The Father Tree
by JL Bogenschneider
It grew from a sapling seeded by the wind. During the in-between times it weathered and oversaw many beginnings, conclusions and durations. By the end it was dendriticoprecisely five thousand one-hundred and thirty-three years old. Planted and entrenched by rain in a porous soil. Not that it was aware of these things. +/- a few days here and there. The youngest amongst a sea of already-veterans. Beginnings included the commencement of a number of monarchical reigns, the puddling of thirty-seven inland seas and the infinitesimal rupturing of several much-later-to-be-significant geological faults. There had been a long-running campaign to have it saved. The wind was an unpredictable offshoot of a sirocco that had changed its course much of late. Also: the development of a function in a certain species that would prove to be especially useful in its adaptive future. The trunk bore marks from where passionate, unthinking protestors had chained themselves to it. Of late meaning in geologically-recent parlance. The attainment of 32ºF of certain cold, dense masses was not quite counterbalanced by the attainment of 33.8ºF of similar others, which meant an overall advance. The cutting was done with great sadness by one Darla McFarlane using an Einhall M360-A chainsaw. Other seeds were carried in the same current to the same location but, for reasons of hard-winter and recurrent frost, didn’t take to the same degree. In one season, certain portions of the stratosphere became less-than and a series of literally earth-shattering volcanic eruptions resulted in some impressive – had it all been witnessable – terraforming along with the falling of some heavy and hard rains over a previously entirely arid zone along the equator. But in the knowledge that if she didn’t do it someone else would’ve been paid to. And why but for why is anything hardy and survivish; the untapped mysteries of evolution? At one point lighting striking literally thrice in three separate places forming the points of an equilateral triangle because an infinite amount of time must encompass all possibilities and more. She being the type that was sentimental and pragmatic; possessing the capabilities of both and containing a multitude of entirely coexistable dichotomies. Good genetics and chance; all life being a crapshoot. The impossibly slow consideration given by two opposing tectonic plates to the notion that they might one day irresistibly crush up against one another to form an abstract rockform of such enormity that thousands of later-to-comes would risk their lives in order to simply summit. No hesitation in pulling the cord but certainly a catch in the throat she would ruminate over much later. Patient but: considered a stripling in comparison long into maturity and not even attractive – for whatever reason – to sundry mosses and lichen when all its neighbours were sagging in fusty soft greens. The nascent stirrings of a warm, northerly-propelled jetstream that would take lifetimes upon lifetimes and species origin/extinction cycles recurring to fail. Catching the eye of one or two of the more vocal protesters and thinking: Do you hate me? and receiving a clear and vocal response in the affirmative. Breaching the canopy layer; all cliché and heliotropes. The laying down of fossils and the dissolution of others. She relished the scent of fresh-cut wood but on this occasion it was bittersweet. Fun fact: during the most wintry of winters its leaves turned briefly blue. The whole timespan of known human history when you think about it. And it was good that she could see all aspects of the event. Not the tallest by even the first quarter-millennium by a long shot. Millions of hearts breaking in various degrees of complexity. One being that even in destruction there could be dignity. A kind of shrinking from the sun in those first moments of breach, which we can all appreciate. The cleaving – in both senses – of dense-beyond-comprehension glaciers in antipodean locales. If it hadn’t been required of her as an employee then she mightn’t have done it. And post-breach there could be no looking back. There was once an unbroken run of two-hundred and thirty-three seconds where neither human advance nor retreat was achieved. Big jobs such as this required total concentration and so, during the cutting, she achieved an almost outer-bodied peace. Certainly countless others came close; few things are so special. That is: in that period, neither birth nor death occurred. And although there were many things that made her work difficult or undesirable [strange hours, difficult co-workers, certain assumptions made about her] it was secret opportunities to achieve a kind of peace such as these that made it worthwhile. But still enough so that the first time it was sighted it was immediately recognised as being significant. Which period has never been bettered or even approached since. Although if anyone were to ask she would say it was simply work that paid and she didn’t expect much else from an employer. For a time it was treated as sacred, which status later went out of fashion, before being reinstated to a lesser degree by modern tribes with no real affiliation to the sacred as was earlier understood. Although since then, just… countless pluses and minuses. Having other interests outside of work like most others. But so originally surrounding competitors were felled and removed and a fence placed around it with access being controlled and overseen by sagacious elder-types. The fomenting of more failed revolutions than were successful. Including, but not limited to: foreign cinema; extensive walks and hiking; the long-running murder trial of someone she had only a tangential connection to; her live-out fiancée and the reasons for her reluctance to be a live-in one. And this sacredness, a status given to it by virtue of prominence, evolving into a set of myths, the origins of which could never be fully established but which also were never questioned. The creation of works of written, visual and other art, most of which soon sunk forever into obscurity. Questions about which she was able to subsume whilst at work, not in a head-in-the-sand sort of way, but just that work was a break from everything that occupied and exercised her during not-work times. Such as: the conferring of fertility upon couples who – well – coupled in its shadow; a challenge, given its zealously protected status by certain select acolytes. But of course others which long outlasted their makers. Which meant that work had an intangible value beyond the fiscal. Also: that the chewing of torn – not fallen – leaves during pregnancy would lead to a strong and healthy child. The formula behind which being, what: genius? Fortune? And perhaps this secondary value-function helping to make work more bearable than it might otherwise be. Most of the myths related to fertility and child-rearing, t.b.h. Or just simple likelihood. This was something she could address with others, people she knew who lived to hate their job, which – she understood – was a value-function in and of itself. The reasoning for which can be left to anthropologists. But returning to the points: species origin and extinction; wave amplitude growth and coastal erosion; the constant shaping and re-shaping of landmasses everywhere; everything inching ever closer to heat-death; more ideas considered than could ever be processed and measurable in no physical or tangible form unless the abstract counts which it doesn’t; but also equals and opposites: the launching and sinking of ships; the capitulation and domination of peoples; the loss and discovery of all things. She was only just reaching the quarter-point, a rate of over half a millennium a minute; very approximately ten years every second – zip, zip, zip – before the site supervisor waved at her to stop. Who would actually remain ignorant of a number of otherwise interesting arborbiographical tidbits that went undocumented. So much so that is there any point in enumerating even a fraction of such things? Something to do with a stay of execution or last-minute legal challenge. Like when the wind eroded the impression of a face upon the bark over a number of seasons and it became known for three generations as the ‘Father Tree’, with a whole bunch of ghost stories surrounding it, none of which made it into the folkloric canon. But if it’s known, then how could the almost-nascence but ultimate failure of a creature so alien as to be literally from another planet not be mentioned? As the motor ran down she thought how the people behind the barrier cared more about one tree than any other member of their own species. Or how a sturdy low-hanging bough led to several suicides being enacted in its shade. More unknowns than knowns really. Something she found both ludicrous and noble. Also, several marriages being formed in the same spot. To the extent that you might make something up and still hit the mark. She pushed her helmet back, pulled her goggles below her chin and took a seat under its shade: was it titbits? Once, a new-born baby was hidden in the woodwormed hollow at its base. Not that this is what we’ve been doing here. Actually, in the heat, grateful that the shade was there at all. The woodworm eventually being discovered and removed although the baby not so much. For a time being central to a particular folk-tradition involving ribbons and dances and much discomfort on the part of those not partial to a touch of paganism. Just that everything has history, is all. The small crowd was making more noise than it should have been capable of as they realised what had happened. Eventually becoming the eco-symbol it remained, as its literal – in some instances – brothers and sisters were one-by-one removed. Although given what we’ve just gone through, what is history but an inadequate study of the forever-incomplete? Around the base and also at her feet were rotted and rotting apples that had been thrown at her during the cutting without her ever realising. And more recently the site of a fatal accident wherein the car of a notable musician came to a sudden stop, the scars from which – and plaque relating to – remained. All of which is not to say it shouldn’t be studied. And rocks and bottles and such. Which was actually an ending. Because given a chance to learn something over nothing, choose something every time. And because it was pretty much the end of the day she packed up her equipment, unlocked her bicycle and pushed it through the crowd to go home, whilst said crowd remained in flux, riled-up, angry – victory notwithstanding – at the selfishness of their own species, the possibility of an ending and the general passage of time.
JL Bogenschneider is a writer of short fiction, with work published in a number of print and online journals, including Ambit, Hobart, PANK and Necessary Fiction.
Image source: Wikimedia (Abrget47j) via Creative Commons