This story story is pure fiction, but it is inspired by Norse Mythology and True Events.
Aren’t we all born with a longing for all that is wild, and organic and authentic? We are shaped like seeds spinning around in darkness. Without mountains, without soil, the endlessness will last, until one day when we knock on the shell and tear it apart, step outside and ask: Who am I? Who is the land? Who is the sea? And then, when no one listens, we shape ourselves into rocks and sand, leaving only our heads to rest on the broken shell.
When you stand in “The hundred-acre-Forest”, lovingly named after the forest in A.A Milne’s books, you will see nothing but mountains, even though Rooster’s Cove is just nearby, hidden behind a canopy of tall evergreens. The forest is always dark, with small tunnels of sunlight piercing through the tall forms of ash and oak, leaving pale light-shadows on the zigzagging paths. Soft white-pink Hedge-Parsley and bright purple Alpine Catchfly huddle together in clusters along the rocky pathways. You will have to be careful where you walk, for ant mounds are built close to the paths, and the red and black ants use the discarded pine needles, scattered everywhere on the paths, as insulation when they construct their homes. If you are up for a climb, there is steep hike you can follow that will lead you to the Lodge Pond. The Pond is unapproachable, fences of heather and snake grass and rushes hide the swamp-like banks of the pond, so that you will never know when the land ends and the water starts. The pond is populated by Daddy Longlegs whirling around the tall purple Lady’s Gloves and the weeping small shrubs, popularly called Fairy Spools, and Water Striders standing quietly on the pond’s surface waiting for a child to come along and call it Jesus Bugs. If you come at night you will hear the pygmy owls hooting from their woodsy homes, often stolen form inattentive Spotted woodpeckers. If you stay to early dawn you will meet the skittish roe deer probably already shying away from you, long gone when the birds starts twittering. My favorites were always the friendly white wagtail and the curious yellow-breasted great tit. Their song is full of spring and sun, echoing in the thick forest, much like I imagined fairy music to be like. This was the landscape of my childhood, until one day, when it all changed.
In an open clearing in the forest, just before the landscape slide into a bog, there is an Apple tree, an unusually tall apple tree. In the midst of all things wild and free and unattended, there is something so domestic and human-like, something that makes even businessmen in blue suits and politicians in pencil-skirts and thin-framed glasses smile. Because in every childhood there is an apple tree. In mine, that apple tree was wild. I didn’t want to name the tree, because a little bit of the wildness goes away when you name something, but if I had I would have named it Liv, which in our language means life, for my tree bore the juiciest apples I had ever tasted.
The afternoon sun is squinting through the trees, lowering her hot feet into a chuckling stream, she sighs with pleasure, and the sigh plummets through the forest, and when I hear it, it sounds like a whisper. Something the leaves would say, perhaps. The rocks have all dried up and it is easy to walk dry-footed through the forest. The apple tree has sported a cluster of red apples today and I reach for one and bite into it to quench my thirst. A brown bushy-tailed squirrel peeks out from the round glass-less window in the Bird House my father made last year. I know this squirrel well, he is always running from the roots of the tree to the crown, making funny noises and wagging his tail. He moved in to the Bird House earlier this year. I put my hand on the trunk of the apple tree, running it slowly against the smooth bark. It’s only then that I discover it, the mark on the tree. It is an ugly paint-bruise smeared on with neon red paint. I look around, thinking perhaps it is a joke, but many more trees surrounding the clearing have been marked in the same way. What is this? The paint and the gaudy color look unnatural in this beautiful landscape of lilac starflowers, wintergreens, and magenta Willow Herbs. I put the half-eaten apple in my pocket and head home.
“Mom, why are there paint-mark on the trees?” I ask my mother when she returns from her office job. She sighs and looks at me, “They’re building a hospital, sweetie, the paint marks the trees they have to get rid of to make room for the hospital.” I shrink from her gaze and shudder in horror. “What do you mean get rid of? Like chop down? “My mother nods. “But that’s…that’s murder!” My mother shakes her head at me and sighs. “No, Sweetie, people are more important than trees. They’re building a hospital, a place to heal and cure sick people. Surely you must understand that that is more important than trees?” “But why can’t they build it somewhere else? Why here, in our forest?” My mother sits down and sips her cup of tea, I can see how tired she is, but I can’t help it, I just can’t hold back my anger. “There is nowhere else, honey. All the available land has already been turned into roads and houses; your own school was once a marsh! This is the way of life, Ira, people come first, and we need places to live and work and learn.” I know that that is the way we are supposed to think, the rational way of thinking, but the thought of losing the trees, the apple tree, makes me shake all over, as though it was me who had just been given a death sentence. “Can we not talk about this now?” My mother closes her eyes and leans back in her chair. I know how busy she is, how much she needs her rest, so I nod my head obediently and leave her there to have her rest. But I can’t just sit there and not do anything to prevent this from happening, I need to do something. So I call my friend Bean for assistance.
“It’s awful, Ira, but what can we do?” says Bean when I show him the painted trees in the forest. “Well,” I say, “we can start by scrubbing off this bloody paint!” Bean doesn’t look convinced, but he is a good friend, and nods in agreement. “Fine, I’ll get the water and brushes.” Bean disappears back through the trees, and I am left alone, standing hopelessly forlorn under the Apple Tree. I lean in to the tree and put my cheek against the rough bark. “What should I do?” I whisper, and feel the sting of tears in my eyes. There is no reply. Twenty minutes later Bean is back with two buckets of water and two brushes. We split up and start scrubbing the paint. I scrub and scrub until my hands are red and blistered, but to no use, the industrial paint doesn’t even budge. The neon sheen only seems to burn brighter as the ruby light of the setting sun send gem-like showers through the clippings in the canopy. “Oh, it’s hopeless!” I scream desperately. “Can’t those stupid people just eat apples like me? Haven’t they heard of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away? I have been eating apples every day of my life and I have never had to go to a doctor!” I start sobbing and Bean comes over and puts his arm around my shoulder. I turn around and lean into his body, crying wet tears on his blue knitted sweater. We stand like that until I have managed to calm down. Then suddenly the light disappears, and a faint drizzle waters the forest before us. “Come on,” says Bean, “let’s go home.” The last thing I hear before the sky opens up, and thunder rolls angrily across the black clouds, is the bushy squirrel hurrying into the bird house.
That night Google informs me that the clearing of the forest will start in two days. Two days. I doubt I will get any sleep. But I do. When my mother wakes me up for school the next morning, I feel sick, my whole body is aching and my forehead is hot. My mother sighs and tells me to stay home. I have never been home sick from school before. The house feels empty and too big, and I start thinking about all the trees that had to die for this house, my home, to be built. It makes me sadder than I already am so I decide to go out despite my fever. The forest is always beautiful after the rain. Cobwebs look like diamond jewelry with the droplets of rain garlanding the almost invisible spider’s nets, and the white anemones have refused to tie their bonnets and let hair be hair in the freshness of the day. Green leaves are covered in puddles of frog’s spit, and centipedes and black rhinoceros beetles have been left to roam free as the ants have all run for cover. The apple tree has borne even more fruits, red and yellow juicy gems droop from almost all of its branches. The ripest ones are higher up, and I decide to climb up to try to get them. I am quite good at climbing trees, but no matter how high I climb I just can’t seem to get to the top. Exhausted I sit down on a thick branch and let my eyes wander through the landscape below. From here I can even see my school, it is recess and the kids are running around or sitting in clusters talking among themselves. It all seems so small, so insignificant and pointless from here. Like groups of ants just marching back and forth on autopilot because some queen has told them to. I start laughing. What a stupid life. Just as I am about to climb down I spot a pale ribbon of a rainbow forming in the sky above me. At first the colors are faded and pale, but little by little they grow in strength until they make a perfect arch blazing vividly in the wet sun. It makes me think of a bridge to faraway places.
“We need some sort of plan,” I insist when Bean comes to see me after school. “Well,” he says, “we can always write a mail to the forest department.” “And you really that think that is gonna help?” I can hear the terrible sarcastic tone in my own voice, but I can’t help it. When has any department ever listened to a bunch of kids? “We can at least give it a try,” suggests Bean. I shrug. “Fine.” We, or rather Bean, compose a rather B.S mail about the apple tree being a rear and endangered species. Bean grins when he hits send. “I am sure it will help.” “Oh, you’re sure are you?” I stare at him moodily. He shrugs. “We can at least hope it will.” “Or maybe…” I say and smile, “We can chain ourselves to a tree when they come with the chainsaws. I mean, I’ve seen it in films, they can’t hurt us, so they can’t chop down the trees.” Bean looks at me, I can see uncertainty in his eyes, “I hope you’re just kidding, Ira, that stuff is dangerous.” “Sure,” I say, just to make him stop worrying. But I am not. Kidding, I mean.
The construction workers are supposed to come in the morning, at least according to Google, so I fake illness again, and stay home from school. I’ve found some iron chains in the garage and I pack them into a bag I toss over my shoulder. The forest is quiet, as though it knows that something horrible is about to happen. The leaves are trembling, but soundlessly and eerily, there is no bird chatter or pecks from woodpeckers, it’s just quiet. It is one of those days when we say that there is no weather at all. No sun, no rain, no wind, no nothing, just a gray mass of quiet non-being. The air is heavy and wet. And the gray veil of the nothingness has wrapped the forest in something that reminds me of a fever. The forest feels sick. I have a difficult time climbing the apple tree; the branches are wet and slippery and covered in moss. I have never seen moss on this tree before. I climb as high as the tree will let me, and perch down on a branch scouting the terrain for the executioners. I have tied the chains loosely around my body. I really had no idea it was so hard to tie chains. I hear them before I see them. They are loud, talking, laughing, walking with heavy careless steps. Not bothering much about ants or beetles or anemones. They walk without looking where they walk. When I spot them I see only their bright orange overalls, the work clothes provided for them by the government. And then it all starts. I close my eyes and lean against the trunk of my dear apple tree. I can’t look, I can’t witness the dying of the ancient trees. A quote from the Bible crosses my mind. Forgive them father, for they do not know what they are doing. But they do, they do know what they are doing. The sound of chainsaws resonates through the forest, and I can feel how the trees tremble, how they lean as far away from the sound and the murderers as they can. It is their day of sorrow, their day of loss. And then the chainsaw is right under me, and the apple tree starts to shake violently. They can’t see me, is all I can think. They don’t know that I am here. I am going to die. And somehow that is okay. I accept it. This is a good death. Just then I hear a voice: “Heeeey, stop!! Stop it! There is a girl in the tree! Stop!” It sounds like Bean. But just as I am about to open my eyes to look, I fall.
I’ve heard that people say that everything goes black when they lose consciousness. That is not true, at least not for me. I see colors. I see a glass bridge arched like a rainbow sporting a palette of violet, indigo, emerald, and pink. It is beautiful. And on that bridge there is a squirrel, a bushy brown one. It looks like he is waiting for me. His beady black eyes are fixed on mine, but just as I am about to reach out and follow him, I wake up. I am in a colorless, too bright room, and on a chair next to me sits my mother. “Oh, honey, thank god, you are okay!” exclaims my mother and hugs me fiercely. I back away from her hug, feeling pains and bruises all over my body. “Sorry,” she apologizes and lets go of me. “I’m…I’m thirsty,” I manage to say, and it is true, I am parched! “Baldur, will you please fetch my daughter a glass of water?” Bean frowns at the sound of his given name, but says nothing; he just gets up and leaves me alone with my mother. “What…what is Bean doing here?” I ask my mother. My mother clasps her palms together, and I can see in her eyes that she has been crying. “Baldur,” she almost sobs, “is a hero! He…he rescued you. I don’t know how he knew, but somehow he did, and…and he got there just in time…he caught you, Ira, as you fell, he…he caught you! Don’t ask me how, he is just a boy, but he did. He caught you.” Tears are running along my mother’s high beautiful cheekbones, and she sniffs unladylike. “And what about the trees, mom, are they okay?” My mother stiffens and that is all the answer I need. “The apple tree…?” I stammer. “Is safe!” says Bean as he enters the room and hands me the glass of water. “But how?” I insist. “Well, it worked, the mail worked. The forest department came just in time and they declared the tree to be protected due to its rarity. They’ve uprooted it, and the guy I spoke to said that they will re-plant it in the botanical garden in the city.” Bean grins, and I smile back, even though I don’t feel like smiling. Somehow, thinking about the majestic never-ending apple tree trapped inside a city is not very comforting. But I can’t show that to Bean, he has done so much for me.
I’m released from the hospital the next day with only a couple of bruises and sore muscles, thanks to Bean. “I want to see it,” I say to Bean. We are sitting on the couch in my living room watching Shark Week on National Geographic. “See what?” asks Bean distractedly. “Ground Zero,” I reply sarcastically, “The place of the great massacre.” “Ira,” protests Bean, “I don’t think that is such a good idea…” “Well, luckily you are not in charge of me, so let’s go.” I switch off the TV and get up. Bean sighs, but he doesn’t object. “Fine.”
The clearing really looks like a Ground Zero, the soil has been upturned and whisked into mud, the corpses of beautiful tall trees lie scattered everywhere, white naked and bruised stumps gape into the air, filthy with decay and rot. There are no birds in sight, no ant mounds, no Daddy Longlegs buzzing by, there is just emptiness, space being readied for something else. Where the apple tree once stood there is only a deep black hole now, it is so deep that I cannot see the end of it. “Hey, look,” I say and run over to the edge of the hole. Bean runs after me. “Watch it!” he calls out and grabs my green cardigan. But I am not about to fall into that hole. “Look, Bean,” I say, “It’s the bird house.” I lift the battered bird house up from the ground. It is heavy, too heavy. “Something is in there.” My voice comes out thin and weak. “Ira,” warns Bean, “don’t, just don’t.” But I do. I break open the floor board and catch the dead squirrel as he falls through the opening and into my hands. His little bushy brown body is lifeless. “I want to bury him,” I say, my voice barely audible now. “Yeah okay, where?” Even Bean sounds disturbed by the dead squirrel. “In the garden, next to the apple tree.” Bean nods.
We wrap the squirrel in a plastic bag and take the bus downtown. The botanic garden has an entrance fee. Go figure. I refuse to pay, and when Bean mentions the head of the forest department by first name, the security lady reluctantly lets us in. As soon as I am inside, it is as though I know where I am supposed to go. Perfectly graveled lanes meander through beds of roses, tulips and peonies, flowers that don’t belong here in our cold climate. They look sad; their heads are drooping towards the stony ground. At first I don’t recognize the apple tree. It has been planted next to a lilac tree. But the lilac tree is much taller than the apple tree. How could that be? I couldn’t even climb to the top of the apple tree in the clearing. There are no fruits on the tree. The leaves have turned orangey brown and are barely hanging on to the thin branches. I start crying. Bean tries to comfort me, but I turn away from him. “What did they do to you?” I ask as I approach the tree. What did they do to you? I dig a hole in the ground with my bare hands, Bean offers to help, but I decline. I remove the plastic from the squirrel’s body and bury him there, in the hole next to the apple tree. I am wondering if maybe I should have left him in the forest, but somehow this feels right. He belongs with the tree. Bean and I stay silent all the way home, both of us lost in our own thoughts, or at least I am.
A week later they start building the hospital. All the neighbors complain about the noise from the construction site. Even my mother. The banging goes on for hours and hours, even into the night, and my mother can’t sleep. Neither can I, but that is for entirely different reasons. A year after, the hospital has its opening ceremony. I am off to college that autumn; Bean and I are attending the same college, and plan to get an apartment together. I won’t miss home. I never saw the apple tree again. But Bean tells me it is still there, but it never bears any fruit anymore. It looks forlorn, he says, out of place, like a majestic lion in a zoo hand-fed by keepers. I always hated the zoo.
There was once upon a time a tree, so big you almost thought it would take you to the heavens if you managed to climb to the top, but the tree was cunning, it wouldn’t let anyone reach that far. On the tree’s branches there were fruits, apples shining like gold, and it was said that if you just took one bite you would keep young and healthy forever. In that tree lived a squirrel, and it was the only one who could find its way to the top of the tree, and perhaps even further. The squirrel ran from the crown to the root of the tree many times a day, and some people claimed that it bore messages from the gods. But people stopped believing in those gods, and the squirrel, with its constant comings and goings, irritated them, they had become deaf to its speech, so they killed it, and moved the tree to a park where it would be safe. In place of the tree was a hospital ,said to cure almost all illnesses. And the apples…the apples of life became something of a myth, laughed at by intellectuals in learning institutions. Magic apples and talking squirrels were stuff of fairy tales. Something to make the kids sleep at night. And so, that world was lost, the world where the wild things are, and the human beings moved back into their broken shells, and called it freedom. For me, the world where the wild things are, became my lost childhood, but I still hope, one day, that we will look back, and say: Let’s set the tree of life free.