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Fall of the Oak

posted Feb 25, 2016, 4:34 AM by Noa Shmueli

There was a flutter of velvet red and licorice black as the robin swooped down from its perch, a solitary streak of colour against the dull acres of woods that stretched out further than an eagle’s eye could see; sloping hills behind sloping hills eternally behind sloping hills. The plumes of the robin’s feathery chest brushed the miniscule slate gray pebbles that littered the packed mud forest floor.

The she-robin seemed to smile as she chirped merrily to its offspring, dropping convulsing worms into eager upturned beaks that mirrored their mother’s as she leaned over their bobbing heads. As she fed each in turn, she dropped a small acorn into the earth.

The tree stretched its aching limbs, brittle after millennia of the hurricanes that frequented the valleys and destroyed the tops of the hills. Next to the ancient tree flourished a fresh sapling - merely a few weeks old. The veins of its new leaves were not wrinkled and it did not hunch in weary acceptance, as the rest of the forest did.

As the decades passed, the oak tree grew taller, towering over the woods majestically in its full green glory. Other trees looked up at its top in trepidation and their leaves rustled and whispered amongst themselves. Centuries had passed since the last lumberjack had left the monotone, beautyless forest, the shadows that mottled both prey and predator; the old generation of lumberjacks had passed on and now, the new generation could not find the crowded woods. But the forest knew that a burst of bright green would bring the hordes of woodcutters back - practically, the perish of the forest - and so it grew in silent dullness, as if a lazy housemaid had failed to brush off the last layer of dust.

And yet the tree grew, as the other trees looked on, growing more worried with every passing season. Its jagged leaves were now a distinct verdant colour, and its branches spread out, twisted and gnarled, mocking the others in their consternation. Finally, the eldest tree voiced the concerns of the others in his silent, wordless way, waving his branches about and tearing out clumps of willows in desperation; but all in vain. The oak tree looked on in amusement. Then he did what no tree, no beast, no forest would dare to do. A branch reached out, and its twisted shape tore off a shower of willow. There was utter silence. Then, a cacophony of voices, and chirping, and rustling of leaves, and clacking of branches together rose up in indignation and anger. Such was the volume that a dozen peaks away, the village of the lumberjacks stirred, and woke up in fright. The frightful clacking of the forest persisted. A quick gathering was held and without further ado, they marched off in the direction of the abominable sound, polishing their rusted axes and pulling on their stiff boots. Stomping their way up the mountains, and down into the valleys, they marched. Kicking at the shreds of yellow-grey dandelions, purplish passion flowers, they marched. For one day and one night they walked on, weary but determined, and at last - at long, long last - they saw the mountains of the forest. As they stamped on, the forest finally quieted down and the rhythm of their boots shuddered in the depths of the forest.

Not a moment did they waste, chopping down trees in their hundreds, a new terrifying rhythm of centuries-old trunks hitting the ground with paralysing power. The oak tree, at the very core of the forest, heard them, and immediately hit upon a plan - for it knew that its bright colours would certainly bring about its downfall; but if it merged with the forest’s dullness, there was a likelihood of escape. Sorrowfully, it shook off its dazzling leaves, stripped off its brilliant brown bark. As the lumberjacks gleefully carried back their bounty, it looked around.

More than half the forest was destroyed, birds fluttering in agony, their wings damaged by the trees’ fall, and their offspring killed. The red-breasted robin lay at the tree’s base. It had been crushed when the ancient tree fell.

Stumps that had once been living things, now just hypnotic concentric circles. And the oak tree cried, in its pulsing heart of wood. Day after day, the lumberjacks came, until there was near nothing left of the forest. The tree hid itself in the shadows, and made sure to strip off all its leaves, and rip off all of its bark, but even the shadows could not protect it from the hurricane that stormed the hill, just a moon after the lumberjacks left. With no leaves or bark left to protect or feed itself, the frail tree surrendered. As the next strike of lightning revealed the dark heavens, the oak tree fell.