“I was planted at the very edge of the forest, where the limbs of the tallest trees reach over into the roads of men. My mother is the great Inner tree. She is a tall and mighty tree, her children and arms reaching into all corners of the world. All the wisest tree nymphs come to her for wisdom. And all the most beautiful tree nymphs come to admire her beauty. We live in prosperity and peace. We are all very close to man, but as long as he does his duty to us, we do our duty to him.
To him, we breathe the breath of life
We give him shade and comfort from the sun.
We give him homes and beds to rest and shelter in.
To him, we give boats, timber, and pegs
But the one thing we can never have is legs.
I live on the very edge of the forest, where the limbs of the tallest tree reach over into the roads of men. My cousins across the water have met terrible storms, winds, and snow. They’ve lived longer than I have. I’m just a little sprout. I’m not tall enough even to get sunshine most of the day. The only steady time of sunshine I get is when the sun is setting. The setting sun shines down on me and fills my branches and leaves me with warmth and light. I love it. I can feel the sunshine creep into my roots and into my soul. It gives me strength and courage to grow up, stronger and taller.
The summer months come. My first summer months. The great Inner tree told me that these days would be splendid, but I never imagined something like this. The grass grows green around me. Birds nest in my brother’s strong branches. They’re singing all the time. They’re singing! I wish that I was tall enough to have nests in my branches. Maybe next summer, mother says. I also wish that I could sing. I don’t want to sing as the birds do, though. They sing so quickly and so high. I could never keep up. They sing about things that matter so little to me: What to eat today, how there’s a snake in the garden, how the breeze is too strong. I don’t pay attention to what I eat every day, the sun feeds me. I don’t care for snakes. What could they do to me? I love the breeze. She feels like a whisper. She feels like a song. She is a song. She brings tales of faraway lands, mystical places and caverns so deep the sun never reaches them. I can’t imagine that. A place where the sun doesn’t reach? But she tells me that they’re true. Mother can’t tell me that they’re true. She says that if a place does exist, then she wouldn’t have children there.
“Trees can’t grow without sunlight,” She reminds me.
Flowers grow and die as the summer months come to a quick end. I didn't realize at first that they’re over. The air doesn't get much colder for days. But then the color of my leaves change. I feel like a piece of art. I think, at first, that it must be some kind of magic that’s making the trees of my forest change. But then, the breeze comes and blows through my branches. She tells me stories about cold, terrible days. Days when small trees choked and died. Days when men laid down to rest in a blanket of white, never to get up again. I thought that there was no way they were true. The world was too warm for such stories to exist.
Then the breeze brought a companion with her. He was strong and fierce. The breeze said that he was called the wind.
“You’re quaking Aspen,” Mother said when I told her about Wind. It was he who told stories of raging seas and blazing fires. It was he who told chilling, haunting tales. He screamed at the forest. He was angry but would never tell me why. Whenever he slept the breeze would tell me soft, sweet tales. The story of young kittens, also facing their first winter, is what I dreamed of as I fell asleep.
I wouldn’t want to be an evergreen
To stay awake and never sleep.
I wouldn’t want to be an evergreen,
If only Christmas came in spring.
I wake up and the sun is shining again. It was so cold in winter. It seemed to go on forever and forever. But once I’ve woken up, I can see that the sleep made it bearable. Mother is there when I wake up, giving my soul strength. She tells me that winter will always come again. But so will spring and summer. She reminds me that it’s the winter that will make my roots grow deep. If they don’t grow deep, then I won’t grow tall. So, I thank the sun for winter. And I thank Winter for my deep roots.
The best day of spring is the one where the Wind leaves. He said that we were all,
“So tiresome and boring,” he just couldn’t bear it one day longer. The breeze told me it was really because his best friends, Misery and Death, didn’t like spring. Then she laughed. It was a wonderful sound. Better than singing was the laughter. Laughter was better than tree nymphs dancing or the sunshine. I was struck by her sound. And then, I wanted to do it too. As soon as I wanted to, Mother showed me how. Her laugh was deep and seemed to make the very ground shake. Her laughter filled the sky and earth with joy. And then I did it too. My laugh was a pale imitation of mother’s. Someday, I would fill the sky and earth with joy. For now, I filled my branches and roots with joy until they could hardly take any more.
Spring made everyone happy. Little flowers grew. Daisies popping up here and there. More young tree saplings grew and I taught them the things that I knew. It wasn’t much, but I told them stories of the Wind and Breeze. I told them stories of water and sunshine and meadows and gardens. And then I laughed for them. Too young to understand, they marveled. How could I make such a beautiful noise?
“You have to go through your first winter before you can laugh.”
Spring passes like a dream. The soft warm days eventually lent themselves to hot days. The birds still don’t nest in my branches. I’ll have to wait another year, mother says. The last couple of days of spring, the Breeze is quiet. She tells me that this year she has to go to other places and gather more stories. Life is constantly moving, just like her, she says.
“But if you can’t see it moving, then you can’t tell stories about it.” She leaves. It’s like a part of me is traveling with her, gliding through the air as the birds do. Never landing, or taking pause. But for all the effort I put into it, I can’t see the things that she sees. I can’t tell the stories because I don’t really see them.
The days are now hot and seem to suffocate us. Without the Breeze, there’s nothing to relieve the scorching sun. I’ve never been fuller and my leaves have never been greener. But I still wait for the Breeze to return. I can’t wait to hear all the stories she has. She’s one of my only friends. The birds are too fast to stop and have a conversation. The toads and snails are too slow and slimy to listen. And Man has forgotten how to speak to the trees. Mother says that there was once a time when man and tree could speak for hours together. She says that they were perfectly matched.
“Have you ever spoken to man?” I ask her.
“No. Neither did my mother nor my mother’s mother. It has been a long time indeed since we talked to men. But the stories have been passed down, mother to daughter, since the last Nix tree. And legend says, that someday we will be able to speak to man again.”
“Could I be the one to speak to man?”
She doesn’t respond for a long time. I can feel her want, her desire.
“I want you to be. I wanted to be, but no man would stop to listen. Maybe you will be.”
The days and weeks of summer are hot without the Breeze. But the day finally arrives when she returns. I feel a whisper in my branches. And then I hear her laughter.
Better than singing is laughter
When the one you love smiles
Better than tree nymph’s dancing is laughter
Better than the sun in the sky.
The Breeze told me fantastic tales of boats,pirates and treasure. She told me how, when the sun in the sky was right, and the men would sing a summer song, it was a good day. It was a fine time for treasure hunting. She whispered about buried treasures under the soil that men sought after earnestly. They were never content, it seemed, to just live and die like they used to.
She also told us about fairies. She said that she’d seen many in her travels, but that they were becoming less and less believed in as the days passed. Children stopped building gardens, men stopped looking for them and women stopped singing to them. It filled my heart with sorrow. How could they stop believing in fairies? I had never seen a fairy but Mother told me about the time she’d met the fairy princess.
“What a beautiful day that was,” she said.
The Breeze told me about the stars. She said how one of her favorite things to do on a summer night was to watch men looking at the stars. They never got tired of looking at the stars. They had tried to count them many times before, just like they counted everything else. But they couldn’t. Perhaps this is why the stars made them marvel so much. Why they could never look away. There were endless possibilities. There were thousands of millions of billions of places that they couldn’t even see. And that made their skin itch.
If only men knew all the millions of things that they couldn’t see. Would it make them look harder? Or would they give up their curiosity and sense of adventure? Had they given that up already?
Summer ends. Fall settles in.
The world is nearly always full of color,
the colors just change from season to season.
In spring they’re bright and sweet.
In summer they’re rich and deep.
In fall they’re grey and mournful
In winter a blanket of white hides them all.
It’s fun to hear the sapling’s excited voices. I remember how I felt when my leaves changed colors for the first time. I remember the stories she told me about poor young saplings who couldn’t make it through their first winter. And suddenly, I’m filled with a deep desire that none of these will fall. I’m surprised by my love for them. I don’t want to wake up in spring and see that they're gone. I don't want any of them to not wake up with me.
I don't want to fall asleep this time. I'm too afraid. Last time, I didn't know what was happening. Last time, I had the Breeze's stories to lull me to sleep. But now, she's whispering to the younger trees. She's calming their troubles and making the gateway into winter an easy one to travel through.
It means I still have leaves on my branches when the first snow settles in. I didn't realize how cold the snow was. It melts into my branches and soaks into my roots. It's then that I beg the Breeze to tell me a story. Any story, to lull me to sleep.
She starts telling me a story about Christmas. There was a little girl who was a dancer. She would dance around the meadows and spin around the forests. The Saplings said that she must have had a great grandmother who was a tree nymph. How else could she dance the way she did? She made all the other children around her stop whenever she danced. She seemed to tell a story with the way that she moved, and it amazed the children. Her playmates always gave her room to dance. Her teachers always encouraged her. But there was something she wanted more than anything for Christmas. A pair of wings.
She would talk to her father for hours about how the winged creatures could sleep in the trees, how the winged creatures could dance on the wind. She was a wonderful dancer, no one questioned that. But she wanted to dance like the wind. She wanted to dance like the tree nymphs and birds, although she didn't know that's what she wanted. She slowly started to ignore the life she had. She stopped laughing when her playmates would show her something. She stopped twirling when she heard a song. She stopped enjoying her life.
She looked out of windows into the sky.
She watched the birds and the trees, never knowing why
She wanted wings,
She wanted to fly.
I wake up again. I had woken up late, spring is nearly halfway done already. All the young saplings are there. None of them have fallen, I needn't have worried. I stay up late at night, watching the stars. Remembering how the Men wanted to count each one of them, capture them in their textbooks and imagination. Then I remember the story of the dancing girl.
"What became of her?" I ask the Breeze.
"Next time," she tells me, "next winter."
So I wait. The months seem to fly by faster. I don't even notice as the seasons change and the months speed by. The story of the dancing girl seems to have captured my imagination and soul. I want nothing other than to know how it ends.
Winter finally comes again. I stay awake as I did the year before, trying to prepare for the Breeze to whisper the story again. The Wind makes it hard to hear, but if you listen closely...
"As she sought wings, she began to seek someone who could give her wings. What is the use of wanting something if you don't look for it? She listened to legends and fairytales. They soon became the only things that made her seem at all alive. Slowly she started looking for the one they said would give her what she wanted. The Nix tree."
I inhale the sharp, cold air. I shudder and leaves fall to the ground. The Nix tree was the one to last speak to men. Mother said once, that it was she who could give wings to men and legs to trees. Breeze must have somehow listened to the tales that Mother told me.
"The dancing girl searched far and wide, traveling the whole world in pursuit of the Nix tree. The years passed. The days grew short, then long, then short again. The air grew cold, then hot, then cold again. As she searched throughout those years, she slowly began to come back to life. The world of Men had dimmed her. It had dulled her mind and exhausted her heart and soul. But the world of nature and adventure drew her in. It embraced her like an old friend. And as she and the wind and the breeze became friends, as she started seeing fairies and nymphs and dryads and tree spirits, she knew that there was indeed a Nix tree somewhere. If she could find that tree then she would be able to fly.
Christmas day dawned bright and cold.
The child who once danced, now grown
Came to me and rested on my trunk a palm
The winds then suddenly became most calm
Tree and man together again
Legs and wings. Our dreams.
I saw her through the mist of the freezing winter day. She wasn’t a child. Not anymore at least. She was tall, and strong, and beautiful. She was following two or three glowing, colorful lights through the trees. As she got closer to me I could make out tiny human-like features and fragile wings. They were fairies. Behind the woman and linked arm to arm, were dozens of tree nymphs. They were usually sleeping at this time of year, but I suppose they had woken up for this special occasion. She was wearing a flowing green and yellow dress, her hair in braids and a bun. Her feet were bare but she had been traveling the world for years. Toughness comes to those who seek it.
Guided by the fairies and followed by the tree nymphs, she walked through the snow to me. We stood before each other, taking each other in. She breathed in deeply and it was like all the words I wanted to say to her were spoken. In a moment that seemed to take forever, and yet was over in an instant. All at once. I was speaking with Man. Not a man. She was a woman. But she came from the land of men, the world of machinery. And yet, here she was before me. I was speaking to her, and her to me. She held out a quivering hand, almost touching my bark. The fairies prompted her, instructing her in the ancient magic.
"Oh, you young Nix tree, whose branches have never held a nest...
Whose soul has loved her brothers, whose soul shall never rest.
Come dance with me on silver wings, come walk the way of men.
For if we join together, we shall never part again."
She hesitated, her hand still outstretched.
“You’re the only one… the only one who can give me what I... what we’ve always wanted. Your whole life you’ve wanted to have those little singing birds nest in your branches, to be tall and strong enough for the job and journey. Let me be the bird that nests in your branches, that takes shelter in your arms. Please?”
Her soul asked mine if I wanted what she was asking. If I was willing. I reached into myself, reached out to mother, to Breeze. They all told me that I was indeed the Nix tree. They all told me that it was mine to choose. I could remain in what I saw as my wooden cage, or I could choose a different path. It was an uncertain one, but the best ones always are, they had said.
I chose and I walked out of my tree. My tree was a skeleton now, for my soul was no longer in it. My tree soul stood before the woman. Mirroring one another. I held out my hand.
Magic and mystery.
I hope never to be able to write down the way.
But we became one, a being of beauty and power
A being of flight, of walking, all that we'd dreamed.
But also a friend, a soul to never leave
And with such, we were freed.
“And that my dear, is how I became who I am. It’s how all this... Started. It happened so long ago, it’s… it’s hard to remember some of the details now. I hope you’ll forgive your old wrinkly mentor. I’m not the bright and beautiful person I once was. But it’s my goal to make you into the powerful creature you saw in me. Only, you have the ability to be so, so much more.”