The Heart of the Wood
By P.R. Griffin
The old man creaked when he stretched. He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t creak. He stretched and creaked and thought ‘When did I begin to creak so badly?’ The thought sank down to his feet and returned slowly. His thoughts were as slow and creaking as his limbs these days. He could remember a time when his thoughts were clear, like sunlight through glass. He sighed and stretched and creaked.
His clothes were sparse, but given the season that was to be expected. He shivered, leaves drifted, the wood was older than him and he could feel its age underfoot. Age, he thought with his slow ponderous thoughts, leaves creases that become crevasses that become... The old man frowned. The answer was there, he knew it but the knowledge passed and the shadows lengthened and the leaves fell. His head shook and a sigh escaped. ‘When did it become so hard to remember?’
The wood had changed. His mind’s eye dimly pictured its youth, its green voice strong and challenging. The Birch trees, now they were a sight. Such grace, and their skin- ah luminous, as if the moon had melted and soaked within. He smiled. Yes the Birch was always his favourite. Was it wrong for him to have favourites? The thoughts sank, passing though his feet into the forgiving soil. He did not expect them back soon.
Changes to the wood had been as ponderous as his thoughts. Sometimes storms would come and rattle the roof over his head. Then he would hear the crack of a branch surrendering and the groan of separation. He would sigh, and wonder what view would greet him in the dawn. But not all storms came in the form of wind and rain. Men came, their eyes full of greed and their feet far removed from the land. They farmed the wood. And their damage was greater than all the wind and rain.
The old man often wondered: when did we refuse the earth and desire the protection of meaningless things? At what stage did our feet become clean? His were deep in the soil; treading secret places long forgotten by those who came to cut and hack.
His children grew strong and he watched with pride as they flourished. They too loved the earth, thought as he thought, dreamt his dreams and spoke with breathless whispers of the Birch and the Fir.
As the wood changed so did the fields. They were hungry, and bitter jealous. Every blade of grass sought to strip the wood of its ancient territory. Men were involved there as well. The grass became earth and the earth corn and then earth once again. Every year saw the corn come closer to the wood. Ears full of the envious whispers of brethren corrupted by the sowing of men.
Once there had been balance, but his memory of it was a tenuous thing and though the old man clung to it, his strength was fading. He barely heard his children’s voices now. Such a thing pained him, but that too was tenuous, for pain, like thoughts took such a long time to reach him. Leaves fell and the wood changed.
One day, during summer, he came to the conclusion that everything changed. What bothered him was not the vanishing earth or the fading birch, but that he had outlived his usefulness. He did not wish to see change. He hated the very notion of anything new. Seasons are expected; green follows white, yellow becomes brown. This type of change wasn’t new but old. He sighed and creaked.
Each time a new year visited he was left with more wrinkles and less memories. And he realised- after much rumination- that this was as unwelcome as it was expected. The land gave life and took it away. There was something almost gentle about the slow death of his sensibilities. All things end just as they begin: with the barest breath. He did not fear this change, and would meet it with all the dignity he could muster.
It was the beginning of winter when the corn’s whispers grew intolerably loud. And the saws of men, hard at work, filled his ears; their harsh rasping adding insult to injury. ‘Enough’ he thought, more a pronouncement than a plea. The old man sighed and creaked one last time. Slowly, as befitting one of his station, the great oak died.
That day his children shivered in mourning. The birch wept silvery tears and the trees groaned with separation. Even the corn bowed in silence, out of respect to its ancient foe. Only the men remained busy, hacking and breaking and towing away, unaware of the change in the land. Unaware that the heart of the wood was dead.
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