The Old Tree

by phoolishdreamer

Just one more.

Just one more to make my quota.

I hate that I have a quota. Just to make a living, I, a lumberjack, have to take down trees to make the paper that these bureaucrats pay me with. What a joke. A big fat ironic joke.

I look around the snow, but I see nothing but young trees. Most have been planted in the last couple years or so, and some are still saplings. Nothing old enough to make that damn quota.

It’s been two hours since my last tree, and I’m getting tired of trekking through this endless tundra of forestry. I need to get home, back to my complaining wife and warm food. I need to rest my mind before I start hallucinating and chop down my own leg.

I set my axe down to take a break, and that’s when I see it: a large, shivering tree. It looks like it’s on its last limbs, literally. What foliage it did have is completely gone, and the bark looks older than my dog, Shelby. She’s on her last legs, too…

I have to act fast with the evening rolling in, but before I even get close to the trunk, I notice something on the branches. A lot of somethings. A whole lot of somethings.

There are nests built on nearly all the branches of this tree. Some are huge and intricate, and others look barely finished. I take a step back, and wonder how this tree, of all trees, was chosen by all those birds. It didn’t make any sense. Why this tree?

I make sure there aren’t any stragglers left behind, and I approach the trunk again. I shrug my shoulders to dust a bit of the snow collecting on my leather jacket. I rear back to pull my best Babe Ruth impression on this hunk of aging deadness, and I have to stop again. There’s something on the trunk, carved right into the bark. Initials and plus signs. Everywhere.

K + C.

JJ + T.

H + H 4EVER.

The entire trunk is tattooed with hearts and letters. Lovers’ marks. Promises and vows. Hundreds of them. There is hardly a spare space to tack anything else.

I need this tree. I really need this tree. But I just stand there, knees bent, axe at the ready. I don’t move. Something’s telling me not to chop down this old boy, to not cut into its bark and destroy these memories left behind.

Why should that matter? This tree is dead anyways. The least it can do in its dying is to fill my quota. My quota that only lasts for a few days to the end of the week, and then I’m back out into the snow for another round.

But what if I don’t? Will it survive past this winter? I think one good gust of wind, and this will definitely be timber. Shouldn’t it die with some purpose, some dignity?

Yeah, it should.

I lean back, but that’s about all I do. Something sort of supernatural is coursing through me, icing my veins and nerves, telling me to not swing. Why? Why not? Why should I let this tree survive? What makes this tree special?

And then it hits me. I remember an old story my grandpa told me about when he met my grandma: how he took her to a tree out in the woods, carved their initials in and said “I love you” for the first time to her. They kissed for the first time under this tree. And that was how it all started.

How many more people did the same? How many of these birds with their nests did the same? Did they all just start their lives here, marking their memories into this tree? How many did the same but didn’t leave their mark?

I don’t know why, but I step back again to see this tree, this time in awe. I can’t chop this tree down. I’d be destroying memories and lives that held this tree with so much value. I’d be cutting off any future memories and moments to be made here. I’d be erasing my grandpa and grandma.

I turn and trudge home, but not before getting one last glance at this majestic piece of history. I can feel it looking back at me, almost as if to say thanks for not chopping it down. I smile in the hopes to someday bring my wife and my future children to this tree. And for a moment, I can feel the warmth emanating from its branches, from its very core, that melts the bitter chill around me.

“I’ll see you soon.”

Author’s Note: I credit the inspiration behind this particular short story to my talented friend and mentor, Frederick Park.