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The Ballads of Trees

A Whispering Woods Entry

By Call Me LesPublished 2 months ago 9 min read
Top Story - March 2024
Author's own photo


Between Here and There lay a mixed-woods forest. Of an age unknown, its existence was wedged between sandy fields of tobacco, deer filled plains and a sheer drop into a meandering river with which it battled daily to hold its ground.

Self-named The Wise, the eldest trees in the heart of Whispering Woods commanded their domain like a pantheon of Gods. Poplar, Birch, Maple & Pine — one guardian for each of the four seasons. Together they grew in a grove as a singular all encompassing presence, a bastion of hard-won stability.

Great artists of literature, the trees spent their time crafting endless ballads set to the sounds of nature. The humans who travelled between Here and There often paused to listen, fascinated by the eloquent musings of the enchanted trees.

But while the forest flourished, so too did the trees' sense of pride. Roots entwined, they began to applaud their own opulence and congratulate each other on how fortunate they were to be nothing so ignorant as the simpleton stones they gripped and crumbled into soil at their feet.

They did not understand that contempt is a breeding ground for disharmony.

As the years wore on, their vanity became a slow growing blight. One by one, the four guardians turned against one another. Eschewing prose, they instead became entrenched in constant debate over the pettiest of topics.

And so it came to be that Poplar, Birch, Maple & Pine lost all sense of purpose. What was once a welcoming place for creatures and humans alike, grew overshadowed, overgrown and shrouded in dry kindling and parched air from their endless arguing.

No more did the humans who travelled the path between Here and There stop to listen to the trees. Now, they hurried along as fast as their feet could carry them, eager to escape the heated and oppressive atmosphere. Eventually, they avoided the woods altogether, and walked for kilometres to pass around them.



One fine morning, Skye, a young man of infinite curiosity and patience, braved the journey into Whispering Woods to capture the attention of the aged trees.

In a crisp, clear tenor, the man announced his presence,

"Wise tree spirits, my name is Skye. I have heard of your legendary talents and have journeyed far from home to ask you for a ballad."

The trees were startled. It had been many moons since a human had visited their woods, and much longer since they had deigned to speak to one who did.

Maple, the stoutest among them, rumbled,

"And what would a human have to offer us should we agree?"

Skye cleared his throat.

"What is it you need?"

The trees rustled in discussion.

Birch, ever the patient matron, sagely suggested,

"An unbiased judge."

"Here, here!" seconded Maple.

Skye bowed, "Very well. What shall I judge for you?"

With gnarls that went deeper than his bark, Pine scoffed.

"Our achievements! Naturally!"

Birch admonished Pine with a pull on his roots and Skye hid a smile.

"Alright. I promise to be frank with my observations."

Poplar clapped in excitement.

"Ooo!! It's been forever since we had an audience. What kind of ballad do you wish to hear?"

Skye sat down on a log in the only patch of sun in the middle of the clearing.

"I'd like to know the story of how the forest came to be, how you have shaped it — do you remember your beginning?"

"Of course! Trees have infinite memory," snapped Maple.

"Trees know everything!" added Pine.

"Calm yourselves," quaked Birch, "He has neither the height nor breadth to be of any consequence in the world. It is our treely duty to enlighten him."

With a chirp, Poplar seized the moment,

"In the beginning, there were flowering grasses,"

Pine flung a pinecone at Poplar.

"What makes you think you get to be the one to tell it?"

With a slap of her long limbs Poplar smacked Pine.

"Why not?"

Birch rumbled her roots.

"Enough! We shall take it in turns."

"One story per season, perhaps?" Maple proposed.

"That sounds like a fair compromise," encouraged Skye, "I am in no rush."

Poplar and Pine reluctantly dropped their twig duelling.

"Agreed," they twinned.

Then the wind rose in a heated gust as the trees took a breath and proclaimed in chorus,

"The forest began with the arrival of … She."

SPRING - as told by Poplar

Author's photo

"Spring is the essence of life displayed in a million tiny joys simultaneously. She planted each of us from cuttings; we do not remember a time before this. And ever after, the wind, water and animals carried in new plants to join us.

In the moist Spring soils, we trees conquered the grasslands. As a Poplar, I cheered for the birth of nature with She, the sound of my leaves in the wind imitating many clapping hands. It is wonderful overseeing the newly born as they learn to walk, fly or swim.

But it has been an age since She and I last welcomed the bees as they awoke from their slumber, or watched over the fawns as they took their first steps.

... I am not sure why I stopped."

SUMMER - as told by Birch

Author's photo

"She liked to swim in the river. In the languid heat, the water levels of the river are lower, the rippling is softer and more docile; the river and I share a truce.

Many nights, She lingered late into the evening hours under my canopy. She stayed behind to admire the eruption of June Bugs from my roots, which swirl in the air in a grand cyclone of humming, beating crescendos. Summer is the season of insects.

With my vast root system, I am the only tree that turns the soil with efficiency. Without me, the insects would not be nearly so plentiful nor the forest so healthy. Without me we would lose our battle with the river. Without the time to be idle and enjoy the forest in Summer, what is the point of existence?

... Only, I cannot remember when She last rested with me in my shade."

AUTUMN - as told by Maple

Author's photo

"Autumn is the season of prosperity, a culmination of the ripening of seeds, nuts and fruits. It is the drumbeat of harvest, and the last feast before the loneliness and starvation to follow.

When the sun tilts on its axis, it bathes our forest in gilded splendor. My leaves change to wild vermillion, amber and saffron, which I happily bequeath to the forest as a grand, insulating carpet. There is no tree better suited to Autumn than I.

Without my leaves, the squirrels would not have fine nesting materials and the bees would have nowhere to slumber. She understood the irreplicable function of Maple trees, which is why, safely nestled in my thick branches, I was where She would watch the animals prepare for Winter.

... but She no longer climbs my branches like she used to."

WINTER - as told by Pine

By James Wheeler on Unsplash

"She understood the majesty of the final act. Winter is the season of peace, of well earned rest. Snowstorms only feel cold to those who cannot appreciate their beauty. The snow has a thousand sounds.

In Winter, She walked in contemplation, admiring my evergreen needles, a sign of resilience against the chill silver of the gleaming ice and snow. As a Pine, I am the gatekeeper of hope for renewal.

Many animals may leave me, some sleep nearby, but their absence only serves to highlight the brilliance of the scarlet cardinals which decorate my branches in radiant bunches.

... I miss She. I have forgotten to look for the pattern of her footprints."


The Wise leaned in towards Skye. One after another, they breezed,

"Who is the most worthy of She?"

"Are we not splendid?"

"Which season is the most important?"

"We need a judgement!"

Skye pondered their words earnestly, then rose and stretched.

"Your lyricism is as legendary as they say — for that I will offer my praise. As for judgments, may I remind you Wise ones, I promised only to be frank. My judgement is this: I believe you have lost sight of yourselves. She meant for the seasons to be equal, to exist in harmony. This forest is no longer the one you describe."

The trees shuffled and muttered angrily, speaking over one another like a murder of crows.

Skye clapped his hands and the vibration echoed like thunder, much louder than should be possible. It was loud enough the trees felt it in their bark, and the power of it stunned them into attention.

"Enough! Look around. Have you not noticed how empty these woods have become?"

If only to prove Skye incorrect, the trees did look away from themselves, and they found his words rang true. A deafening silence permeated the air — even the fluttering of their shed needles and leaves sailed as soundlessly as ships in the glimmering wake of impending sunset.

Skye drew a sharp hatchet and the muted trees stiffened.

"I'm afraid I have not been entirely honest with you. It is not just a ballad I sought. In truth, I have come here as both your final audience and your new beginning. She is my ancestor and just as her time has passed, so too has this era of forest."

Petrified, the trees' trembling limbs fell listless, their animated faces frozen in fear.

The Wise had finally run out of arguments.

"Do not despair, for I will take with me a cutting from each of you to grow on the grasslands of Beyond Here and There, so that your descendants may one day tell the story of the arrival of … He."

There was nothing left to say.

Perhaps it would be different next time, they thought.


One by one, Skye split a branch from Poplar, Birch, Maple & Pine. As He did so, the sentient spirit inside the tree vanished into the ether, leaving their branches with only the memory of their own gathering as the seedling for their burgeoning consciousness.

When He lit his torch, the downtrodden stones shivered and snickered in delight, their mica dazzling in harmony with the twinkling stars of twilight as they awaited their long overdue meal of fertile ash, the fruitful reward for their everlasting endurance.

The torch met the kindling in an explosion of passionate flames that flickered high into the heavens, and the forest was engulfed instantaneously. Each spark was one step into the future, and a turn of the wheel. The time of grasslands had returned.

True to his word, He gathered the cuttings and left the grove. The fire's bronze glow illuminated his exit and rendered him but a shadowed silhouette on the horizon, a foretelling bookmark between the transitioning of his mortality.

Then the newest Forest Guardian made his way to Beyond Here & There, and replanted Poplar, Birch, Maple & Pine as promised. And here He remained, dutifully tending to them each season for the rest of his extended lifetime. And the forest grew and grew.




The inspiration for this work comes from my life growing up in Southwestern Ontario and the time I accidentally planted a poplar in my neighbour’s backyard by toting home a recently storm-broken branch after school. I stuck it in the ground as part of my silliness while babysitting their children. By the time anyone thought to discard it, it had already taken root!

My love of our Carolinian forests later led to my geographical studies at Western University, which was my introduction to the Indigenous ecological-stewardship practice of controlled burning. None of what is portrayed here is a representation of the actual procedure or rituals. This is simply dramatic fiction loosely inspired by a real life idea crossed with a childhood memory.

And thank you to everyone for your encouragement on my poem "The Ballad of a Pinecone". The Vocal community is something I value enormously. I ended up going back to the theme I originally started with and blending my ideas into this creation. It may be a bit too fairytale & fable for some, but it seems I cannot escape my roots! ;)

Feel free to check out some footage of the extraordinary geography I am so lucky to be part of below.

Created for the "Whispering Woods" challenge on Vocal Media by Call Me Les.

Dedicated to my great-grandmother Jen, a great naturalist who would have enjoyed this story. You can read about her here.

© Copyright 2024. No part of this work may be quoted or performed without first obtaining written permission from the author.

Short StoryFantasyFable

About the Creator

Call Me Les

Aspiring etymologist and hopeless addict of children's fiction.

If I can't liberally overuse adverbs and alliteration, I'm out!

Instagram @writelesplaymore

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Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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    Well-structured & engaging content

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    Creative use of language & vocab

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (21)

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  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations, once more, on another well earned Top Story! Can any of us ever truly escape our roots (pun intended). Good luck with the Challenge. You've entered serious contenders.

  • Anna 2 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Micel Hieu Batkata2 months ago

    It is descriptive and diverse and the story shapes itself so well! Congrats on Top Story!

  • Ameer Bibi2 months ago

    Congratulations on your top story Amazing the way you consider the forest

  • Andrea Corwin 2 months ago

    oops, forgot to say Congrats on TS!! ❤️🌳

  • Andrea Corwin 2 months ago

    Lovely story that even reflects the way a forest begins from a meadow to a certain type of tree, until the death of that tree is replaced with a different type, and a big circle continues. "as they awaited their long overdue meal of fertile ash" creating a burn to release new seeds. Wonderful job and great story. I loved it!

  • Rachel Deeming2 months ago

    Wonderful fable. I loved the individual characters of the trees and the sharing of their stories. A great entry.

  • Abdul Qayyum2 months ago

    Well said, Keep up the good work.

  • Test2 months ago

    Such a beautifully written story, I love the different voices of the trees the controlled burning ritual is fascinating! A really fantastic challenge entry! 🤍

  • Shirley Belk2 months ago

    "And so it came to be that Poplar, Birch, Maple & Pine lost all sense of purpose." Made me have empathy and more appreciation of trees!

  • Eda Marie2 months ago

    I love your use of language. It is descriptive and diverse and the story shapes itself so well! Congrats on Top Story!

  • Alex H Mittelman 2 months ago

    Fantastic entry! ❤️

  • What a wonderful story. “I miss she” the 4 year old in my life says that. Such a sweet sentiment. Congratulations on your top story

  • ROCK 2 months ago

    New subscriber here! Excellent entry for the challenge and congratulations on Top Story!

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    This is beautifully written. I love the stories of the the different season, and the trees relevance to each. Also appreciate the lesson on co-operation, or lack thereof. Well done. Congrats on the TS.

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Not surprised!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!💕❤️❤️

  • lorenzo Lorenzo2 months ago

    I'll dumb this down a bit. This is a wicked awesome read. I love it.

  • C. Rommial Butler2 months ago

    A deep bow to you, Les! This was very well-wrought! As a lover of fable and of metaphor, I found myself immersed in a veritable feast. My only lament is that I must walk back into the wearied world of the working stiff after spending such illuminating and fulfilling moments in this enchanted glade you've created! Bless you!

  • Caroline Jane2 months ago

    I love how close this is to the truths of nature. Delightfully intricate and soothing to read. Lovely. 🥰

  • This is an absolutely fabulous (in all senses of the word) story you have woven. I love the matching of the seasons to the trees and the stories they tell, and the overall concept is stunning, and I did not see how it would all unfold. Pure perfection💜

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Fabulous fable!!! Captivating & loved, loved, loved, loved your short story!!!❤️❤️💕

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