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Of Maple, Oak, and Pine

Whispering Woods

By Gabriel HuizengaPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 10 min read
Of Maple, Oak, and Pine
Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash

A still, slight figure, wrapped in the shadows at the edge of the forest, watched a young woman hurrying down the dirt path leading into the trees. Remaining out of sight, the figure tossed the flap of a long scarf over one shoulder before disappearing into the woods without a sound.


Elle stumbled as she approached the forest’s outer edge, catching herself on the branch of a conveniently situated young maple. She received a whirling shower of dislodged seeds. Straightening, she drew a couple of the little helicopters out of her long auburn hair. “Thanks, friend,” she muttered with a bemused chuckle, patting the bark of the young tree.

Elle glanced back along the path that she had followed into the wood, a hint of something wistful playing about her expression…

…before turning away and resolutely setting off into the trees.

Golden sunlight tumbled through the densely vaulted ceiling of branches and leaves. It fell strewn and fragmented across the soft, pale greenery in every direction. There was a certain thickness to the very air, Elle thought; Every one of her five senses was flooded with that strange forest. The smell of wet earth, old wood, and green things entered her nostrils; the soft light danced on her eyelids, and across everything she could see; the soft dirt and gently tugging ferns blessed her ankles, even as her open palm ran along the rough, mossy bark of an adjacent tree; she could taste the rich, clean air with each slowing breath she took. And amidst the soft rustles and creaks of the woods, she could almost make out soft, wavering inhales, and long, gentle exhales of breath.


Caught up in these sensations, Elle came suddenly upon a grassy clearing. At the center of the clearing there sat a huge, moldering tree stump. With a start, she perceived a person just beside the stump: a tall, blond, youngish man cradling a tiny sapling, who did not seem to have noticed her presence. As Elle watched, the man knelt and lowered the sapling into the earth. He patted the loose dirt around the freshly transplanted tree, quite tenderly tucking it into a new and permanent bed.

The surrounding trees rustled dramatically, in what was unmistakably a round of applause for the new resident. Somehow, attributing this action to the trees did not shock or horrify Elle- the experience of the forest had bypassed all logically concerning and anxiety-inducing conclusions that a person might come to in discovering sentient greenery.

But even as a smile spread across Elle’s face at the celebratory scene, something snagged in her heart. For a few seconds, the lovely (and very much alive) forest had felt like it was hers.

Stop it. That’s silly.

For some reason, Elle did not want the young man to know she was there. Slipping back into the shadowy trees, she took a moment to calm her nerves. Her breath slowed, eyes closed, and toes gripped the soft moss below. Slowly, effortlessly, she felt her breath fall into rhythm with the gentle, rocking of the forest.


Elle’s eyes flew open. She blinked rapidly, the world swimming back into focus; she was curled up on the ground. When had she fallen asleep? How long had it been?

Warm light still filtered through the branches above - she must have only been out for a short while.

She rose gingerly to her feet, her joints feeling strangely stiff. The air felt noticeably lighter in her lungs.


With a shake of her head (which evicted a few more stowaway maple seeds), a clearing of her throat, and a rub of her bleary eyes, Elle compulsively started back in what she thought to be the direction of the grassy clearing. She immediately realized, however, that she no longer knew where she was, nor which way the clearing was.

I didn’t go that far…

But before panic could set in, a few notes of a new sound fell upon her ear.


Distant and soft though it was, Elle made out the soft, wavering notes of what sounded like a crude wind-instrument. With a quickening pace of her pace and breath, she plodded after the sound, through the little wooded hills and quiet gulleys of that most peculiar forest.

Elle became suddenly aware once again of the forest’s breath. Though shallower and quieter than before, she was now quite certain she could make out inhales and exhales coming from the surrounding trees. The warbling tune seemed to fall into rhythm with that breath- or vice versa. In their swelling whispers, the trees seemed to be encouraging her onward.

At last, she crested a large hill and forced her way through a particularly dense thicket, only to emerge into the same broad clearing which she had visited but a few moments ago. The music immediately fell silent.

Elle immediately perceived a small blond boy, looking no older than ten, at the edge of the sunlit clearing. He was apparently alone, and appeared to be running around, playfully, beside the massive tree stump. Even as she watched, the child scrambled up the remains of the great tree with the confident clumsiness of a young adventurer. He rose to his feet atop the stump, golden sun and triumph illuminating his face for a moment, before leaping to the ground with a victorious shriek. Elle watched as the boy frolicked about in the grass surrounding the stump, his delighted giggles ringing through the clearing.

How many people just wander out here…?

She squinted for a closer look at the boy. He looked oddly familiar.

Then suddenly the truth struck her.

That’s…the man from earlier.

Elle stumbled backwards, the world reeling around her. She collapsed against the side of a young pine, just as the strange breathy notes of the undiscovered instrument from earlier began to echo through the forest again.

I’ve gone back…in TIME?

Glancing back into the clearing, she realized that the sapling she had seen planted earlier was not there.


The trees.

It had to be the trees, what with their strange warmth and signs of intelligence. As alarmed as Elle knew she ought to be at this phenomenon, she felt an unreasonable undercurrent of calm. Somehow she knew, she could trust the trees. Elle twisted to face the young pine against which she had fallen. She raised a quivering palm to the rough bark, shut her eyes, and tried to let her breath fall into rhythm with the breath of the forest.


Elle’s eyes snapped open- she gasped silently. The young pine was nowhere to be found, but as she turned toward the clearing she saw that the whole forest was now dwarfed by an impossibly vast, towering maple where the old stump had been. Bright stars painted the now nighttime scene a royal blue. The boy was gone. They had taken her further back in time.

With a lack of hesitation that shocked even herself, Elle immediately approached the great maple, pressed her hand against it, and whispered a question.

"Can you take me back?"

She closed her eyes and leaned against the bark, allowing her breath to fall into rhythm with the gentle, pulsing rustle of the huge tree.

The world reeled once more.


Elle awoke beside the clearing, sunlight streaming once more. An elderly man, whom she immediately perceived to be the same fellow from before, was slowly exiting the opposite side of the clearing. Where the little sapling had been planted, there now stood a gorgeous and imposing oak.

As he shuffled off, Elle was struck with a deep sense, beyond anxiety or prediction, that the fellow would never again visit these gentle woods. The trees whispered it to her. In the span of a few brief moments, Elle had witnessed the beginning, and ending, of this man’s story in the woods.

Even as he made his exit, the forest’s rustling seemed to swell into a grand, but gentle, lament. A whispered farewell to a cherished friend.

Elle was struck with the realization that the great oak, the oldest and wisest of the whole forest population, was weeping more deeply and powerfully than all the rest. The great tree creaked and bent, a soloist leading the ensemble in their profound piece.

Elle rose to her feet and rushed over to the great oak; she embraced its broad trunk. There was a welcoming warmth to the tree’s rough bark, and Elle was certain that the old oak was embracing her back, as best it could. She could feel her ragged breath falling into tempo with the rhythm of the trees’ song. This time, however, her eyes remained open.

The dark of night fell in an instant and the emergent stars became lines of light blazing trails across the sky. No sooner had this happened than a pale cerulean light on the horizon signaled daybreak. The eastern sky paled; clouds chased each other across the now blue sky, before it blushed pink and gold, and a blazing crimson sunset prologued another fall of night.

The world around her became a whirlwind of light and dark; the sun rose and fell more times than she could count. Trees collapsed and saplings emerged and grew even as the ground beneath her became a shifting labyrinth of moss, ferns, and roots. Elle realized that she was witnessing the rising and falling of entire generations of the forest. Then without warning, the woods began to thin; trees were collapsing at a greater rate than they were emerging from the ground.

The forest was dying.

Elle was witnessing an exeunt. Desperately, she tried to slow her breathing, demanding that her oaken friend stop this whirlwind through time.

With a terrible jolt, Elle snapped back into the moment. A cold rain fell hard on what was now a dark wasteland before her. Her oak friend was nowhere to be seen; the only tree in sight was a tall and ancient pine, standing blighted and alone a few yards away from Elle. Even as she reached towards it, the hair on her arms stood up. The most terrible light and sound rent the world apart; a bolt of lightning tore from the sky and blasted the great tree, and the whole world went dark once more.


Reality reintroduced itself gradually to Elle: A crackling sound, a sputtering orange light, a soft heat fighting a damp chill…

She awoke curled up beside a small campfire. A small man in dark clothing squatted beside it, poking at the coals. Two items adorned his neck: a scarf with an intriguing pattern, and a small wooden pan flute slung on a leather strap.

“Ah, you’re awake! Good!”

His voice was high and clear, and his eyes, framed by kind wrinkles, twinkled in the firelight.

Sitting up, Elle saw that they were situated beside the wreckage of the great pine.


“Call me M,” the man interrupted her, “there is much that we could discuss, and someday we may do so in better circumstances! But I am afraid neither of us quite have the time.”

Elle blinked. She opened her mouth to begin another question, but M cut her off again.

“Yes, our friends of maple, oak and pine can take us traveling through time! Yes, I am a friend of the forest and time-traveler like you, and yes…this is the end of the forest, it is true.”

Elle blinked again. This was a very odd fellow, but he had answered all of her initial questions.

“Tell me this, then,” she blurted before he could continue, “You made the music that I heard?”

M nodded, eyes on the fire, and waved the wooden instrument around his neck. “This,” he said with a hint of pride, “was my best attempt at speaking the same language as the trees.” He puffed a few quiet notes. “Music really is a transcendent language.”

The two of them fell silent for a moment. Sensing that M was about to speak again, Elle quickly asked, “Then, who was the man - the boy - who I saw in the woods? Your music led me to him.”

M chuckled. “You’ll learn more about him in time! But to keep things short…he’s one of the greatest friends the forest ever had.”

Elle felt a twinge of jealousy, but pressed ahead in the conversation. “But I saw him young, middle-aged, and old…did he not travel through time with the trees too?”

M raised a dark eyebrow.

“He never became aware of - nor indeed, was ever influenced by - that quality of theirs,” he admitted, with a glimmer of hesitance. “But he did know the woods...was as good a friend to them as could be."

He paused.

“We have very little time left. But in short, one might say that he was the friend to the forest’s middle days. I am, in a sense, its friend at the end. You….”

Elle’s eyes widened, as the realization dawned on her. Running her fingers through her hair, she withdrew one last stowaway maple seed. M smiled.

“Yes, I think you understand.”

She cradled the little seed in her open palms, as M slowly leaned in with pan flute raised. With a long breath, he sent a gentle note wavering into the dark. The note swelled into a breathy, lilting melody which M enthusiastically played for his audience of two. In the dark vernal graveyard, the smoke from the last tree’s burning and notes from the little instrument rose together into the starless night. Elle felt a hint of familiarity- the song carried something of the forest’s own rustling breath. Then just as the song quieted to a long low note, a soft drizzle of rain fell. The seed in Elle’s palms shifted. A hint of green poked out. Even as M’s long breath came to a quivering halt, the two observers sensed the tiny plant take its first, soft, silent breath.

A star appeared in the inky sky.

M’s eyes twinkled in the emergent starlight. “I think this is where we say goodbye for now, Elle.” He raised the pan flute to his lips to begin playing again, and instantly disappeared; the world had already begun to accelerate around her. Light and sound turned abstract as Elle felt herself reversing through centuries of arboreal life. She squeezed her eyes shut, unable to take it all in, until -

Everything went still. Elle opened her eyes to a vast, empty meadow. Soft grass stretched away from her in every direction, and a gray, rumbling sky signaled a quickly approaching storm. She looked down at the tiny maple plant cradled in her palm. Kneeling down, she gently placed her new friend in the soft earth, just as the first drops of rain began to fall. She could have sworn she heard the softest whisper emanating from the little tree:

You, Elle, are the friend at the forest’s beginning.


About the Creator

Gabriel Huizenga

Twas for love of words that I first joined this site:

Poetry, essays, and dear short stories too;

For to live one's best is to read, and to write!

So find me in words here, and I'll find you 💙

Thanks for stopping by! :)

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (3)

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  • Bonnie Bowerman2 months ago

    Engaging. Loved it!

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    So many elements to this clever tale. I love the initial setup of time travel that makes the reader wonder what’s going on. Excellent read, Gabriel!

  • D.K. Shepard2 months ago

    A gripping tale of magic and time travel! Well done! This was a highly engaging read! Loved how the observer at the start emerged as a mentor and the final scene was beautifully done!

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