Saturday Shorts: Young Oak, Old Rock

For those of you who read my overview of 2015, I mentioned that I graduated with a degree in Human Ecology. One of the graduation requirements is writing an essay about what Human Ecology means to you… I of course took the opportunity to write a short story rather than a more traditional essay. In celebration of my first Saturday Shorts post, I am sharing that story.

Young Oak, Old Rock

Stretching its leaves toward the rising sun, the young oak yawned. Warmth soaked into its bark, and it creaked as a gentle breeze stirred its branches. The young oak turned its attention to a boulder resting nearby.

“Good morning, Old Rock.”

Pitted granite refracted the sunlight from thousands of mica chips and quartz granules. The rock rumbled, “Good morning, Young Oak.”

“Will you tell me a story today?” the oak begged.

“So early?”

“Please?”

“You have heard all my tales.”

“I want to hear the story again.”

“That story is so dark, for a beautiful day like this. And surely you have it memorized by now, Young Oak. Why that one in particular?”

“Please?”

A sigh reverberated through the rock, and it settled its bulk a little deeper in the dark earth. “Very well.”

Shaking out its branches, the oak settled down to listen, leaves quivering in anticipation.

“Many, many cycles around the sun ago, a volcano gave birth to me with its last fiery breath. Granite I became, and I watched the seasons flow around me. As time went by, babbling water replaced molten rock and coaxed life from the barren land, in the form of trees and plants that offered shelter and food for a myriad of living things. It was paradise.” The rock fell into a pensive silence.

“Then?” the oak prompted, after a suitable length of time had passed. It tilted its leaves toward the sun, which moved so quickly across the sky.

“Then man arrived.” Sadness filled the rock’s rough voice. “His fires ravaged the mountain, his cruel traps snared innocent creatures for slaughter, he fouled the streams, and committed other horrors, ones too terrible to recount. The river itself changed course, and I knew I would never feel those caressing waters again.”

The oak stretched its roots into the ground, feeling the tingling pleasure of drawing water up into its trunk. It shuddered at the thought of losing the precious liquid. Though the rock could survive without it, and had for countless cycles around the sun, the oak knew it would wither and die without water.

“What happened next?”

“Man left, eventually.” The rock’s surface darkened as a cloud passed across the sun, and the oak felt the shadow’s chill to the core of its rings. The rock continued, “The animals crept from their hiding places. Things went on as they had before, and most forgot man’s evil as generations were born, lived, and died.”

“You didn’t forget.”

“Never.” Another sigh from the rock shook the ground. “I thirsted for the lost water, and that thirst became one for vengeance. So I waited, knowing man would return.”

“And he did.”

“He did. Though his appearance had changed, I recognized him the moment he came into sight. This time, instead of hunting and destroying, he wandered across the mountain. Searching.”

“For what?”

“I knew not until he stopped and ran his hands over me, murmuring all the time. Then night fell, and he left.”

“But he came back.”

“Yes.” The rock hesitated, then continued. “He brought others, this time, and they chipped and hacked at my surface, carving away chunks with their stone tools.”

If the oak peered closely enough, it could still make out the weathered markings on the rock’s ancient surface.

“Why did they do that?”

“Who can say? Once they finished with me, they began to gather around me frequently. Sometimes they brought animal carcasses to leave on my surface, and the touch of cold flesh and colder blood made me shudder.”

The oak shuddered then, at the image.

“I had no choice but to allow myself to be defiled. Then, one day, the sun went out.”

“A solar eclipse!” The oak’s voice shook with awe. It was far too young to have seen such a thing yet, but knew of them from the rock’s tales.

“Yes. Man gathered around, shouting with fear. They, like you, had never seen one. But they did not recognize it for what it was, and were frightened.” The rock went silent.

“What did they do?” the oak whispered.

“They bound one of their own to my surface. My confusion became horror when they committed the worst deed of all. I am ashamed that for a brief moment, I felt satisfaction as dark blood flowed down my side, and thought man might destroy himself. But that was not to be. In time, man left again. I hoped that would be the last I saw of him.”

“But it wasn’t.”

“No, it wasn’t. You see these fields around us?”

The oak could indeed see the fields, covered in green grass and meadow flowers. A few trees stood here and there, too far away for communication. Sometimes the oak wondered if they were bored, not having an Old Rock to speak with.

“Once these fields were covered with a vast forest. But man returned once more, and began to clear it. I could hear the trees screaming in pain and terror, but could do nothing.”

Shaking, the oak drew its branches closer, imagining what it would be like to have an axe chopping into its trunk.

“Why would man do such a thing?”

“I do not know, for all my years, why man does anything. But he cleared the forest, leaving nothing behind, then left again. For a long time, I found myself alone, surrounded by bare dirt. Rain came, and things began to grow again, but the forest was gone. The animals, too, moved on to better places. Only once the grass had grown did some return.”

“And man returned as well.”

“Yes. The meadows were cleared, and plants began to grow in straight rows. An unnatural sight, rising around me. Man tried to move me, but I proved too heavy, so he worked around me instead. For years I was surrounded by dumb plants, incapable of speaking, rising up in spring only to die when autumn came by man’s hand.”

“Why couldn’t they speak?”

“Man had tamed them, just as he tamed the wolf and the wild cat, and many other animals. They lost their touch with the wilderness, and with it the ability to communicate with those of us who still embrace it.”

“They’re gone now, though.”

“Yes. A drought came. For a long time there was little rain, and the crops died. Man moved on again. Slowly, very slowly, things began to grow once more. Grass, then weeds, then trees. And when the trees were big enough, man came for them again, taking every last one.”

The oak’s leaves trembled.

“Then, one day, something unexpected happened. Man came once more, and spent a long time traveling around the mountain. When they found the destruction left behind, they seemed distraught.”

“But they did it themselves!”

“Man is not all the same, as I soon learned. These men returned, and spent a long time planting trees.”

The oak almost burst with pride, branches dancing in the wind. “I was one of those trees!”

“Yes, you were, and a right little pest from the start.” The rock’s voice held more than a touch of affection, softening its tone. “That day you were planted, I felt something let go inside me, as the plates of the world let go during an earthquake. The hatred I felt in my core loosened, and let something out, something that had not seen the light of day for far too long.”

“What did it let out?”

“Hope.”