraction of my height. Its skin was a deep brown color. The eyes reflected the light from all around and they appeared gold. The fur that sat atop its head was black and frizzy. The fur stuck out in two directions opposite of the face, held in place by small black rings.
The girl looked out at the herd and then back at me. Its gaze went through all of my humiliated branches and bark and straight to my core. It bared its teeth at me in a kind manner and a high bubbly sound escaped its throat. I was so weak and helpless. I was angry.
The girl positioned its hand above the round, red circle. It looked down and then up at me again. Anger welled up inside me. I sent out my mind, cursing the girl, only a sapling, and everyone in the clearing. I hated every last one of them.
As the girl readied its hand to come down I felt the last of my energy get sucked into the large hole within my soul. My mind lurched forward with great sadness. The hole then exploded and enveloped every last part of me. All the pain disappeared as I recoiled within myself to great depths. I could no longer feel my needles, my branches, or even my trunk. As my vision got spotty the last thing I saw was the hand of the girl coming down onto the red circle. It was then that my vision was lost and I was sucked into the deep ravine of nothingness, never to live through another beautiful winter again.