Forests and Trees

I Listen to White Noise

More specifically, a video entitled 12 FANS for 12 HOURS. When I’m trying to sleep, or when I need to concentrate. I’m easily distracted by noise, and this helps me to clear my head. Call it a life hack, if you like. This noise drowns even the loudest of my inner voices. The only way to think with a head full of buzzing is to type/write as the thoughts present themselves.

I’ve been looking for more hacks lately. I’m on a sort of Self-Help binge. I’m looking for ways to get around and outside my usual way of doing things. I’m looking for a path through the forest I’ve been wandering around in for the last 20 years or so. Maybe longer. Maybe I was born in this wood.

Maybe I can think of a metaphor similar to Plato’s Cave

Let’s See

A boy is born in a wood. He’s taught that everything in existence lies within the boundaries of this wood. To step outside the wood is to step out into nothingness, everything seen from the edge of the wood is an illusion cast by evil forces trying to steal his soul.

So he sticks to the wood.

Tradition tells him it is every person’s duty to choose a tree and tend to it. Choosing a tree is a big deal, so he goes around studying each one in turn, and finds a certain oak with a certain branch pattern in a certain spot juuust far enough away from the center of the wood to make him feel special while being far enough inside the bounds of the wood to make him feel safe.

One day a storm comes. It’s the worst in remembered history. The tree next to his falls. He’s told how lucky he is that it didn’t fall on his tree. His tree is safe. Life goes on.

Over the course of some months or years, as the boy is tending his tree, he bears witness to the decomposition of the felled tree. He gets a front row seat to all the bugs and fungi and other plants that grow up and turn that felled tree into dirt. It’s fascinating. Something interesting happens to his own tree, too. Branches sprout. Old branches begin leaning toward the opening in the canopy. The added light and space revitalizes his tree. What’s more, as the decomposing tree turns to soil, new kinds of plants are still growing and thriving. A small patch of grass begins to grow.

Grass is the Devil’s friend, so tradition states. Grass is an illusion meant to draw you out of the wood and into the hands of the evil one. Grass is outside the wood. To see grass is to be cursed.

Except the grass is now inside the wood, and the boy sees it every single day. Sure, he tries not to look at it. He keeps telling himself that it’s an illusion. He tries to remember to spit and curse it whenever his eyes land on it. But it’s always in his periphery as he stares at his tree. Eventually it becomes just another part of the background. No big deal.

One day, the boy gets tired. His body and his mind are aching for rest. Usually, when he finds himself if this state, he simply leans against the tree, curled up in the gnarls of roots, and drifts off into deep, peaceful sleep. But this time, it just isn’t working. He can’t get comfortable. The tree simply isn’t doing it for him. And in this state of weakness, his gaze falls on that small patch of grass. It looks soft and inviting, warm in the midday sun. He knows he shouldn’t. He knows that if anyone sees him, scandal will ensue, but he can’t help himself. A boy needs his rest. So he crawls over into that clearing, stretches out on that small patch of grass, and sleeps the sleep of a lifetime.

He dreams of the edge of the wood. He dreams of the grasses beyond. He dreams of rolling hills and being able to see as far as the horizon. It’s the best dream he’s ever had. It fills him with so much joy that when he wakes to find himself in the forest, he’s disappointed. That’s certainly troubling, isn’t it? It awaken to the idea that everything you’ve spent your entire life dedicating yourself to could pale in comparison to something you’ve never experienced? He is so disturbed by this that he takes his troubles to an elder.

The elder confirms his fears, of course. The elder is and elder of the wood. The elder is a wise one of the forest. The elder knows all about every kind of tree in existence, and the elder knows, too, that grass is nothing but a cruel and evil trick. The boy shows wisdom in bringing this evil to light. The boy has felt for himself the curse of the grass, and now he must go through the ritual of lifting that curse. The elder sends the boy out among the people to collect their fallen branches and as many leaves as he can gather. The boy then takes the leaves and branches into the clearing and covers the grass until it is out of sight. Tradition says that this will surely kill the grass, thus lifting the curse. Just to be safe, he builds a wall around the clearing out of fallen branches from his own tree, cutting off even the slightest possibility of anyone ever stumbling across this cursed ground. One day, he tells himself, a new tree will grow, and the wall will come down, and the forest will once again be complete. Until then, he will remain vigilant.

Having done so, and feeling very good about himself, not to mention now revered and respected in the community, the boy rededicates himself to his tree. He reaffirms his faith in tradition, becoming the loudest voice warning the children away from anything that even looks like grass. The boy becomes a man becomes an old man. A father and then a grandfather. The grandfather takes the elder’s place as the wise one of the forest.

There Are Only So Many Trees

This allegory is getting longer than I’d planned. But hey, it’s Friday. Let’s go crazy.

So we have this elder. This wise one who knows the evil of grass first hand. The only one among his people to have wrestled with the curse, and he came out victorious. Much love for this guy. How cruel a fate that his own granddaughter would find herself on a walk one day, out to see the old man’s tree to pay her respects, and she notices that a section of that now ancient wall has come down. She peeks through to the fabled place where the grass was slain, and she’s horrified to find the grass grown as tall as she! All those branches and leaves only served to fertilize the soil, and the grass is doing better than ever!

Horrified by this sight, the granddaughter goes about fixing the broken part of the fence. But does she tell anyone about the evil grass growing so high? No. Why? Because her grandfather is the elder. The wise one. She should have known better than to even go near that wall! And the curse! Oh no! She’s cursed! She can’t let anyone know, can she? No. Never. Never ever ever.

Of course, keeping a secret this big can only consume someone. She is meant to be out looking for a tree of her own, but she keeps coming back to that broken wall and all that grass beyond. She starts to think, “Didn’t Grampa say that a tree would grow there? He’s been saying it for years. One day a tree would grow and take back the land from the grass. But it didn’t happen. There’s just more grass.”

Now she’s not only keeping her curse a secret, she’s harboring doubts about the truth of the very traditions her entire community is based upon! How evil grass is, indeed.

She can’t sleep. She is actually able to sleep very well, but she cannot allow herself to sleep. She keeps dreaming about grass. About a land where the grass stretches to the horizon. Rolling hills and open, blue sky. She wonders what it would be like to lie in that grass. She wonders what it would be like to walk through a field.

The obsession grows, and even while the girl chooses a tree for herself and begins her adulthood among the forest people, she cannot shake this curse. So powerful it is that when she does sleep, she wakes to find herself sleepwalking, and every time she comes to, she finds that she’s closer and closer to what she’s been told is the edge of the wood! One day, waking to find herself farther away from home than ever, she realizes she’s gone beyond where they told her the edge of the wood was. More lies from the elders. More evidence against Tradition. She can’t help herself now. She has to keep going to see how far the wood goes. Maybe it never ends, she tells herself. Maybe it never ends, and there really is nothing to worry about, and the grass in her grandfather’s clearing was planted by God himself as a warning to those who would dare abandon their tree.

But then she sees it. Too much light. Too much blue beyond the branches. She comes to the edge of the clearing to find herself staring at a world she had until now only dreamed of. A world she’d convinced herself didn’t exist.

The End?

I could keep going on and on and on. Maybe the girl sees someone out in the savanna living a happy life. Maybe the girl goes home with this knowledge, disillusioned, despondent, realizing the curse to it’s fullest extent. Does she do as her grandfather did and tell her story? There aren’t enough branches and leaves in the world to cover all the grass she’s seen. Not enough wood in the wood to build a wall to protect them from the outside world. And people out there were living so happily. Surely that couldn’t be an illusion, could it? Maybe she disappears one night, no one ever hearing from her again. Out into the grass and over the hills and into the horizon, and all the forest people realize that the curse is real after all. The evil one took her away from her home never to return. Or maybe she does return one day, or her children, or her grandchildren, talking of making their own homes in other woods, how they lost track of where they came from and had to settle elsewhere, always longing and searching for a way back into the arms of their long lost loved ones.

What do you think? What happens next? I always say, “Leave a comment,” and no one does, but maybe this time… If you want to be less public about it, there’s always the contact form.***

***This last paragraph was just an excuse to have more links on the page. I’m testing SEO stuff, so, ya know, no pressure.

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