The tree had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Wide branches stretching up toward the blue sky as it towered, watching over the lush verdure that stretched toward the horizons. Pertinent and persistent, it stood, immutable and unwavering. Tiny green buds sprouted from the tips of branches and twigs with the promise to blossom come spring. Many travelers wandered by, each leaving their own mark, and the tree watched them all.
It didn’t remember the name of the man that was the first to find it, a day, long, long ago. The man had arrived on horseback, a wide-brimmed hat blocking his physiognomy. This is the spot, he pronounced to his companion, a grizzled black dog. This is where we will stop. And the tree watched as he built a cabin there, staying through the winters as he grew older. It looked on as the man left one day, coming back with a beautiful dark-haired woman, leading her by the hand into the cabin. Carriages pulled in as a nearby town was built, the surrounding area bustling with activity and the tree watched it all with pride. It saw the girls in green satin dresses and the boys wearing muddy overalls as they ran toward the man. The man smiled despite his age, his wrinkled face beaming as he embraced the children. The tree watched as the man stayed up late, face gleaming in the candlelight as he wrote, quill scratching on parchment late into the night. His wife would come and stand by his shoulder until one day, she didn’t. After, the crevices on the man’s face deepened, a darkness in his eyes, until he didn’t come back either.
In the winter, the brown branches were bare. Surrounding trees fell to the violent snowstorms and winds, but the tree stood strong even as the wind lashed through its branches, howling and screaming. Winter was a time of desolation, where nothing green grew, where the rabbits and the chipmunks burrowed beneath the ground, hiding from the brumal nights. The occasional chickadee called in the distance, but other than that, the air was silent during those desolate gray mornings. At night, the sky opened and wept biting rain as the wind cried, and the tree endured it all.
It remembered the wars that it had seen, the ones fought around its base, long ago. The injured soldier had crawled toward the trunk, seeing some relief from the bitter wind that blew. His teeth chattered, his fingers turning blue as he clutched the wound in his stomach, the scarlet blood that froze against his red uniform as he collapsed against the roots of the tree. The tree had tried to protect him, to shelter him from the weather, but to no avail. It still remembered how the soldier was found the next morning, now a frozen cadaver, so young, too young to die, his face almost peaceful as he lay there in the blood-spotted snow.
Spring came first, a respite from the unrelenting storms. Children dressed in colorful clothing laughed as they jumped, reaching for the lowest hanging branches. But it would be several more years until they were able to grasp them and climb. Still, they tried, legs kicking, arms flailing as they scraped down loose bits of bark that tumbled onto the grass below. Their fingers were sticky from melted red candy, and they caused a raucous noise that startled even the most curious of birds and mammals. But the tree didn’t mind. It stood, gazing over the children as they diligently returned, spring after spring. The day that one of them was first able to reach the lowest branches, the tree felt the same pride the girl did as she let out a joyous shout, scrambling higher in the tree. In its antiquity, it cared. It felt the pain as a little boy scraped his elbow on a branch and cried as blood blossomed from the wound, vermillion staining the soft leaf buds. The tree made sure to take care after that, tucking the sharper branches into itself, the ones that might snag on loose clothing or scrape an unsuspecting arm.
During the hazy summers, through the sound of crickets chirping and buzzing, green leaves formed a thick canopy, providing shade for the young runner. The tree marked the halfway point of her run as she leaned against the trunk of the tree, gasping for breath, dark hair plastered to her forehead, t-shirt soaked in sweat. Her purple running shoes were worn now, covered in dust, no longer the vibrant purple they had once been when she had started out. The tree watched as she set out every day, delight filling her eyes as she became faster.
A group of teenagers found solace in the shade as well, laughing and talking as they sat in a circle. One of them found a tire swing, and they hung it from the branches, taking turns pushing each other and giggling. The tree watched them, happiness swelling in its knotted limbs as the teenagers smiled. Sometimes they brought bottles of alcohol, sometimes they brought cigarettes to smoke under the cover of the green leaves. Other times, they brought cans of bright red spray paint and painted names across the bark, short fleeting romances that ignited the first sparks. The tree disapproved yet looked on them with a certain fondness. It would be the last time they would come here, even though they hadn’t found it too long ago. Like the young birds who took their first flight, a daring leap, from the nests in the tree’s upper branches, these teenagers would soon leave, ready to venture into a new and astounding future.
Red and orange marked the start of fall as the man trekked his way up from the surrounding forests. The air was crisp yet still warm, a hint of the coming cold in the wind. Squirrels chattered as they darted back and forth, bushy grey tails waving in the air as they collected acorn after acorn, burying beneath the roots of the tree. The tree watched as the man stopped under the tree, tranquility on his face as he breathed in the air, resting his hiking poles against a nearby rock. Lines of worry faded from his face as he smiled, what seemed a rare smile that started out tense, then relaxed as the man experienced joy. The tree gazed over it all as the man turned and left, heading back toward the work he was meant to do in the bustling city.
One late fall night, there was a stray dog that made his way across the field. Tail between his legs, he plodded along the dirt path, head down, sniffing the grass. His white coat was matted with dirt and leaves, flies buzzing along his snout as he reached the trunk of the tree. Resting its head on his paws, he closed his eyes, exhaustion, and weariness prevalent in every bone of his body. The tree sympathized. The months, years, eons, it had spent here, on this field, watching over this field and those who came by, the dog had experienced a similar hardship. The tree protected the creature from the rain until the sky was illuminated by soft golden rays and the dog blinked, standing up, shaking off the fallen red leaves, and continuing on his long, endless journey.
Winter. Skeletal and gray, the tree stretched toward the sky, branches quivering in the breeze. There wasn’t a soul in sight, the animals safely tucked below ground, the people warm and safe in their houses. The desolate field stretched out in every direction, grass withered and brown, thorns poking through the undergrowth. Beneath the dark earth, roots twisted back and forth, spreading like a web, gnarled and knotted. The tree creaked and groaned as the wind lashed through, taunting it as branches shook and clattered. It shuddered, wheezing as it fought to stay upright, each breath forced and painful. It had seen the lives of so many, watched over children as they grew, guided the old until the end. Children played, teenagers laughed, adults traveled, the old passed on. It was finally time, so at last, the tree fell.