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Not All Trees are Wise

The Day Ronnie Fell Back in Love

By Rachel RobbinsPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
Macclesfield Forest in the Peak District National Park

Ronnie touched each tree on the way to the university. Nothing. They were all spaced evenly apart with concrete bases, aching with loneliness.

*****

The lecture started with a PowerPoint projected, letters fizzing at the edges from over-exposure. It read:

“The trees will tell their secrets to those who tune in” (Steven Magee)

Ronnie's stomach plunged with disdain. More hippy nonsense. The guest professor had stray hairs caught in the strip lighting and a linen jacket that could never look pressed. Ronnie sighed. Over the past semester, she had decided that Environmental Science sounded better than it looked. The aesthetic was worthiness over style.

And now another unkempt, older woman was going to tell her about the wisdom of forests. Ronnie wished that someone would say it. Sometimes, trees can be assholes.

Ronnie’s mind drifted out of the grey of the lecture theatre, as the professor droned on about mycorrhizal-networks, and the collaborative essence of arboreal communication. Amongst the difficult biology, there were asides of new-age sentiments, comments about interconnected lives and unseen, subterranean threads – the ponderous tone of a sermon.

******

There was a forest near Ronnie’s house. The developers had stopped at the edge of the trees. Ronnie knew she was supposed to like the new house, because it was bigger, cleaner, away from the city. But she missed her school. She missed her friends. She was eight years old and tired of being a curiosity.

Sandwiched in between talk of sports and plastic storage, she had heard her parents and their friends talk of the local trees that had hummed lullabies and branches that pointed for lost travellers. Yet none of them had ventured too deep into the forest, for fear of the unknown.

Whilst the grown-ups watched men kick a ball on the TV screen, Ronnie had found it easy to slip away. She had climbed the fence at the back of the garden and stepped into the forest. Her heart pounded with defiance and discovery.

As she walked, the forest seemed to awaken. The leaves rustled with a language of their own. Hours passed as Ronnie travelled deeper. The path underfoot was luxurious – fallen leaves, pine needles. The air was cool and smelled of moss.

She came to a clearing where the trees circled like guardians. In the centre, stood an ancient oak, its bark etched with age and wisdom. Ronnie believed that each tree was nodding to her, like the friends at her old school. She sat with her back against the gnarled tree. She could have sworn the trees spoke to her, not in words, but feelings.

Ronnie allowed herself to cry. The trees leaned closer, their whispers weaving around her like a cocoon. Her hands were sore and appeared to be ageing.

The Oak was the first to speak, “You seek answers. We can only offer glimpses.”

The Hazel bending towards her, “Your pain is just a ripple on the skin’s surface.”

The Birch, the dreamer, “Each of us has roots, seeking connection.”

She played with the white flowers.

The majestic green Cedar, “Prettiness is a trap.”

Ronnie felt at peace.

*****

Ronnie fidgeted in the hard chair of the lecture theatre. The teacher had moved onto Mother Trees, the oldest trees sharing the excess of carbon amongst their offspring. Tree siblings should be seen as a community rather than individuals. “A mutual aid society, if you will, a web of interdependence.” Ronnie typed “web of interdependence” into her lap top. Her fingers made dull thuds.

*****

The forest was humming. A chorus of life enveloped Ronnie, sweet vibrations. Until a sudden stop. The score changed. It was the Ash who woke her, tall, elegant, taunting from a distance. “You can’t tell anybody about us, because they will think you are mad,” and the Ash laughed, leaves ablaze.

More noise approaching. Her name repeated. Her mother’s anguish and relief as she was swept off the floor.

*****

Her hands looked older than the rest of her. The white flowers had sizzled and burned. She had been called, “Poison Ivy” at school.

“Poison Ivy doesn’t grow here,” she would snap back.

And the bullies pleased to get a response would say, “Poison Ivy is a plant nerd.”

“It was hogweed.”

“Thinks she’s Hermione.”

*****

The tone in the lecture theatre had changed. The woman at the front had moved from the lectern. She had the students’ attention.

“I think about interdependence a great deal, because of my own experience with cancer. I needed the forest because the drugs that saved me came from there. I needed their interdependence as much as I needed the network of support that surrounded me from colleagues and family and community.”

Ronnie looked at her hands and yearned for the oak tree, but all she could sense was the Ash.

“Some trees are jerks,” she typed with cracked, old lady hands. Ronnie was struggling with the rawness of the emotions in the room. It was as if the space was vibrating, a gentle humming, movement underfoot, familiar but unnerving.

The lecture hall filled with laughter as the professor clicked onto the next slide. Ronnie looked up. Another quote with too bright lighting:

“Trees are a web of interdependence. But some trees are jerks.” (Anonymous Plant Nerd)

Ronnie swallowed. But no-one was looking at her.

The teacher smiled. “I don’t know who wrote this, but they are right, very wise, wiser than an oak tree. Some trees use their long roots for destruction causing structural damage. They should still exist and be looked after. But let’s face it – Ash trees are the worst. Shall we look at the science of that?”

Ronnie nodded.

The cocoon had returned.

Giant Hogweed

Short StoryFantasy

About the Creator

Rachel Robbins

Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.

Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.

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Comments (2)

  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock3 months ago

    Ah, that revelatory moment of being heard & appreciated, even if not recognized & known. Though I've always loved ash trees, especially the way their seeds would spin down to the ground. We had one just outside the fence to our little yard which split into two main branches right near the ground, making it easy to climb. On the north branch, about 4-5 feet up, it split again with each of those splitting once more providing a nice little sitting space for two. I would spend hours scooping up those seeds from the ground beneath the tree, carrying them up to my nice little sitting room & watching them spin back down to the ground one by one.

  • Raymond G. Taylor3 months ago

    Lovely story and Macclesfield Forest is now on my hit list for a motorcycle ride (to, not through)

Rachel RobbinsWritten by Rachel Robbins

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