There was a tree that stood on a hill. The hill rose high in the sky, a tower that’s shadow was thrown over the town in the late afternoons. It stood tall, it’s thick brown branches lifting towards the sky, praising the sun that fed it. It seemed holy in unnatural ways and drew all eyes to it.
Many wondered why the tree still stood there, old and broad, nearly the size of a house in a prime spot for a house. Many land developers tried to buy that hill, their greedy minds set to rip the tree from its earthly perch. But some how, the little town refused all who came inquiring.
The town’s founders had the same plans, when they eyed this tall hill and it’s lone occupant. They spotted it from afar as they came as pioneers, and knew it’s value–mainly as a lookout station. It was in the early days when the mornings were made of empty stomachs and weary bones and the nights were filled with nightmares of the fierce savagery of those who lived there before.
They weren’t savage, though, those who lived there before. They were peaceful and lived good lives. They had used the hill as a place of worship, praying to the Grandmother from under the cottonwood’s broad limbs. Their language blended with the rushing winds, carrying their chants and embers from their fire up to the heavens.
The town founders didn’t know this at that time. They only saw the dark faces that looked at them with the same, mirrored eyes of fear and confusion. They used their fears to fuel their anger to push them away and over the river to the west. Then they needed the hill top to watch. To listen.
When they made it to the top, though, they saw that the tree was too wide to cut down, it’s bark too thick. The metal teeth of their saws snapped off, showering them with it’s sharp shavings. It was decided then to leave the tree were it stood and it became a great destination for the town folk.
Children would take the climb to awe at it’s size, so thick, it was, that it would take six of them to wrap their arms around it. So tall, that they thought it surely must brush the feet of God. They would spin round it and laugh loud, joyful noises that carried to where even the dark faces could hear. And as the sun fell over the western horizon, the children would count the stars that began to awake in the the golden sky.
The older boys would bring the girls they fancied there and try to build up the courage to hold their hands. They would sit beside them, as close as they dared, and try to whisper over the heavy pounding of heart beats, making promises only children that age can keep. They vowed they would never leave the soft moss seats beneath the cottonwood tree only to be chastised by angry fathers from below.
Time crept by and the town grew and prospered. It saw days of lush harvest and rich wine and days of sorrow and want. Industry came and went and the town remained with it’s sundial to the west. Seasons passed and more trees fell to allow more room for the town to grow. Some whispered about the great tree on it’s valuable hill. Those whispers were put to rest, the tree would stay.
When they felt that this world wasn’t enough for them anymore, man took to space. Slow, lumbering footsteps that carried them to the moon and maybe, someday, beyond. In the end though, they all came back to earth, they all came back to the tree. Then children lay beneath the tree, watching the sky and wondering what lay out there. They imagined what life would be like on other planets and waited for falling stars.
Technology boomed, every home had a camera of it’s own, capable of freezing time. They would come in droves, from all over, stealing pieces of little moments from the magnificent tree. People would stand close by, hugging it and making goofy faces. Then when the laughter faded, they would climb back down and drive away.
Some, again, began to talk of tearing the tree down. It would make such a lovely spot for an observatory, they said in earnest. Why let a tree continue to clutter a hilltop that would better serve science and nature. No, the town said. The tree stays.
The boom continued on like rolling thunder. The cameras grew smaller and the ways to view their photographs became bigger. The air no longer carried only pollen and rain, but signals were there, too. A web of knowledge that spun around the tree and through it’s branches. Voices flew through the air in bleeps and bloops, to find their way to listening ears.
The tree grew sick, but didn’t die. It’s branches began to hang, it’s blossoms never blooming as well as they once did. We could use the hill top, some would say again. For what? The Town would ask. For a tower, a museum, does it matter? The tree is dying.
No, the town said firmly. The tree stays. It has been here since before we have. It has grown alongside of us and has blended itself into our history. To tear the tree down would be tear ourselves down.
So, the tree stayed. It stayed sick but never died. It’s leaves fell earlier in the season each year, leaving it’s thick branches bare, hoisted to the sky as if in prayer. It still remained holy in unusual ways, but not in the ways people found holy these days.
Not many came to see the tree anymore, those who did would carve their names into it’s cracked skin, a memorial to themselves. Little did they know that as the years crawled by that the tree’s skin would heal over, covering their names as easily as their own bones would turn to dust in the ground.
It wasn’t long before visits to the tree ceased all together. The town’s eyes no longer fell on the hill top. They all ignored the sun and the breeze, ignored the birds and the tree. Instead, they viewed the world from within their homes, through electric windowpanes.
The tree stays, the town said again. There will come a time when it would be needed again. The children again will surround it and laugh, lay beneath it’s sturdy branches and dream. A time when we will open our windows and let the wind carry the smell of it’s leaves in to our homes, a reminder that we were never alone.