Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Sci-Fi & fantasy  ➡  Science fiction  ➡  General

Puddle: A Tale for the Curious

Puddle

A Tale for the Curious

Copyright 2015 by Elena Bozzi

Shakespir Edition

All illustrations have been removed from this ebook for compatability and ease purposes. Find them in the print version, or find several at puddlestory.weebly.com

Please be mindful that the writer of this tale has poured time, energy, and life into its creation. This story is fair use, and while she hopes it is fairly useful, all rights are still reserved.

Dedicated to the forests and the trees.

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams…” – Arthur O’Shaughnessy, Ode

Table of Contents

 

Greetings

Waiting

The Garden

Invitations

A Walk in the Park

Wreets and Portals

Veorda

Purpose and Wholeness

Poetry

The Council

Nooks and Knacks

Sticks and Songs

Wanders, Wonders

Pieces of Secrets

Mountains

Refractions

Returns

Salix

Acknowledgments and About

 

Greetings

We pass by a thousand stories just walking from one point to another, without even being cognizant of that fact. Look at this rock. At one stage, it may have been buried among tree roots at the top of a distant and long since crumbled mountain. At another time, it was pressed within the innards of this planet, and subject to more intense heat than we could survive. And further back in deep time, further than we can fully comprehend with our comparatively instantaneous lives, this rock was stardust: a nebula of gas and dust waiting for its equilibrium to shatter in order to form a solar system.

Look at this leaf. Tell me its tale. Tell me its tale through the eyes of a scientist, of a poet, of a deer. Consider what it would say if it told its own story. It may not say anything with words, but perhaps it can articulate itself beyond places language can go. Can it still be a story without words? Even then, can words tell the whole story?

We desire stories, though that itself is an understatement. We need stories like we need air and water, or a hug when we’re lonely. Stories explain our essence. Stories give us meaning. Imagine a world in which all the stories have been forgotten. They’ve floated away quietly, as if gravity was too weak to hold them close. What would those poor creatures have left?

Our stories are the substance that connects us. They enrich our lives. They are our lives. Stories have power with endless affects. A story can call to our passions and spark our creativity. A story can motivate, moderate, frustrate, alleviate, soothe, suppress, oppress, set free, and fool us. What it does in the end, the teller may never know, because stories are alive. They change and adapt. They move like liquid, with their viscosity dependent on the mood of the weaver of yarns, and the receptivity of the audience.

Ah, a story wanders near. If it passes by, we may not even lament its loss, for it would not have touched us. Perhaps, however, its call is strong. Curiosity brings you closer. It waits for you to join the circle before it tells itself. Listen to its language, simultaneously too simple and complex to translate fully into words. The language of the soul is one without vocabulary. Listen with your heart.

It begins, like all stories, somewhere in the middle. Come. Gather close. It is ready for you.

Let the more pleasantly aromatic parts waft across your nostrils like a late spring breeze in an evening meadow of awakening moonflowers. Be ready with a sturdy clothespin to hold at bay moments sprawled in stagnant pools of despair that do not so much stink as sting the olfactories, like a nest of angry hornets kicked by the neighbor’s barking wet dog. This story tells of more plants than animals, so let free your worries. You will smell more flowers than soggy mutts.

You catch the scent of a forgotten secret as you follow the story’s winding trails. Reach for it. It reveals the two most important things in this universe to take seriously: everything, and nothing.

The story continues.

~

Waiting

Bored.

Bored. Bored. Bored.

I sat at my (assigned drab yellow square with its unsatisfying backrest and fake wood restrictive rectangle for writing on top of) desk. The only nice thing about my anti-ergonomic seat was its reflective metal connecting parts, in which I often watched the world in a funhouse mirror way. I tilted my head over and looked at my green eyes, stretched and peering back, as if to sigh uuugh.

I liked watching the world, especially when it looked strange. Unfamiliar. Through the eyes of objects. Objects didn’t seem to mind being bored, or, at least, had no choice in the matter.

My musty copy of this month’s required reading book was open to page twenty-five. Mrs. McClunk stood up front, squeakishly reading Frankenstein aloud with the passion of a plastic potted plant. She didn’t seem to care that the man they called monster had already lived his life on this plane and moved on to other things. It wasn’t fair to make him stuck, trapped in a body he had already left. There were some things I did not want to have control over, and another person’s life was one. I had enough trouble controlling my own life.

I also didn’t approve of this exercise because of one word: required. I tended to consider anything required as unpleasant and often dangerous. Climbing a towering tree to the top and swaying between raindrops as thunder made its windy way closer was much safer than being bored to death by tedious requirements. Perhaps I could deal with required if it were tempered with an occasional choice.

We were never given any choices. What were they afraid of anyway? They who made all the rules. That I might have a thought? Too many thoughts in a room could cause chaos. Giving away choices meant giving up control. Anything could happen.

I didn’t have anything personal against this book in itself, either. In general, I loved books. Fact books were fascinating. Stories that beckoned my wanderlust for adventure were even more fascinating. What better way to experience another person’s mind than to ride on their imagination? Facts presented as stories were unstoppable. They had power over my logical side and over the parts of me that chased dandelion fuzzes in a swirling breeze.

In fact, just because something was imaginary, didn’t mean it wasn’t real. Imagination could hold more truth than objective reality. What was pure objective reality anyway? We saw through subjective lenses. Our eyes were made up of our own experiences and ideas about existence.

Anyway, back to the point. Required reading. One day this tale in front of me perhaps could potentially become my favorite book, maybe. Its requiredness just felt so arbitrary and pointless.

Glancing to my right, I saw a girl doodling curly hearts. A growing puddle of drool spread from a sleeper further down my row. One kid hid a graphic novel inside his required reading book, only the secret one was twice the size of the required one. Mrs. McClunk kept reading, or squeaking, aloud. Her voice was a hrm hrm hrm guinea pig, disappointed and snackless, wishing it was somewhere else besides sitting and waiting for something to happen, but not knowing quite what.

I glanced left and saw someone scratch at his desk, look closely at his finger, scrunch his eyebrows and bring the offending finger up for a quick smell. My own eyebrows scrunched and I decided that was enough looking left for now.

Staring forward, I watched Mrs. McClunk’s nose a while. It was sort of fascinating in the kind of way watching fish in a tank is sort of fascinating. Nearly meditative. Her mouth didn’t move very much, but certain letters would pull the tip of her nose down, then release it. Like a rabbit sniffing out w’s and o’s. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. She must have been a rodent in a past life.

Bored again.

I watched the clock. It counted the minutes until the end of class. It counted away the minutes of my life. I wondered if the clock was satisfied that it knew its place in the world so well, or if it really liked counting at all. Maybe someone told it that it had to count second after second with the perfection of gears and wires, or else it would never make anything of itself. I wondered if it ever resented whoever told it that. The skinny red second hand made its rounds, lapping the other hands. For a moment, I thought it stopped and started stepping backward. Scared, I looked away. Cruel clock tricks. It tried to take its angst out on me. I didn’t feel the need to be here longer than was required.

The window behind me sent a draft to the back of my head. Ah, minty mouthwash for the brain. Through the window was my favorite place to look while trapped in this School of Uncaring. It was the only thing that really understood. Outside was the place where life actually happened. Watching it was learning.

Fluffy sky sheep grazed the gray morning, eating away the overcast so the blue would show. The drizzle clouds had leaked the whole walk to school. Sunshine winked at the Earth the moment I stepped inside. Fine. I enjoyed the soggy walk. The water helped my plant friends out. They stretched as they woke, thirsty after their chilly season of slumber.

The drizzle was nice, but stepping inside felt like poking an ulcer. The fluorescent lights were not morning people. Locker combinations were not morning people. Or afternoon people. Nobody seemed like they wanted to be there anyway. Always an alpha battle of raging hormones or the mind-blowingly inconvenient busywork, which taught nothing but compliance, infested these walls.

Caged and bored.

The sun made all the puddles outside the window reflective. The puddles sat so still and held upside down worlds, reflecting the sky sheep. The sun didn’t even need to show all the way, just enough to make the rainwater shiny. I loved to stand at the edge of the tiny lakes and watch those upside down reflected puddle trees, and the clouds so far away. The reflections looked like different worlds. I wondered what life would be like for all those reflection worlds. Was the light in their world slightly darker and greener like the way I saw it inside the puddle, or was it my world that seemed dimmer to them? Did those other worlds have the same soggy sticks and leaves soaking in their puddles, or were they only in my mini floods? If the debris was different in the reflected upside down world’s water, did it still smell the same?

Nobody else seemed to care about those other worlds inside the puddles. I watched people try to avoid getting wet, not really noticing what they were walking around. They looked too busy to notice my imagination worlds. A mere inconvenience, rather than a place of wonder.

One particular ground-mirror seemed to be calling for my attention through the classroom’s window. The gray-blue sky swirled around the puddle, rippling it with breeze. It settled and reflected a gaggle of faraway migrating geese.

“Birch,” Mrs. McClunk’s guinea pig voice turned my head to the front. “You’re not listening.”

“Yuh-huh. Promise.” My hand gripped the black stone, shaped like a leaf, on my necklace. It was comforting to touch when I was about to get in trouble, or feeling happy, or feeling anything. It helped come up with answers.

“What did I just read?” asked the squeak. I tried to think about what I knew of this story.

“Maiming. Benign benefactor…” I trailed off, dismayed that I was being picked on because I had to turn around for my amusement while, clearly, nobody else was listening either. At least they could fake pay attention. Mrs. McClunk squinted at me, unsure if I was making things up. Pft, as if she was paying attention to what she was reading. She just didn’t want people looking outside. Such an unhealthy habit. Fresh air. Hope.

I gave her a slight smile with a mental look away note. She dropped her eyelids to halfway and squeaked on, seemingly appeased. For now. I felt guilty until proven innocent, and even then innocence was still questionable. Bored.

Tic. Tic… Tiiiic. C’mon clock, I didn’t think we were foes!

I twirled my hair, which resembled my name like leaves in autumn. Birch. Deep yellow blonde with crinkly browner streaks. I dyed the bottom part dark green with a sharpie earlier in math in honor of spring. The green jagged line hovered just above my shoulders.

I counted freckles. Mine were strange and sort of streaked horizontally over my pale skin. I used to think they were a sign of sickness because people usually have dot freckles, rather than lines. They’re ok though. We had them checked out. My parents were right in naming me Birch all those seventeen years ago.

Freckles got boring and I hazarded another peek out the window. The particular puddle that had called my attention before looked back at me as much as a puddle could. It started to glow a faint indigo. A pair of hands stretched out and grabbed the muddy asphalt. The knuckles strained and two elbows poked out, rippling the surface of the puddle. I blinked.

Sometimes I make things up when I’m bored. I’m not embarrassed, even though I’m told daily to stop using my imagination. Sometimes I’m told explicitly, and sometimes a mere stern look does the job. I liked imagining things, however, and have learned to do it in private most of the time. I’ve even convinced myself I’ve helped push along certain events by imagining them and working from there. Imagining was the first step of noticing the right stuff to get the job done. Though those elbows may have been imaginary, they looked quite solid. Also, I had felt the laws of physics enough through trial and error to know puddles on school grounds were too shallow to have elbows poking out of them, while everything else remained hidden below the surface. I concluded I was growing into my crazy hat, and, honestly, I was fine with letting go of reality. Reality was boring. So many pointless aspects of reality drained the life from the living, and enforced that insufferable state of being called boredom.

The elbows in the puddle strained.

Following the elbows came a fluff of dreadlocked brown hair, rather drier than I would think a head emerging from a puddle would be. Then again, I wouldn’t think many heads would emerge from such shallow schoolyard puddles at all, unless they were of earthworms, whom I always stopped to save.

Shoulders heaved, one before the other, and dragged a torso along behind them. Legs swung back and forth before momentum helped them out. The boy looked around from the edge of the puddle, with one eyebrow raised at the empty football field and soggy track, where a woman in a long green jacket walked a pug. His face turned toward the school building, and his eyes grew wide as he saw me stare. I tilted my head the way that would sound like huh, if head motions were audible.

He coughed in a way that said, “I have not just crawled dryly out of this puddle. That was a figment of your imagination. Whistle, whistle,” and walked off.

I decided to take his cough for what it said, and turned back around just as the bell rang. Still. That was a pretty cool trick.

The halls dripped with sweaty, we-are-outa-here noises. Lockers smashed open and closed. Certain people pretended to ignore certain other people, and waited around to make sure they noticed. Don’t notice me not noticing you. Are you noticing me? Giggle.

The boredom of the day thought about releasing its hold.

Thank you, Friday.

~

I took the long way home, through the power-line field, where a massacre of the middle-aged forest happened years ago in order to bring people electricity. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the loss of so many critter homes was worth the modern conveniences brought to life by the harnessed power. Sometimes I wondered if many of those conveniences were truly convenient. How much time did they save, and what happened with that extra time? Have we controlled the electrical currents, or have we become so dependent on plugs and cords that they’ve begun to control us? Did they make us appreciate life more? Did they inspire creativity, and personal connections? Too many questions and not enough answers came from the hum that sounded like far away swarms of bees, or flies.

The rush of life in my town made me dizzy if I watched it too much. How quickly tasks could be completed, only to be followed up by more tasks! More busywork. A suspicion was growing in me that the point was to appear busy without actually doing anything. My whole week at school was full of that. Spare time was dangerous because we would probably start trouble, or conversations. I have become a master of faking busy. Well, more of an accomplished apprentice. I got in trouble too much to be a master.

I was suspicious of busywork, but a bigger suspicion had grown in me. Choices. I was suspicious of the why behind the choices I saw. The answer because I said so was unacceptable. I felt trapped by the choices of my predecessors. I felt trapped by my own choices. I felt trapped in feeling I had no choice. I had to waste my days confined in tired lecture, not learning but being educated, because facts were supposed to be more important than experiences. I was supposed to live by expectations crammed in my brain-hole since birth. Those expectations seemed to hurt more people than help. Sometimes I felt so stuck I wanted to follow my cat’s example and explode, running chaotically with wild eyes and puffy fur, then kick and bite at the great woven rug of society. I wanted to flip tables filled with delicate flatware. I wanted to sing a deep old song, of which I could not remember the words, if they existed at all, that would bring freedom. Where was that song?

In actuality, I did none of those. I continued calmly walking through my thought-tangent, while a tuneless hum seeped through my vocal chords. Maybe that forgotten song of freedom did exist somewhere unknown.

The buzz of the energy flowing along the power-lines permeated my thoughts, and made my hair tingle and my concentration waver.

The walk home from school always held little wonders. I passed some flattened grass. The city deer lived in the copse of cottonwood, and made their beds in the tall grasses. They liked to snack on my begonias, which I planted to keep them away from my tomato flowers.

Maple syrup season was coming to a close as their leaf buds burst open. Last year’s flower skeletons gathered in brown shaded bunches, while new growth poked up to test the weather. A few bees lazily searched for dandelions and those slightly invisible purple flowers, of which only they knew the whereabouts.

Home.

The modest greenhouse, more of a glassed up patio, attached to the south end of our home was my favorite part of where I lived, besides my garden. This tiny greenhouse, the transition between outside and inside, held green growing things all year. I walked the perimeter, deadheading a few salmon-pink geranium flowers. I picked a ripe spicy pepper and some basil in anticipation of dinner. Leaving my backpack next to a worn deck of cards on the table in the greenhouse, I went in to see who was home.

“Hellooooo,” I called as I bumbled into my humble abode. Crayon drawings of horses and rather lumpy looking kitties greeted me from the walls of the common room: the timeline of my siblings’ and my artistic expenditures. These days, however, I doodled too much in my notebooks to hang anything that wasn’t garbled with equations and flow charts on our walls. My greatest inspiration came while my mind drifted about as my body sat in class. Wolves howled from the margins of grammar exercises. Penguins played with sea lions among Bohr’s models. Goblins crept up on timelines of very important dates of wars and massacres, and wondered what sorts of interesting bits happened between all the death and conflict. They were always asking what was for lunch.

“How was school?” inquired the kitchen.

“Weird,” I said, following the voice past a didgeridoo and several walking sticks carved with the help of beavers and fold-away knives. Dad’s bongos and Mom’s fiddle leaned against the far wall, waiting.

My siblings Kail and Elsie, aged two and five years like fine cheeses, crowded on top of the kitchen table. For some reason, this was the most popular homework area. Kail was busy drawing unicorns for a story. The ponies had smiling faces and over-to-the-side horns. Elsie had glue, string, and paper and was… making stuff.

“Weird?” asked mom, as she looked up from doing something official with a computer and a graph.

“Yeah, some kid climbed out of a puddle, and I passed a math quiz.”

“Uh-hum, that is weird. Want to help with dinner?”

“If it’s pizza.”

In my cauldron, otherwise known as a medium mixing bowl, I stirred up some flour, flaxseed, oil, water, and spices. Dad and the pizza came through different doors of the house at nearly the same time. The pizza sort of fell apart, so we had to eat it with forks. Kail started crying when he bit too much of the spicy pepper, and I ran about getting out rice milk to calm the burning, while apologizing for growing the peppers too hot. The milk splashed off the bottom of the cup, and into my eye, because physics does things like that. As I wiped it away, I knew no matter of hand washing could erase all traces of recently cut entirely-too-spicy pepper from fingers. The burning gouged deep into my eye. I flailed my arms in hapless abandonment, knocking a bottle of salad dressing to the floor. Elsie, in a desperate attempt to get away from the commotion, slipped in the spreading oily mess. On her way down, she slapped the edge of the table that held a forkful of pizza, which flung like a folkloric rabbit toward the moon-shaped lamp above the table, and adhered itself to a crater. What a delicious sacrifice to the moon. And I wondered about the nature of sacrifice. What if delicious sacrifices potentially delivered delicious results, while painful sacrifices delivered painful results? My inner goddess would want pizza over pain any day.

The rest of dinner passed by uneventfully.

Sunset began with a streak of razzmatazz red along the horizon, which melted into a warm macaroni and cheese, and finally into the awkward orange that lasts all night because the sky didn’t actually get dark so close to town.

Our neighbors, Phyllis and Martin, often came over to practice. They had formed a band with my parents, and called themselves Tomentose. They often played in the local coffee house on Wednesdays. Their daughter, Mae, came too. She and I were the same age. We grew up amusing ourselves by climbing the same power lines I walked under on my way home, and singing wonderful and silly show tune songs. We would name things, like her cat’s tail, and made up monologues about what would happen if, say, that tail got it in its mind that fences were a big problem to society. Then, we would pretend to be cats that swung on swings and meowed in three musical notes.

Mae and I gradually walked in different circles, but those circles met up occasionally, and we laughed about old times, and new times. That evening, we added the fashion magazines she brought over to my woodsy ones, and sat in the common room, making collages as our parents strummed and drummed.

“What do you think about having this giraffe,” I asked as I cut one from a nature magazine, “surf on this lipstick?” I cut out a lot of blue sweaters and hats to act as the sea.

“Cute,” Mae replied. “Do you think it could swim if it fell off?”

“Good point. I’ll cut out a floatation device, too. I would put rocket boosters on its feet, but they probably wouldn’t work after they got wet.”

“And the traction would be awful.”

“Uh-oh. It’s headed right towards the reef of spiky shoes. This is looking disastrous.”

“Here. Here’s a jump. That giraffe looks like a good enough surfer to handle a jump over those heels.” Mae handed me a cutout glass of milk.

“Thanks. This’ll be good for its bones, too.”

“Yeah.”

“Except it won’t be that good.”

“Yeah?”

“The cow probably had a lousy life, caged and unappreciated. I think giraffes are vegan anyway.”

“I bet the cow would rather be surfing too.”

“Yeah! I need a cow picture now.”

A crash emanated from the fort, in which Elsie and Kail were doing whatever they were doing in a previously uncommonly quiet fashion. I poked my head through the sheet wall.

“Everything okay in here?” I inquired.

“Fine.”

“What are you doing?”

“Nuthin’.”

“Doesn’t look like nuthin’.”

“Made a time machime,” Kail announced proudly as he showed me a metal lunch box with the leg of a stegosaurus taped to the side.

“This is how it works,” explained Elsie. She opened the latch to show some loose wires attached to knobs and buttons. She picked up a ball of knotted string. “This is the map. These red things make it go forward, and these blue things make it go backward. And this button stops things. We just have to find a way to power it.”

“Very interesting,” I commented. “Where did you get all these pieces? This knob looks like it came from the kitchen cabinets.”

“Um.”

“And is that my hair clip?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Um.”

“I suppose since it’s for your time machine, you can borrow it. Ask next time, ok?”

Elsie nodded and giggled, which made Kail giggle, which made me giggle. I turned back to Mae, who had kept working. She was going through an eye phase, and her piece looked at us with intensity. I thought it would go well on our wall of masques that we collected over the years, which always seemed to be Watching.

When we felt done enough, we went to sort through our multitude of board games. By the time we picked one and set up the last piece, our parents decided practice was over. We threw some faux fits in the name of staying up later, but were actually pretty tired, so we didn’t fight too hard.

~

[]The Garden

 

The full moon called me from sleeping. A silver strip of light snuck between the shades and rested on my eyes. There were only two reasons I felt a person should be woken up not on their own accord: either moon shadows or mischief. Ok, blueberry pancakes could be added to the list. Especially when they were followed by a hint of mischief.

I laid blinded by the liquid light of the night sky sphere. Quicksilver. Sometimes I would imagine sneaking outside and dancing in a Faerie circle throughout the night, then returning home with muddy feet and the sort of exhaustion that only came from laughing with others for hours. These days the veils between worlds had grown too thick to pass through easily, and my imagination stayed only in my mind. Someone had boarded up the door to the Otherworld and nailed on a For Sale sign. Perhaps the Fay had moved houses because they weren’t keen on the new imposed ordinances against singing into the night. I would have loved to attend their housewarming party.

A person could dream.

My dreams made the routine of what was commonly called life more manageable. Mae loved the routine, and I was happy for her. Schedules filled me with dread. Schedules were the potatoes in the soup of civilization. Wait. I liked potatoes. Schedules were more like the stabby bits that poked out from the door of the iron maiden of civilization. They had to be there because they were in the blueprints. They were the blueprints. Schedules made sure things got done. I saw their use, but they had a habit of turning into objects of obsession. They left little room for change, for flow. The universe spoke to us constantly. Schedules made it difficult to hear the messages, and pay attention to the signs.

The signs with which the universe spoke often showed themselves subtly. The right book appeared at the right time, and would tell me exactly what I needed to hear at a certain moment in time: a perfect quote. An inconvenient delay often opened a shortcut to a meaningful experience. That was one reason I was always late to stuff. Punctuality was in the same category as schedules, and busywork.

Signs were especially important when I felt grumpy for seemingly no reason. The grumpy meant something was off, so I made a special point to look out for the signs. Sometimes I had to grump around a while first, but mostly I had to step outside. Stepping outside could do wonders. That was why I did not mind when the moon woke me up and beckoned me to the outside world.

I sat up and cat stretched as I climbed into a thick woolly sweater with big honeycomb textured buttons and geometric designs of the tertiary persuasion. The moon called me, and I would go.

The grass was wonderfully dewy as I stepped through the yard to the circular herb garden, which also seemed awakened by the moon. My bare feet were cold. I never minded cold feet much, so long as they were bare. If I could heat them up soon, I’d be fine. Three and a half steps later I decided sooner should be now, and shuffled back inside for some slippers before embarking again.

Back when my age could be counted in single digits, I had helped my parents with their garden. They had a few pokey plants and a few roundish plants, and some tingly sweet smelling spring blossoms. I mostly dug holes to find hidden earthworms, and got bit by grubs. Those jerks.

As I grew, the garden became more mine. My parents had other things to do. I began speaking with the plants. They were difficult to hear, and their language was strange. Native plants would speak the most clearly. They said they knew the soil in this area the longest.

I bought seeds and seedlings of those native plants, after making sure the growers grew and gathered ethically. Reseed and respect the land. Nature was having enough difficulty keeping out invasive species, without the help of people opening up spaces to invade. I did grow nonnative species as well, especially herbs. Most of the nonnative plants I grew couldn’t survive the winter, so I knew they wouldn’t escape and cause problems elsewhere. The oregano, though, had its mind made up to take over the entire garden, and I had to keep reminding it that it was being unfair to the currants and the tarragon.

I planted seeds, and told them stories as they grew. My stories weren’t ever very involved or very long. They often went a bit like:

 

One day after a rain, a Nasturtium seed decided it was tired of being cooped up inside all day and ran around, pushing at its walls, until it popped its top and reached skyward. It grew in spicy goodness, then was spotted by a girl who knew it wasn’t poison so she had a nibble.  Thanks Nasturtium. To be continued…

 

The plants never seemed to complain about being eaten, especially after a short story and polite gratitude. They appreciated my asking their permission. Perhaps it was all in my mind, but I felt they knew they were being asked. Usually, after asking if I could pick leaves or berries, a feeling of approval would come over me, but sometimes it just didn’t feel right. I respected the plants enough to follow that feeling, and moved on to pick something else. Nature was thoughtful. There was always something else to nibble instead.

The garden gave unexpected gifts. I’d found stones with little quartz crystals, and feathers. Once, I found a plastic giraffe with chipped paint. I named it Sonia, and put it near the entrance. It became the guardian of the garden. Another time, I found an old coin with dirt packed in the triangle holes around its perimeter. I had no luck researching its origin. It now sits in a bird box in my room, cradled in cleansing mountain sage leaves.

Plants were great teachers. They didn’t have words, but they spoke. They taught about the benefits of certain weeds, which weren’t actually weeds. They were just misunderstood. The plants trained me to spot the friendly bugs, who stopped the unfriendly bugs from getting a bit too close. Sometimes, the plants had an argument, so I would have to separate them. Other times, they would gaze at each other from across the plot, and I would have to bring them together. They would complain of low water by wilting, or feeling ill by grumpy leaves. Mostly, they lounged around quite happily.

Some would say the plants that filled the spaces between the paths were jumbled and messy when in full swing. I would advise a look closer. To the unobservant eye, they looked unstructured. Unscheduled. I thought they were lovely ordered chaos.

The herbs and I had a symbiotic relationship. Well-pruned herbs grew more vigorously, and I was able to enjoy many delicious spices. The same went for vegetables. For a long time, ornamental flowers bothered me because I thought they were inedible, and therefore useless. I gradually learned they often had edible and medicinal properties. In addition, the birds, bees, and butterflies loved the flowers and seeds. My disdain turned to respect, and my respect turned to love.

Strong moonlight colored the world a pallid indigo with shrouded edges. Sharp shadows hid dreams and nightmares both. I made a subtle bow to the moon in case she was watching, and stepped between Sonia the giraffe and an awakening lavender bush that stood en guard at the garden entrance. As summer returned, lavender’s drowsy aroma would bring serenity to any sniffer. Pots of mints continued along the curved border. They had to sit somewhat contained, or else they’d try to take over. Mints were pleasant, but pushy. I stooped to pick an early leaf of hardy lemon balm, who was in the mint family. The bees loved it. I agreed with them. Crushed and soaked in water, it made good lemonade.

Culinary sage stood in bunches. Its protection of flavor and aid to digestion was worthy of such valor that any round table knight would bow to its excellence. The elderberry and blackcurrant buds were ready to burst, but were still closed and protected from occasional frosts. In their slumber, the raspberry bushes dreamed of brandishing their prickles to any lackadaisical sap who would hoard their soon-to-be bounty. Their leaves made delicious tea.

I pattered toward the gazebo in the center of my garden. I had crafted it out of fallen branches, rope, and patience. Years of intertwining vines helped its stability. Concord grapes grew up the east and south sides, and over the top. Scarlet runners, with their delicious flowers and beans, would soon tendril up the north and west sides. The sandy center of the gazebo was my favorite meditation area. I also went there when I felt especially lonely. My friends with roots always knew the right things to say.

Sitting on the sand was the boy who had crawled out of the puddle. He sat calm as dormant shrub, with closed eyes, as if in deep meditation. I was thoroughly curious about him, despite being skeptical of whether or not he was a recurring figment of my imagination. I mean, he had emerged from a puddle so shallow it wouldn’t cover a toad. Right? Right. He fit a little beyond what I knew of reality.

His eyelids, slow as continents, opened and turned in my direction.

The boy parted his lips as if to speak, but said nothing and closed them. He tilted his head left, and Looked at me. I saw me as he saw me, as if I looked through his eyes. In his stare, I wasn’t who I thought I was. I wasn’t gentle, quiet, scattered, easygoing, nervous about getting things wrong, or a pizza queen. I wasn’t the identity I’d built for myself. I was a carbon based coelom organism biped consisting largely of liquid water and cells and energy, whose electromagnetic field glowed greenly, especially in my palms. I smelled faintly of lemon balm.

I wondered if he saw through my eyes too. His age seemed near my own. His expression was thoughtful, and I imagined he used small smiles more often than belly laughs, similar to what he was doing now. I thought he would be someone who could sleep comfortably under the stars or in the rain with only the pack he had over his shoulder. He could hear the plants even more than I.  His eyes held constellations.

He took what could have been a homemade hacky sack from his pack and gave me a quick look that said, “Forgive me in advance, you may not enjoy this, but it’ll be good for you,” and whapped me in the face. I coughed, breathing in the powdery sand that puffed out. It smelled faintly of rosemary and freshly burnt popcorn.

Before I could recover, he said slowly, but guiltily, “Really sorry. The creatures of this planet use words. I had to do that so we could converse. Please stop being mad.”

“Stop being mad,” I rumbled with angry eyebrows. “You’re new at introductions.”

“The dust facilitated the transmission of information between us,” he said. His voice was like a ruddy sunset over sand.

Flustered, I replied, “Maybe I’m still sleeping. If you were a dream, that would have made sense.”

“The dust is from my planet. I have always carried it to remember. We all come from dust, and return to dust. It would make sense that most languages are from dust as well. This dust is alive, in its own way. This matter has memory. It remembers being stardust, and communicates with other stardust. It has provided a bridge for our languages.” His inflections were those of speech that has traveled far, and he spoke slowly, deliberately.

I swept some settling sediment from my face, and said, “I have taken language classes in school, and the learning was slow and forgetful. A lot of trouble could have been avoided by flinging dirt around. I don’t feel that would have had the same effect, though.”

The boy from the puddle stared at his pouch of dust, and picked up a handful of dirt under the gazebo. “You are correct. There is more to it. However, the soil here beneath these vines is potent. You must have spent time here listening with more than just your ears. Elsewhere nearby is not the same. Your land has quieted its voice. It has not been listened to. It has turned its attention elsewhere and has gone to sleep.”

“I didn’t realize the ground had an attention,” I said.

“It does. It has a long lifespan, longer than yours or mine, so its attention is different than ours. Similar to my planet, the land here was made of debris from the birth of your sun. It knows the universal language, too. You have listened to the soil here. That much is clear. The soil in this garden feels more responsive than the dust along those lines of power, from the puddle to here.

“The electricity in those wires is forced and has created unnatural lay lines. The wires hold the energy captive, and it buzzes to be set free. The soil beneath the wires heard. To protect itself, it turned inward and fell asleep in the manner of soil. The dust dreams. It wants the symbiosis back between forms of energy and matter. Plant, animal, mineral, and the rest are all made of the same sorts of tiny particles vibrating at various frequencies. The symbiosis came from the forms of energy and matter listening to each other with reverence. The dust dreams its perfect world.”

My loss of conversational skills did not surprise me. Not often did I talk of energy in the middle of the night with a person from a puddle. The tiny particles must be atoms. Atoms paid attention? I was still questioning the ground having attention and protecting itself. Did he pick all that up just walking around? If yes, his power of observation was great. I stood gawping and wanting explanations in the form of stories.

He continued with words that made sense, “It is because you love these plants that the soil is paying attention. You can hear them, can you not?”

“Sometimes I think I’m making it up,” I said. “Sometimes I trust it.”

“Trust it. That love is real.”

I asked, “Are you real?”

He stared at me through shadows. “Well, are you real?”

“I’m not always sure. Sometimes I think I’m someone else’s dream and will pop out of existence as soon as they wake up. But you came from a puddle, and people don’t usually do that. In fact, nobody has ever done that.” I inched closer to him in the sand and tried to see his secrets.

He spoke quietly, “Ah, yes. Nobody ever sees me enter their world. I have water-jumped often, and none of the creatures from any of the worlds noticed me until I engaged them. Yet, you have. I wonder at your power.”

My sudden smile almost laughed, but was too puzzled. Power?

“Power? I was just watching the upside down world. Nothing much of power there.”

“That may be,” he mused. “But perchance not. Watching in its own right is a powerful act.”

“Heh. Actually, I was just thinking something like that. What is your name?”

“…,” the boy said somewhat awkwardly as he continued watching me.

“Well, if you will not tell me, I shall have to call you something,” I looked about for naming inspiration. Not much stood out. “Hummm. You came from a puddle, so I will call youuuu Puddle. How do you feel about that?”

“Puddle,” he said with upturned mouth corners. “Puddle is nice.”

“I’m Birch. I still think you’re a dream, but I like dreams. Day or night. I would like to know more about you.”

“I want to know more about you and this place,” Puddle said. “Your world is intricate. Full of changes. I have found that the components of a puddle are major influences in the world to which they link. The puddle I traveled through to get here looked complex. I was nervous, as some pieces felt foreboding. But, there were some parts so beautiful that I was drawn regardless. What is this world?”

I was not sure how to begin describing this planet, and reached for my necklace to touch the stone leaf there. It was smooth and evening-cool, but gave no answers this time. The planet was far too big and had too many names to be contained in one answer. At a loss, I said a name common to my ears.

“Earth. It means soil. Most languages named this planet soil, too.”

“Earth,” he echoed. Puddle echoed. Thinking his name was… fun. It made me think of bubbles. Maybe because p’s and b’s and d’s are all the same, but flipped about and bouncy.

“You really did come through that puddle, huh?” I asked in a way that didn’t require an answer. “Where are you from, then?” I asked in a way that did.

“My origins. That is difficult to answer. Most of the places I travel to do not use language as you do, but speak with every movement. They ask more what I love than where I am from. What we love can be more revealing than where we are from.

“To answer you most accurately, I am from everywhere I have ever been. The places and creatures, they have all had their impact on me. I suppose I have changed things while I went through their worlds too, because one thing cannot interact with another thing without something changing. Even sitting still, we are causing the breeze to go around us. Our conversation is causing other thoughts. We exist, therefore we alter existence with every thought and movement.”

“What you love. I like that. I want to be from the stuff I love. I suppose I am from this garden, then,” I said, privately hoping he would also love the plants that I considered friends. “Helping things grow and listening to plants has helped me find my place around here.”

Puddle smiled and was silent for a moment while his eyes surveyed the garden. Then he said, “I’m not sure I even needed to dust you for us to understand each other. You saw me arrive though the puddle and can speak with the plants, even through all this external noise.”

“The buzzing?”

“That is one cause. There are a lot of other unfamiliar sounds. Also, this night has an orange tint. The stars are blocked. These were things I saw in the puddle through which I traveled. They made me hesitate to come here.”

“The orange tinge is light pollution. Sometimes, when you’re away from town, it can trick you to thinking you’re watching the aurora borealis, which is much rarer than light from cities. I’m glad you came here.”

Puddle nodded agreement, and picked a smooth pebble from his pack and handed it to me. It looked speckled, but the moon was difficult to read by. “Here,” he said. “Tree agate, in your words.”

“Thank you,” I said quietly, holding the stone. It had a comforting feel, like it was putting a sleep on me. I blinked away the darkness. The feeling of comfort continued, and reached about my edges. It made my eyes heavy. I stared into the stone, lit by droll moonlight. I tried looking back at Puddle, but the mottling on the stone held my vision and blurred my mind. Movement became that of dreams, where everything was heavier than physics said it should be, like wading in cold molasses on a marshmallow mountain. I closed my eyes, and heard bird songs. When I opened them, morning gushed through my blinds and I laid in my bed. A dream.

I rolled over to see the time, and on my side table was a smooth stone, mottled green and white. The tree agate.

Invitations

The letter was written on a slip of parchment crafted from grass, leaves, and cottonwood seeds. The ink was from boiled walnut husks. It read:

 

Dear Council Members,

It is of gravest necessity for you to honor us with your presence this year at the Gathering of Veorda. Your guidance has served as a beacon of light and inspiration for the evolution of our society, and is needed once again in our moment of distress. A force is upon the land. Our design is to initiate conversation early on, and start building ideas. We intend for those ideas to have time to grow, in order to reach a beneficial solution for all.

 

With gratitude and hope,

H. Thorn

 

A Walk in the Park

When we were children and exploring the reality of our imaginations, Mae used to say bears lived in the miniature forest behind my house. One was named Alfred, who liked roller hockey and had a dream to learn to count on an abacus. Those were adventures. We would gather up our battle sticks and sneak through the trees, learning to walk quietly and avoid the hornet nest. I’m not sure why we had battle sticks in the first place, because we never really battled. They seemed like important inventory. Adventures needed weapons, and so on. The hornets had a right to build their home, and we had no desire to battle them. We learned diplomacy from their stingers.

We had more wilderness when I was young. I’ve been around in this body for only seventeen years, and have seen too much green turn concrete. There were even horse stables a short walk down that quieter, yet still power-lined field. I was fifteen when a subdivision ate the stables and most of the trees between us. It’s not that I didn’t like the people who moved in. I didn’t even know them. I simply missed the trees, and the ponies. The land itself was hurt for not being asked to accept such a drastic change. The part of the land that got chopped up and covered over stopped speaking in retaliation, such like Puddle spoke about last night. I’m not sure anyone else noticed.

Bulldozers couldn’t plow every quest. They could try. They did try. As I saw it, adventure and imagination were nearly synonymous. They were the slant rhymes of perception. Imagination would persevere. Adventure would persevere. Adventure could bide its time and prod to be let out at every opportunity. Each moment, the mind could celebrate or smush its imagination.

Go ahead and walk out the door with adventurous intent. What becomes may not line up exactly with what you want, but that intent will always sneak in a wink of mischievous mirth. Once, my adventure came in the form of a conversation in front of a shop. I had a grumpy morning, and decided to follow some universe signs in hopes that the grump might go away. Mae and I walked around, and we picked our path by what felt right. A breeze pushed us left, or the sun hit a rock at a really nice angle so we turned to go past it. A half hour of walking placed us in front of a grocery store. Mae went inside to get a soda. I stayed outside because the sun was feeling so nice, and I didn’t like anything with fizz. My grumpiness dissipated as I waited.

His name was Kelly, or maybe it was Kelley. We had never met. He rode up on his bike, wild curls blowing in the wind. We eyed each other for a moment, and I smiled to break the silence. Sometimes a smile said a whole lot. He introduced himself. Mae walked out sipping her soda. We, as three, sauntered around town and through the parks for the rest of the afternoon. Mae and I had met a Storyteller.

His tales held truth, even if they didn’t hold facts. I didn’t know if he visited all the wild places he mentioned, or met all the characters he described. He could not have been much older than we were, and his travel map was extensive. Then again, everyone’s story was different. Perhaps, perhaps.

I loved every moment.

He saw straight into the heart of each person who entered his stories, and explained their beauty and their pain. He read more than facial expressions and minute movements. He read minds, in the way one read shadows on a sunny day.

He told us about the missions of the neighborhood wild cats. Their sworn duty was to keep the balance, and fend off rodent invaders. One rough and tumble tom spelled his name with an h; Caht. His specialty was climbing. He would climb to the high branches, and mew so pitifully that the people living in the closest houses would venture outside, and talk in worried tones until someone got a ladder. Then, that wily creature would run down the tree, and off into the sunset, gloating on how he got people to drop what they were doing and go outside. Kelly’s story made me love cats on a whole new level.

 

Adventure calls to those who listen. The loot is usually tangible as the effect of a smile.

Despite the tree agate, which found its way to my pocket, fully believing in last night’s garden conversation needed greater waking proof. Unexplainable things could still be valid. Still, I had difficulty accepting them without further examination.

Easy explanation: I was never in the garden.

Contrary evidence: The tree agate.

Believing a boy could climb from a bit of grounded rain was unbelievable. I wanted to find him. If he was a hallucination, at least he was a good one.

Today’s adventure of wandering to find Puddle whispered for me to bring my pack. I kept a small backpack full of provisions ready for times when I felt the pull of adventuring, and thought I might get hungry along the way. Along with some snacky bits, my pack held string, a warm shirt, some socks, and a bamboo fork and spoon set. It also had a tick removal kit, which consisted of tweezers, a lighter, and a jar to hold the tick. Ticks were indestructible, except by fire. They swelled in the heat of the flame until they popped. They were the only creeper that creeped me out because they sometimes carried the spirochete that caused Lyme disease, which could imitate other illnesses. Ticks were scarier than black widow venom.

The trees around town were sparse. I decided to take the power-line path across a few streets toward the park, where a small, youthful forest grew older every year. I would go to those trees, and pretend the rush of vehicles from all directions was a strong, constant wind. The brain was funny in that it could believe whatever it wanted if it tried hard enough. Somewhere in there, it would still question. At the same time, wind and traffic sounded similar enough, and I found comfort in pretending I was far away from all the busyness that made my head spin. It took a persistent imagination to survive in this town.

I passed a transmission tower. Bees sniffed some early dandelions. Ah-hah. I flew as a queen bee in search of a new home, with my arms out, and a buzz on my teeth. I pointed out tangy wood sorrel and the big leafed clovers with their crimson smiles. Then, even though nobody was watching, I got embarrassed and just walked. A worry had hit.

Mae sometimes asked why I would be uncool and go outside, where there might be bugs and no temperature control. You needed a reason to go outdoors. Independent, mature people didn’t do things just because. They didn’t pretend to be bees. They made schedules and had reasons. I figured she was momentarily confused, and would join me outside when she regained her senses, dressed for the weather, and remembered how to play. Play shredded stress like concrete shredded knees at a high velocity.

I had met too many people who preferred to have their stories written for them. To that, I sang only dead fish swam with the stream. I wrote my own story. I wanted play to be cool, and resumed buzzing back and forth about it.

The park was a strip of land reserved for exercise and dog walking, and followed an opaque river that I would not consider drinkable. Still, the ducks seemed to have survived so far. Tough buggers.

I stepped into the park, chained against motor vehicles, and felt like I was entering a different world. The ground was dappled in sun rays that sparkled as they collided with particles in the air. Young nettles watched from the liminal space between the trail and the trees, in their beautiful and dangerous ways. Either drying or heating rendered their sting safe. I liked to pick their leaves and steep them for a deliciously buttery tea piled with health benefits. I almost stopped what I was doing to go back and make that tea. They would still be there later, so I kept on.

I took a left at one of the side dirt trails, hopping over fallen limbs and around scratchy blackberry bushes. Fiddlehead ferns waved in the gentle wind, and I stopped for a bite. They tasted like pale green furled up spring, tender as the music made by mist before it warms. As they stretched their full length, they became bitter and minimally toxic. A nibble would indicate the level of toxins via flavor.

A clearing sat further among the trees, surrounded by old beeches and oaks. Drunken underage party people liked that spot too, and I often found myself cleaning up their bottles and butts. Never a thanks. No sorry for partying. I was glad the people at the park provided recycling as well as garbage cans.

However, the trees saw my doings, and so shared their secrets. They revealed the best reading nooks in curved branches, and pointed my toes to patches of chanterelles and morels. Last summer I spent a weekend with a group of people who partook in such delectable foraging, and they introduced me to several safe forest mushrooms and the care it took for responsible foraging. We didn’t want to deplete any resources for wildlife.

Today the space was clear of waste, and full of plants and dirt and singing birds. I sat with my back against some roots and took out the tree agate for further examination. Movement above drew my attention.

“Good morning,” Puddle said from the boughs, his dreaded hair hanging like vines.

Be still, my surprised heart.

“Morning,” I mumbled, startled. “What are you doing up there?”

“Waiting.”

“Forrr…”

“You.”

How did he know I was going to this tree?

I asked, “How did you know I was going to this tree?”

He held up a stone similar to the tree agate in my hand. “The stones. Their language is particular, but they speak with each other, so I knew you were headed this way. I can only hear them when I am close to one of them, but they can speak to each across great distances. Like plants. The ones with the same stone or crystalline structures understand each other best, like these agates together, but they do communicate across species. Different stones have their own dialects and areas of specialty mixed within their molecular structure. Such as, these tree agates connect with plants, while amethyst connects with dreams. You speak with plants, so the agate is suitable for your situation.”

He dropped down from the branches and faced me with his upturned mouth corners. He looked earthy with his dried oak leaf colored shirt and wild twig hair. He smelled of dew.

I did not blush. My cheeks were… ahem… sunburned suddenly.

“So, that would make the stones alive,” I ventured after a moment. “Even if they don’t have cells? You’re supposed to have cells to be considered alive.”

“Sure,” he did another grin. “They are alive in their own way. They breathe, for one. Different entities breathe in their various ways. Stones expand with heat, contract with cool. They breathe temperature. Also, if you paint an airtight waterproof sealer on them, they tend to crack more easily after a while. They suffocate.”

“You said they have particular language. Neither stones nor plants exactly have vocal chords. The herbs in my garden speak in, well, colors maybe. Or shapes. I feel it in my mind when I concentrate on them. I have learned to tell when they’re pleased or upset. A lot of it has to do with chemicals and physics, too. Drooping. Discoloration.”

Puddle nodded, “Language is limited. Language without words can be complex, and difficult to translate into words. I have not been able to find an exact translation for the language the stones speak. One way the stones speak is with energy. They are made of those tiny particles-”

“Atoms,” I interrupted silently in my mind, then listened further.

“-that vibrate at certain frequencies. The stones resonate if you listen right, and you can hear without hearing. I have been listening to their overtones. They hold memories that float through space and time. Those memories are always available to hear without hearing, if one knows how to listen.”

“Wait. What overtones? Memories. What do you mean?”

Puddle turned his palms to the sky, as if holding solid invisible matter. “You know, the thoughts that float around. They come from everywhere. Rocks themselves, seas, people, trees, lizards. Past. Present. You can hear the plants. This is similar, where time has less relevance. The language is generally not heard in words. You have to be careful. It gets loud.”

I supposed I had never tried to listen to… everything. “What do you do? I’d like to hear.”

Puddle sat cross-legged and pulled his feet above his knees in the lotus position I had learned through yoga. I sat facing him and did the same, but soon repositioned because the lotus is a beautiful flower, but can be difficult to imitate.

“Listen to nothing,” he began, “and you will hear everything.”

I closed my eyes and heard the traffic. It turned to wind and leaves in my mind. I imagined time away and felt the plants quickening, their sap flowing against gravity, awakened by spring. The forces of the moon and planets, and influences unimaginably far, came together in a cosmic dance. The sun that lit the Earth was a freckle on the elbow of the Milky Way.

I saw the seasons slowing down and falling asleep for the year. In their slumber, I heard hints of stories, somewhere in the ether. Then, wakening again in an unchanging, ever changing cycle, the stories searched for actors and an audience. I felt the revolution around the sun, oscillating at a distance I could only half imagine for an instant. The ellipse of our path brought us closer then further, while the tilt kept the cycles turning.

“Know that energy is flowing up your spine,” said Puddle in his slow, deliberate voice. “Hear what Earth is saying.”

I heard skittering squirrels scavenging fallen acorns. The rumble of passing vehicles drifted through the forest, disguising their noises as the restless zephyr. The sounds were blending, becoming part of the whole. My breath filled and escaped my lungs at the rate of spinning worlds. The noises blurred. A soundless moment approached, in which I felt like I was inside a bubble of everything. It formed around my body that was both resting on the forest floor and in a place that felt like either nowhere or everywhere. All was still, yet all was in constant motion. A dust piece floated close, tickled my nose, and achoo! sudden earthquake broke the connection.

“I could almost hear,” I said, wanting to try again.

“You will,” assured Puddle. “Soon enough. Would you show me your world? I have been walking about on my own, but I would like to share your experience.”

I have been waiting what seemed like several small eternities for someone to come along and ask to share experiences with me, or for someone who understood the kinds of experiences I wanted to share. The world was such a beautiful place that I sometimes felt I could explode with experiencing life solo. I appreciated time in silence and stillness to think, though the silence was never quiet. While in the garden, I was with plant friends. While walking, I was with the wind. While at school, I was ignored and talked at by the instillers of education. We were not to think or have experiences. My only job was to be quiet, so I retreated into my head. To share an experience with another person who was interested: glorious.

Puddle had seen other worlds. I was thinking of how exciting a sojourn to another world could be, but that had to wait because Puddle wanted to look about this world.

“Hmm,” I began. “All I had planned for today was to create an adventure and graze the spring forest. That may not be the most thrilling sort of experience around, but the fiddlehead ferns are at their tenderly delectable stage.”

“Let us have an adventure, then,” said Puddle. That boy was nice to have around.

“We’ll need hazel sticks for protection. There are dragons in this forest, and not all of them are friendly,” I pointed to a fallen tree whose roots twisted about, which were the hide and horns and terrible teeth of the wrinkly reptile. “That dragon is friendly.”

“Oh, good,” Puddle pronounced as he jumped up. “Where are we able to find a hazel?”

“Back down this trail and over here. It’s this shrubby tree. I’ve never liked taking sticks off trees themselves, unless they give their permission. I always carry my knife in case I need a branch. They deserve a clean cut, or else the ripped bark could hurt them more. It could get infected easier.”

“How would you know the tree is giving its permission?” asked my dreadlocked companion.

“You should know. You speak with them, too.”

“True, but you may know a different way than me.”

“Ok. To ask a tree’s permission, you can think a thought at it, or ask out loud. Trees aren’t much for saying human words out loud, but I think speaking helps. You ask if it would consent to give a piece of itself to you, and then you pay attention to the feeling right after, the one in your guts. Sometimes my inner voice says no, and I move on. More often I get a yes feeling, but I always ask. Just because a tree doesn’t have nerve endings and feel in the same way as humans, doesn’t mean it will gladly let anyone tear parts off it any time they feel.”

Puddle nodded and kept his everlasting smile resting on his face, “That is a good way. I was taught another way to find answers that may not be outright obvious using your body. Want to try?”

“Sure.”

“Stand comfortably with your spine tall, and hold a true or false statement in your mind. The way you sway shows the truth. Think or say: I am Birch.”

I stood tall, and thought I was Birch. I swooned slightly forward.

Puddle nodded. “Think something false,” he said.

I thought how boring this experiment was. I swayed backward, nearly toppling.

Puddle nodded. “See. For you, true things lean you forward, and false ideas push you back. Sometimes this can help you listen to yourself, and make decisions. If you are trying to lie to yourself, you will feel it in the pull.”

I stepped forward along the path feeling pleased, “And here I thought you were going to think I was crazy asking for plantish permission. Though, I did see you come out of a puddle. Maybe I’m crazy still.”

“No, you are quite alright. If either of us were crazy, I would say it is me. I might be in some sort of coma somewhere, in a body that does not jump from world to world. I do not understand what happens exactly throughout the entire process with the puddles, but I continue to figure out the workings more with each jump.” Puddle stood akimbo a moment, and looked back and forth in thought. “Jumping is only a mildly accurate verb to describe the feeling. It is like a force pushing away from another force, and then pulling back, but in a different direction. You seem to change directories somewhere in the middle. The jump, also, has to be intentional. I often step in water without going through a portal, except for once. My first jump was not exactly intentional, but intention was there nonetheless.”

“What, like you fell out of your planet? What were you doing to make that happen?”

Puddle’s subtle smile left for the first time since I saw him in the garden, and he replied in a voice that would have made the first willow weep and the bleeding heart flower run red. “I have never been able to return, and I loved the people of my planet, and the creatures, and the places. I was arguing with my family about some trivial matter that I thought was important, and maybe it was important, but even then, the reasons were not great enough to have left. I cannot get back. I have tried, but cannot find the right pool. I left with such anger.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Saying it’ll be ok didn’t seem fair. Saying I’m sorry didn’t either, and I don’t like to apologize for things I haven’t done. I didn’t know his family. Perhaps they were still mad at him and thought he ran away on purpose. Perhaps I should offer a hug, but not quite yet. He may not be the hugging type. Not everyone appreciates touch. I laid my hand on his arm to see if he flinched, and felt that was enough for now to show my heart went out to him. He may just need to speak about his circumstances some more to feel better, so I paraphrased him to show I was listening, and hoped that would get more information, “Your situation is a heavy one. You didn’t feel your argument was worth leaving. Still, you wanted to be heard.”

He paused, and kept pausing until I nearly decided to change the subject, but waited that instant longer that is essential for delicate situations. He breathed deep, as if taking in energy from the trees, and spoke in such a whisper that if a passing mosquito were to get too close, his voice would have been lost as he was, and he gave me his story.

 

I remember the sunrise. Colorless but, given time, would explode like so many sumac blossoms hurled in good nature between young siblings, before the children became wise enough to let them alone to grow to be food for others. The land jumped from desert to oasis to desert in hard drawn lines, circling the entrance to my home. My people loved and traveled the dunes of sand and grasses and scraggly trees.

The hills rose up to let the sun and shadow dance upon elevation. I often stood on the oasis border, and watched the morning light give shadows to the raised sand tendrils, stretching horizontally toward the horizon. The wind lines were as tall as my toes, but to the ants, they were huge and rolling ridges. I liked to wake before the light overcame the dark, and watch the stars fall asleep in their gray blanket, before color returned to the world.

The stars outlined the land and told us stories of our ancestors. The stars told the stories because they remembered what happened better than we could ever imagine. They wrote our stories in sparking permanence, so we could read them when the time was right. I wondered what stories the ants saw, if they happened to stay up so long. I wondered if they saw the stories of their ancestors, or if they worked too hard and had no time for tales. I needed them, the stories. I needed to remember, so I could know where to go. Sometimes, when I’m traveling through worlds, I wonder if any of those stars are ones I used to see on my planet.

The dawn has a secret aroma. The dampness of night and baked stone scent of day mingled in the dawn. That was the time for growth, before the sun stole the moisture from above ground. The Land was rarely in a hurry. The plants knew each morning gave them another opportunity to grow.

We lived under the ground in the sort of way that we spent most of our time in the open air. Beneath the stone was water, safe from heat and evaporation. Without that lifeblood, we would surely perish, so we revered the water and it spoke to us. Water gave us life, and we respected its power. It taught us our priorities. If we respected water, we respected life.

Beneath the stone surface wound caves that held magic condensed into solid form. Crystals of blue and purple, red, green, and yellow grew, and would reflect light down into the dark caves on certain days of the year. Only a few people could read the ancient signs illuminated on the cavern walls. The marks were not cut by hands and tools. They were light reflections from the minerals. They were like the wavy patterns water reflected, only still. I was learning to read them.

The Land itself raised its children and we knew we were one. All of us, with each other, with the lizards, the feathers, spiny, fuzzy, clawed, toed, toothed, tailed, and the very rocks. We raised each other and spoke the same speech, though not always with words. Our language went deeper when we concentrated, to the place where only thoughts and feelings resided, where intentions were conceived and reactions were birthed, grew old, and died. Raised thus, we experienced life through eyes and fingers not only our own. We shared energy just as we shared water, and perhaps more readily. We were not free of misunderstanding, but nearly.

See, the Land held more magic than we could learn. It taught us only that for which we were ready, and kept secrets until we understood well enough what we already knew. We practiced those skills with respect learned from our connection with all, and in doing so, gave the magic back to the Land. It rewarded us with increased strength. Our relationship was symbiotic.

The people would gather often, though life was difficult and we grew tired throughout the day. But as the sun rolled near the horizon, we shared our stories and were filled with fresh strength. We walked our stories, danced our stories, and gave them freely to one another because we trusted each person would respect ours and give us theirs in return. Stories kept us alive and connected us with the Land, with ourselves, and with all others. This is what I thought, but sometimes stories are not enough. Stories lead us in many ways and to many places, but do not always bring us to answers as quickly as we may need them, or think we need them.

She was beautiful and friendly. Her family and mine had been close friends. She was skilled in the areas held in esteem with my people. Many sought to be near her. She could manipulate any situation with her grace in order to fulfill her desires.

Her name was Amaryna. She could speak with the lizards, and retold their stories when the families living in our oasis would get together in the evenings. When we were young, she would direct the games the children would play. She was always good and fair with her instructions, and everyone had a pleasant time. I would join the games at times, but my toes always had a wandering step in them, so I would also join in conversation with the elders, and walk about on my own for long moments.

As we grew, Amaryna noticed me more, especially when I was not with her and her games. She was the very essence of courtesy when all fell in place with her plans, and her efforts grew to keep all in her control. Amaryna noticed me, and noticed how I meandered about during the gatherings. I am sure that was what caught her attention. I did not hand her my full attention, and that was what she wanted. She expressed this to our parents. They made arrangements. We were to be joined.

That she should choose me surprised our families initially. She had many followers, and I tended toward wandering. They expected an attentive follower for her that would please and appease all her will. I did not consent very readily, and this surprised them further. I was going against tradition. A deal had been struck, and our union had been decided.

It was not that I did not like Amaryna. Quite the opposite. I loved her for who she was, and her family because they were always so close with my family. But I could not handle the lack of respect shown in not conferring with me on such a decision. I tried to keep peace for as long as possible because my family was pleased, and our union was a logical one. Our union would solidify our families. My heart fought with itself. My whole being began to fall apart. I grew irritable, and spent more time studying the crystals of our caves. I attended the evening gatherings with little frequency.

I did learn significant workings of the crystals. The tree agate you hold was one of the stones from the roots of our caves. It helps connect anyone near it with the spirits of the trees, and aids in subtle communication that goes beyond language. I gave this one to you to strengthen your connection with the plants further.

While in the caves, I came across this other stone. It is of the same sort you wear about your neck. I found it on the bank of an underground lake on a day when the amethysts that reached up to the surface caught sun rays and carried them down. The walls glistened with indigo glory, and ribbons of light reflected off the water.

This stone called to me. It waited on the shore, and resonated with something in my soul. The underground gifted me this secret. Nowhere else on my planet had I encountered this sort of stone. It was something lost as well. It wanted me to find it.

When I picked it up from that underground shore, I felt a strangeness. It was as if it had known a different world. It spoke no language I grasped.

Over time, I learned that it was a form of tektite, which formed when a meteor melted its crash zone into glass. Thus, tektite held the power to travel far.

Since I had not seen it on my planet, I tried to guess how the piece of tektite got to the shore of that underground lake. Who could have dropped it? Where had they gone? Did they wander the caves until they grew too tired to wander?

I was able to escape to the caves for most of my waking hours. Still, I was obligated to meet with Amaryna’s and my families, and act civil, if not joyous. I had little practice at faking joy, and I would have been too obvious if I had tried. Not one noticed my utter distress, covered with civility. There was too much planning to accomplish.

I think, now, that I would have been able to learn to be happy with our arrangement if it meant I could have remained with my family and my world. If not happy, I could have learned to be content. At the same time, attempting to assume a content life while I tore myself apart inside was contradictory.

I felt Amaryna did not fully love me. I felt she wanted to control me. Perhaps I was only a part of her games, a part to keep her in practice. Instead of discussing it with her directly, I turned inward and my core died, hardened, and turned to coal.

A spark of life did remain. It smoldered and, one evening, it lit my core that had turned to coal. Heat and fire came out through my words. Nobody expected my reaction, as they assumed I had turned quiet because of my studies.

The combustion of my anger spread through my family. I was told to leave and never return. I flew away from the oasis faster than a tumbleweed in a tornado.

My core had burned away. I shuffled over the sand, inside my numbing cloud of shame and self-loathing. I thought I deserved my pain and held on to it, and drifted. I survived without thinking. The knowledge of locating water and safe plants came from a lifetime of reinforced instinct. I tasted nothing. I was ashes all the way through.

There was one continuous storm on my planet. It orbited through the atmosphere, and replenished water reservoirs. The storm had its own agenda, and could be absent for years. There were times when that liquid life took an unnerving length of time to return. The plants survived on the heavy morning dew, but the moisture came from those reservoirs. And reservoirs could run dry.

I am not sure if the rains were on time that year because I did not know or care how long I had been walking. But, they came. The very rocks drank and swelled to twice their size and the plants jumped up and danced in celebration. The sky water washed my eyes clear, and the misery I had coated my heart with let fresh air through for the first time since I left. I was glad to exist in the world once again.

A beautiful stillness remained after the rains. The air smelled thick as honey, sweet as pollen, and cool as the breeze of bee wings. The sky, in shades of blues and greens, watched the growing things. I watched the sky reflecting in the many pools of water. I laid stomach-down on a flat boulder as the clouds made shapes with their reflections on the land. My thoughts drifted around the shapes. How nice it would be to wander the entire world as a cloud playing with its shadow on the ground.

That was when I learned the tektite stone I wore was the key to water-jumping.

I held the tektite because I felt it wanted to watch the clouds with me, and wished as hard as I could wish for my world on the ground to be like where the clouds lived. They were free as anything bound by the laws of the wind.

I rolled over, stretched, and somehow found the only slippery part of the boulder. Gravity kicked me over, and I fell headfirst toward the ground. The fall would have been on the deadly side, had I not gone through that shallow pool into a world made of clouds.

 

Puddle looked at me as he came back from his memories.

Filled with emotion and wanderlust, and the silence of soaking up his saturated words, I said, “That is amazing. I mean, it makes me want to cry for your loss, and hug you to try to fill up all the spaces and sing you a song to do those magical things that songs do. I want to help you find your world.”

The smile Puddle had when we met slowly began to sneak back to his lips, though it hesitated with memory.

He nodded, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, Birch, and it helps to know I have a friend. Finding my birth planet is not so easy. I have searched through many waterjumps. However, this is a big universe. Actually, I am not sure if I am still in the same universe in which I started. Some of the worlds have had strange physics.”

We had stopped moving when Puddle began telling his story, and now started again along the trail. A couple of ducks landed in the river to our left and flirted with each other, while squirrels chased and chittered around a mighty maple.

I mused, “Good thing the puddle doorways always seem to work. So far, you haven’t gotten stuck in a place where physics was more deadly, or else you probably wouldn’t be here. Wait. I thought you were studying crystals, not physics.”

“I have studied many subjects because all things connect so well. The more I learned, the more questions I gathered. As for physics, I had studied only the preliminaries of such science, so perhaps my observations are misguided. Personal, empirical evidence supports that physics works similarly in most worlds. A splash in a puddle makes expanding ripples in most worlds. Friction exists. Wind happens. Inertia.”

“Oh. What about the strange physics?” I asked.

“In one world, gravity was strange,” Puddle remembered. “Things had mass, but different sorts of mass did not attract each other, like normal gravity. The ground held itself together with a vine-like system, and the species living there got around by attaching themselves to that network. The water was held in woven containers. I rose from the portal when I entered that world, and kept rising. I am not sure what would have happened had I not grabbed a floating tendril that was barely attached itself, and dragged myself back down, soft as a soap bubble, for fear of breaking that vine.”

I shuddered, “Too scary! You would have lost all your air in the vacuum you were heading toward. Well, unless that part of physics was different too. If the gravity was different, than the air pressure could be different. Gravity holds the atmosphere to the planet, which makes up air pressure. Did the saliva on your tongue boil? That would happen if there was too little pressure. Er, the puddles would be boiling too with the lack of pressure, or would they be frozen? Was being frozen how the water stayed as a puddle? Can you go through frozen puddles? Have you been able to breathe on all the planets you’ve gone to?”

“Maybe there was a bubble around the world that held in the atmosphere,” mused Puddle. “The pressure seemed pretty similar to that which I left. The temperature was the same as well. I have not tried a frozen puddle. I think that being able to survive on all the planets has something to do with the portals. The elements reflected in the pool are often the predominant elements in the planet on the other end. I have always left from breathable air and arrived in breathable air. I can only hope that pattern will remain. I would need a better jacket for a frozen puddle.”

I wondered, “Do you think that since the gravity was different, it would cause a whole chain reaction of things being different? The forces depend on each other so much. Gravity helped the planets in this solar system form as spheres, and gravity helps keep them in elliptical paths around the sun. I wonder if that vine planet had a different way to orbit, then.”

Puddle thought back, “I did not stay long enough to observe. I remember climbing the vines that created ladders to satellite plateaus that floated above the main land. I had no fear of falling. I did fear floating away on a broken vine.”

“I’m glad you found your way to a puddle before that could have happened.”

My imagination took me to depth defying heights. I imagined leaping from one plateau to another, but my momentum was enough to set the first plateau in motion, where it collided with the one next to it. A whole chain reaction of colliding plateaus went bonk bonk bonk in my mind. Then the vines weakened, and each plateau broke free, calling behind it goodbye cruel world. My imagined self waved from one hunk of rock sailing through the sky. I thought mostly oops, and a little about how useful rocket boosters would be. Then, since we were talking about big forces, I thought of magnets.

“Even small magnets defy gravity,” I began as I stumbled through my thought. “Earth’s core has a liquid layer outside its innermost solid layer. The churning iron causes a planet-sized magnetic field, which pushes aside a lot of scary solar winds and such that would obliterate life as we know it on this planet. Magnets do amazing things. Maybe the magnetic fields on the viney planet were aligned just right in order to make some things seem like they were floating.”

“You are saying magnetism compensated for the seemingly different gravity,” Puddle paraphrased. “Their fields balanced things out with a twist. Hmm. Overall, the physics still worked the same, but appeared different than what I was used to experiencing. There may have been something floating in the puddle through which I jumped that influenced those fields. I just was not aware at the time. Perhaps the portal creates the world.”

“Then the world would die as soon as the puddle dried up,” I countered. “At the same time, I don’t think the portal and the makeup of the connecting world are mutually exclusive, at least from what you’ve explained. They are connected. The reflection shows parts of the other world, like an introduction to the world. It gets you ready to go to that world, but doesn’t influence the content of that world.”

“So, the world is the world. It is the portal that is fluid in where it connects. Whenever the puddle changes, the destination changes.”

“Ooh. Endless possibilities. Good thing the math of the universe supports it being infinite. That is a lot of possibilities.”

The more we talked, the more plausible waterjumping felt. A big part of me was attached to a small part of this world. I knew Earth was far bigger and more complex than my tiny section that I knew. My life was a miniscule side quest in the MMORPG of Earth. I loved my family. I loved my garden. At the same time, I thought they would do well enough without me, and I had curiosity taking over my every neuron. There were oodles of Earth-based pursuits to explore here. Yet. I wanted to see what somewhere else was like. The bug of curiosity bit me, and its inquisitive venom spread throughout my body.

“Do you think I could waterjump?” I asked.

“You would leave your world?” Puddle asked incredulously. “You may never be able to return.”

“I know. Sometimes I’m not sure if I really truly belong here. It’s just. That I just. It’s difficult to explain. I know my family mostly loves me, sometimes because I think they have to. I’m not sure if anyone else likes me, except for the herbs in my garden. The plants are very understanding, and patient, and nonjudgmental, but not my species. I feel too different from anyone around here. I need a journey far away.”

We walked in silence for a moment before Puddle said, “It sounds like you have spent much time learning your mind, and I think the plants have helped you find quiet moments for contemplation. Do you think, with time, you could create a sense of belonging for yourself, or within yourself enough to stay?”

“Maybe. At the same time, I feel something is missing, and I’m not sure if it’s coming from me or from an outside source. It’s a something-missing-stuck-bored-routine-required-which-makes-me-grouchy feeling, and I just have to get out so I can see better. I feel as if I’ve been caged for such a long time.”

Puddle connected with that point, “To truly appreciate the life you have known is to leave it all behind, whether on purpose or accident. Now that I am rift from my family, I see even more what they meant to me.”

I was glad he was patient. He let me express my thoughts without making me feel wrong wanting to leave because of his own regrets. He made good points, too. I might never get back.

At the same time, I might never experience exploring another world. I might wait forever for something exciting to come along, then not go with it because I was afraid I’d never see those I loved again. I might feel lost forever, like a part of me was missing out on something big.

I wanted to go. I wanted to see what happened, even if it all went haywire. I might live swathed in regrets no matter what.

“My heart goes to you for your loss,” I said. “My heart is in two places. I am still interested in water-jumping. I’ve needed an adventure for so long. A real one that is not mainly in my imagination. I know this is a big decision. I feel scared of the unknown, and also solid about water-jumping. My toes are restless.”

“Could you not wander this planet?”

“Yes. But no. Would you explain more how it works when you step through a puddle?”

Puddle stood silently for some time. His words seeped slowly when he spoke again, each phoneme a restrained drip from the rusty pipes of his voice, as if he wanted to remain silent.

Eventually he creaked out, “Be open to the concept of a real world on the other side, and stay open because it may take some good amount of tries to get there. I splashed around a lot while attempting to leave that second world full of clouds.”

“It’s about your mental state, then?”

“Yes, quite a bit. Do not think it might work. Believe it will work.”

“I could do that.”

I knew magic existed, whether it could be explained with science or not. It also helped that I saw Puddle waterjump to this world. Even more, the most magical people I knew were also the most practical.

I tried to keep in mind practical matters, and asked, “Would you get hungry in any of the worlds? How did you know you could eat the food there?”

Puddle nodded. “I have known hunger and I have known bounty. I have felt discomfort so acutely that my stomach-groans turned to primal screams in a final stand for endurance, as my body turned in to eat itself. Often, if I saw a creature eat something, the food would be safe for me as well. However, some creatures build their tolerance to that plant’s toxins. One trick is moderation. Anything could be toxic, it just depends on the dose. Sometimes cooking it changes the harmful components.”

“That reminds me of the monarch butterfly,” I supplied. “As a caterpillar, it only eats milkweed, which is poisonous for people. We can boil the toxins out, though. The young seedpods are quite tasty, if done right. So many edible plants are not considered food, but they are delectable.”

“Or, like with the milkweed, it only needs a small change to make it edible,” agreed Puddle. “Flavor is a good indicator. If it tastes bad, that is my body telling me that it is not ready for that food.”

I retorted, “Over the years, our taste buds have matched with foods we could eat. The joys of evolution. However, not all tasty food is good food around these parts. There is a whole field of study concerning chemical effects on the olfactory system. It can trick our bodies into craving something that makes them grumpy, or lethargic. Simultaneously, it is fascinating to study smells. In the end, I love any occasion to get to know the farmers who grow real food.”

“Do you know what I love?” asked Puddle. “I love how food creates beautiful opportunities to connect with creatures along the way. Plants eat sunlight. Plants have other growing requirements, but I have always considered them lucky in that way. I have been to several worlds where the creatures gather together to eat and celebrate the sunshine that went into their food. I always feel like I glow after those meals.”

“I bet you did glow,” I said. “You’re glowing now. I see sunshine in your eyes and your smile.”

“You glow, too,” replied Puddle.

“I don’t always feel it,” I said. “Especially lately. I feel distant a lot. Unconnected from everything. I retreat inside my head. It’s sometimes safer there, and easier than dealing with people and their expectations. My imagination never let me down, or tried to trick me for its own amusement. My imagination never told me my shoes made me look unappealing, or my nail polish was out of style. It never called me lazy for forgetting to do my homework. That homework wasn’t actually useful anyway. It was just something to grade in a feeble attempt at accountability or whatever. My imagination never accused me of being childish for trying to start an epic game of tag, or flighty because I changed my mind about something. My imagination accepts me fully, just like my garden.”

“Those expectations can be harmful,” agreed Puddle. “They can steal your energy and dim your heart.”

“Back to food,” I said. “Food is more than just something to eat. It creates the cells of your body. Food has the power to bring people together. I just read about a town that passed a law to stop people from growing food for themselves. Tomato plants were not aesthetic enough. They outlawed beekeeping at the same time. Banning people’s empowerment over their food is a great way to spread hunger, and take away opportunities to connect with both food and each other.”

“How frightening.”

I nodded, and continued, “I have felt guilty because there are so many people suffering from things out of their control, so I tried to make suffering of my own in order to make things fairer. I would skip meals because I felt guilty that some people didn’t get enough food. I was mad at so many intricate injustices happening in the world that I thought the only way to make things ok was to suffer myself. Something seemed wrong about that. I just didn’t know what to do. How could I end suffering by creating the pain I wanted to soothe? I don’t want to feel guilty for crap happening in the world, but I want to figure out why we do things the way we do them. Too often I cannot understand why.”

Puddle agreed, “You would not be doing any world any good to create your own pain in order to deal with knowing others are hurting. That is one benefit of an empathetic heart. You can feel the grief of others without living it. Pained energy brings about painful results, and I feel focusing on the suffering can overshadow the real issues. Perhaps because I have felt pain, I have tried to understand it when I see it in my travels. The roots are often underground. You can only see their tops; the symptoms. There are many winding offshoots that try to control and cause the suffering in others, which may only transpire as surface symptoms.”

I attempted to think through the causes of hunger, disease, fighting, pollution, and the innumerable inequalities and injustices. It was overwhelming.

I sighed, “There are so many reasons to give up and just go party. Sometimes I feel the world is already destroyed, and all I actually do about it is sit bored in school, and grow plants.”

Puddle made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob, which sounded vaguely like a hiccup.

He said, “In a way, a party or friendly gathering can be part of a solution, so long as that is not the only one. Growing closer through enjoying the company of others is necessary, and strengthening. Going in with an open heart is magical in itself. Patience to see from many angles is close to unconditional acceptance. Even those you try to blame for causing destruction in the world need to be understood in order to conduct change.”

“How do you know if it’s a helpful change?” I wondered.

“Mindset is a powerful creative force,” said Puddle. “It opens the portals for waterjumping. It also opens portals to understand another. A very wise person passed this mindset to me, and I will keep it going:

“We are all a family, and we must love our families. We do not necessarily have to like our families, but we do have to love them. Solutions from love have the strongest branches, far stronger than the seeds sown in pain.”

“That sounds wonderful,” I said, “but what would it look like? Really. How would you know a solution is one planted in love? How would one know if it was something real, or wrapped up in enough rhetoric to make it sound like it comes from love, but it really doesn’t?”

We paused our journey as we neared a fork in the path.

Puddle said, “That takes much contemplation.”

“Like when we say we’re okay, but are really not at all, and it comes out through different ways. And you don’t realize you’re causing trouble for others because you’re so wrapped up in how fake you feel and how much metaphorical cushion you put up around yourself that you can’t see what’s real and what’s illusion. You just tell yourself you’re ok, and you’re not. And you’re afraid of changing anything because maybe it will hurt. Especially because you’ve screwed up before and are so worried about screwing up again that you can’t do anything.”

“We are not alive to be perfect,” Puddle said, thought a moment more. “Screwing up is ok. Sometimes the best solutions come from mistakes. Decisions that come from love are not always the easiest, or least painful.”

“You would think that love made things easier.”

“It does, but sometimes you have to heal from some old pain that might shroud your decisions. It helps to examine your thoughts, and find where that pain comes from. It might have deep roots. It might mean things are not going the way you want them to go.”

“Ptf, plans. What is more futile: planning or not planning?” I asked rhetorically.

“Both. Neither.”

“The pain I feel most is loneliness. Sometimes when I’m most miserable, I go outside and look at beautiful things, like my plants growing, or a breeze through the trees. In winter, the angles of branches make intricate shapes. Or I’ll write myself a letter telling me all the things I want to hear. I fill my senses with pleasant things so the painful things don’t have space to sneak in. It helps me think through that stuff, and see reality as happiness. If I don’t take that time, my energy dries up like a sponge in the sun.”

“Your decisions create your reality.” Puddle said.

I smiled at him and said, “Through your journeys, you’ve been separated from people you love, and have known hunger, and still are strong. I respect that, and it puts a lot into perspective. I am impressed at the hope you still carry.”

“Strength is like the ebb and flow of tides. I am always searching. Sometimes I do not know for what,” Puddle said as he looked out through the branches. “Sometimes it is my home planet, but I wandered even before I left. Sometimes my search is for an unknown thing adept at hiding itself from my mind.

“You mentioned filling yourself with beauty. You speak to my heart. A lot of my hope comes from acknowledging the beautiful things I have seen on my journeys. I have picked up good advice along the way. A wise woman said once, in everything, there is something. I look for the something beautiful in everything.”

“I get reprimanded for tiptoeing through the tulips,” I said. “I look silly, like my head is in the clouds and I have no worries. But, really, being playful is an intentional choice that keeps me full of energy while dealing with the stressful things. I am not taken seriously by many people who see me do silly, playful things. Life is too short to forget how to play. If I didn’t take time to play, smell flowers, and walk through even this small forest, the pressure of life would be too much. It fills me with love, and that love gives me strength.”

“I agree with you,” agreed Puddle. “Do we have to stop playing in order to be taken seriously? That is depressing.”

“Let’s play anyway, and hope for the best. Those that understand will still take us seriously.”

“Let us be silly,” declared Puddle. “And on that note, let us continue our journey. Where, now, does our adventure lead us?”

“Onwards,” I stepped.

~

Wreets and Portals

The ones called Wreets, named by those who feared the creatures, sifted through the grass like moonlight through ice. They had no names of their own, and thought of each other as one, though could distinguish one from the other by their subtle ways of sniffing. The ones who named them knew not their Purpose, and were summoned together to dissolve their existence from their land. The Wreets were vaguely aware of the animosity fermenting toward their species, but held to their Purpose, which gave them fulfillment and joy. They had no voice, but they spoke. Their words were too strong to be restrained by syllables, and too old to care. A single letter would encompass continents, and a paragraph would stretch to two ends of a solar system. Listen to them. Don’t listen with your ears, hear with your heart.

A child sits alone, lost, weakened. It looks about with bobbing head and unfocused eyes. Its instincts are strong and it will not call to its guardians unless it hears them first. It does not hear well, as most of its body is dirt, and its ears have been blocked for generations. It cannot hear their frantic whispers, like wind through tall grass. Indeed, that is what they are. They are creatures of grass, and they take their position with the absolute seriousness of everlasting Purpose, while, paradoxically, live light as dandelion fluff and just as fully. The child cannot hear the frantic whispers with its ears. It experiences a sense that has evolved with the Wreet species. Whatever other creatures that may also possesses this sense do so unconsciously, but the Wreets know. They use this sense as a means for survival.

Their sense lies deep within the elements. They feel each chemical in its purest form, even when the particles join as complex molecules. From the arrangement of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen atoms on their own, to their bonds and beyond, Wreets are cognizant of constant actions and reactions. They know when magnesium is present in a cell, or when iron stirs the mix. Their sense is so acute that the only way for them to keep from being overwhelmed from processing the atomic stimuli in their habitat is for their entire being to be made of soil and grasses.

Chemical changes in their space call to their comprehension. They can sense when a situation prescribes passion, or presence, or disappearance. Now demands action. A child is lost.

The young one strains to stand on its two twiggish legs, and wobbles a few steps before it collapses against its own fear. It retreats in upon itself to better hide from what could cause it pain. It hasn’t been alive long enough to truly know its capabilities, and closes itself off to potential unfriendly searchers. It looks like an unoffending clump of grass.

The guardians send out a shield of protection: an invisible dome over their searching perimeters. It stems from their heart, and from their intention of comforting the child. A feeling of warmth, but not in temperature, blankets the area. A sound deep within the child rumbles to the surface like a nearly inaudible rockslide, or thunderstorm too high up to hear. It half closes its eyes, and waits in purring peace. The guardians alter their course, because, now, they know their destination exactly.

~

We walked through flooded trails. The spring rain made many portals, and we discussed what sorts of worlds could exist on the other side.

“The pools are mirrors of the other side,” reiterated Puddle from our previous conversation. “There is a lot of guesswork going on. If the puddle changes, does the destination change as well?”

“Perhaps you could go through one way, and return immediately through the same pool.”

Puddle looked at me with a mixture of wonder and dismay, “I may have been able to get home from that very first tumble if I thought like you. On another thought, that regret is complicated. If I had gone directly back home, I never would have met you. I never would have had the many adventures that I have enjoyed, though grudgingly at first.”

I smiled and was glad that he was glad he met me, and said, “I’m glad to have met you too, and am quite a bundle of glad all over right now.”

We decided that our quest was to be no quest in particular. Our goals were to enjoy each other’s company and the day, and see where that took us. We wanted to explore and hypothesize. Thus, we observed a plethora of puddles.

“This world would have things appear far, but be very close,” I mused. “It’s like the warning on the mirrors on cars. See the trees reflecting way away. They look so distant, but my mind tells me I could bend down and touch their reflection. See. Bend closer, and the reflection shifts. We would have difficulty moving in this world because we would run into everything. If we went to this world and climbed one of the trees, I think the leaves would catch you if you were to fall.”

“Distance is deceiving,” said Puddle.

“Brains are weird,” I replied. “I was watching a documentary about senses, and there was a person who had surgery to bring back his eyesight that he didn’t have for many years. He had to learn depth of field again. Like, he had to go down stairs and everything carefully because his brain wasn’t used to processing distance with his eyes.”

“Gaining a new sense would change your whole perception,” Puddle empathized. “I have wondered what senses could be available, but have not evolved in any species I have come across, at least that I realized. I did not consider how those senses might mess with the senses we already know.”

“I also met a person who lost his eyesight, but got around by using his hearing differently,” I added. “He clicked with his tongue, like sonar. He could even mountain bike. Talk about being adaptable.”

“That adaptability goes both ways. Amazing. Change is the only thing we can rely on, so adapting is pretty useful.”

I stood by a puddle full of leaves, and said, “Check this out.”

“This world would have ooze dripping from every surface. See the algae growing as if off the clouds. This world would smell faintly, but not unpleasantly, of turtles.”

“I bet that would be a great world for turtles. They eat all sorts of oozy algae things. Turtles would love the world through this other puddle, too. Look at all the clovers. I knew a turtle, once, who would sunbathe all day in a field of purple clover.”

“I would get along with that turtle.”

“One time I saved a turtle from walking into the road. It was on top of a hill, crossing over to the danger zone. It was lumbering slowly away from a very nice, watery field of cattails. Hey, you can eat cattails.”

“You are a hero,” winked Puddle, joyously. “Do you think it had a turtle disagreement in the cattail field? Or, it was on its own quest?”

“Maybe it was looking for greener fields of muck.”

“It could have been a dare.”

“Or a turtle coming-of-age event. Where each turtle has to cross the road to become an adult.”

“It was really an ancient, time-honored ceremony.”

“Yeah, that got more dangerous with faster cars. Stinky cars.”

“Lots of stinky.”

“Many people used to go by calendars that were naturally sculpted on the back of turtles,” I tried to remember the story correctly. “They have thirteen large bumps on their shells, which were the months. The twenty-eight small bumps around the edges were the days. This mathed perfectly for Earth’s trip around the sun, except for one day extra every year. That extra day is called the day out of time. People still throw big parties for it.”

“All time is turtle time,” Puddle chuckled. “We have turtles on my planet as well, and we look to them for guidance, though they say very little. They are never in a hurry, and always get to their destination. They like both sun and rain, and live carefully carefree.”

“I shall look to turtles for guidance,” I established, and returned to puddles. “So, what about the roadside portals? They’re shiny with pollution. Would they lead to worlds covered in oil?”

“I have seen those puddles here, and would hope the adjoining world would be covered in rainbows, like the colorful shine that floats on top.”

“Let us say they are worlds of rainbows until we test it for sure,” I decided. “It’s nicer to think of rainbows than sticky worlds of suffocation. The solution to that pollution would take many changes. We set ourselves up with a long history of short-sighted choices.”

“Ah,” reflected Puddle, “it would either take a lot of effort from a single source or a little effort from many. One big log, or many small twigs can boil the same pot of water.”

Puddle bent down over a puddle, using one of the hazel wands we gathered to poke some leaves. I wondered if it had any effect on the connected world.

“Water is so precious on my planet,” he said. “We were experiencing continuous drought for several years. People were getting sick from dirty water. The rocks that make up our reservoirs have salts and minerals that seep into the water. They are fine, until they become too concentrated, then they negate the hydrating effects of water. Shortly before the issue went way too far, we gathered together to find solutions. Everyone worked to conserve our life-giving resource. It took our collected efforts.”

“You know the kinds of things that happen here?” I queried with passion. My heartbeat increased, and the words came out like a floodgate broke. “Water has been turned into a business and control mechanism. There are places that did band together, and their solutions were working. Then, Somebody came in and made their solutions illegal because the Somebody was losing money from selling water when the people took matters into their own hands.

“I do not want to live in a world where people try to destroy each other like that. I don’t want to live in a world where bees are illegal, and people can’t grow food in their yards because it’s not pretty enough. Useful, empowering things are beautiful! So much of the time I’m drowning in a plastic life where convenience is more important than fulfillment, and boredom and compliance are valued above passion and understanding. I just want to be me, and the me I want to be is so frowned upon by everything that is shoved in my face on every billboard, in every magazine, and on every insidious advertisement that tries to convince me I’m not who I should be.

“My heart breaks all day long. The list of things I don’t do right does laps around the list of things I do. It makes me a useless lump of a person, or at least makes me think that. It’s not even my list! It comes from expectations piled on expectations that somebody probably made up on the fly in order to feel superior, and never reexamined enough to make sure those expectations were worthwhile, and then passed them around to other people like a head cold in a stuffy room, saying this is how it is and always has been, therefore it is good, as if it were true.

“Maybe it would make sense to keep doing things the ways we always have done things. If that were the case, than we would have done things that way all along. But we haven’t. The way we’ve always done things is always changing, though so much of me feels too much of the big stuff is not changing in the name of compassion and understanding. Not really. Not fast enough. It’s hurting a lot of the planet.

“I want to appreciate every moment of my life. I’m sick of upturned noses and greasy roadside puddles. I’m sick of being crushed by someone else’s fears. I’m sick of knowing that my plant friends and the land they live upon are getting murdered by piles of garbage and bubbling waste that is the byproducts of living a supposedly modern and civilized life. Monsters! I need to get out of here. I need to get out of here. I. Need. To. Leave.”

Tears leaked from my eyes. They burned with regret, especially because I had no idea what to do.

“Let’s go,” I calmed my breath, “Now. Waterjump with me. I’m going either way.”

“Here,” Puddle motioned to a clear pool reflecting trees and ferns. The contours in the water looked like voluptuous hills of forest flowers.

“I have said intention is part of this process,” said Puddle, to further explain waterjumping. “Think once more on your thoughts. I left my planet flustered. Only later did I realize what my decision meant. You may never return.”

“Yes,” I said. “I have reached that point. I need change.”

Puddle watched me, and said, “There is a chasm of difference between needing change, and leaving your world. You could travel in this world. You could stay and work on justice issues, like the freedom of water.”

“I know, but this is the opportunity presenting itself. I’m taking my ability to see you enter this world as one of those universe signs. I need to travel away from this world. I am ready.”

“You will worry your family if you do not tell them where you are going.”

“They’ll try to keep me here.”

“They love you.”

“What if I go talk with them, and decide to never leave? What if I start to fear the unknown of where our journey could take us, and decide to stay within the safety of everything I’ve known before? The momentum of the magic could be lost. I need to go. I’ll, well, I’ll send a text. That’s not the greatest, but I don’t want to get talked out of my decision.”

“You have thought about the consequences,” Puddle replied. “I have wanted a traveling companion. Your senses are open to the world. You hear the plants. I have a feeling we will be able to travel well together.”

“Me too.”

“Ok, so your intention must be coupled with belief. Hold true that this way of traveling is legitimate and will happen. It may not work at first, but do not be discouraged.”

“I saw you climb from a puddle. I believe well enough, especially after talking with you.”

Puddle held up his stone that was the cousin of the one hanging at my throat, “The door remains barred without a proper password or key. This stone is of the stars, and wishes to travel there. Yet, it always returns to the planets, as the cycle of the universe repeats itself. It has spoken in its silent way. Your stone remembers, and will be the bridge through space.”

I touched my necklace, “I had no idea of its true power.”

“Take my hand, and concentrate. Let us go.”

I felt like I was looking over the edge of a precipice and sensed how all the potential energy of my life might turn kinetic. I would either fly or fall, but in the end I would land somewhere.

I had to trust it.

We stepped forward simultaneously. The sensation of sinking came over me. Then I saw that I had wet shoes and had hit bottom. Puddle kept sinking like a feather on the moon. I held his weight in my hand, and became worried that he would be gone forever in other worlds. That must have been enough because I began sinking further until the last I saw of Earth was a robin pull a worm up for her children.

I thought for an instant how much my kin and kith might miss me. A tiny part of my heart broke off, and stayed.

~

Veorda

Two saplings rose from the ground water. They made strange noises, but we understood them. We comprehend most all of the sounds created by lesser beings, and we respond in our own time. We decided many ages ago that we would go through the worlds unhurried by the presences of others. We have already outlasted most.

We watch them to make sure they are polite. If we are to make contact with them, we must know they are worthy. They appear slightly clumsy, but perhaps that is because they show little sign of root growth. Their branches stick out from four nodes, and smaller twigs extend from those, but their roots are faint. We may be able to help them cultivate those roots. It will take some work, and mostly from their side. Roots grow with proper water and nutrients, and in both a physical and energetic plane. We shall help them discover how to flourish, if they understand us.

Good. They are perceptive to their whereabouts. At least they seem to be making efforts of consideration. They step carefully as their ungainly lower branches allow. They wound some of our very youngest in their movements, but our children are strong enough to withstand their inelegant conduct. Like our own saplings, they grow quickly and have much to learn. We tell our children to remember their own past, and the stories they have created. We remind them to stay in the present because that is where they are most effective. We advise them to see into their futures so they better know their choices now. The tripod of past, present, and future must stay balanced.

The Forest speaks. Our language resonates within our roots, and flows from our twigs. These beautiful, bumbling branched saplings use words. We are aware of how to speak in their tongue. We speak the language of the Universe. Our words are old and formless, and shaped with grace. Our speech is that of listening. Each leaf in the autumn breeze is a tale. The spring buds stretch and pop, each with its own novel. Every flake of snow sifting down in winter is made from a wish, and melts into the flowing veins of the hills, so the stones may hear. And summer, the season we find ourselves in now, swells with the stories told through dancing until dawn and onwards.

We trees are only one of the many maestros performing our stories. Our song is a secret that anyone may sing. Every creature living adds its voice to the Song. Each stone, current of air, and gurgle of river creates notes in harmony. Plucked berries bring tremors of treble, while the waterfall rushes in waves of baritone. Our symphony is strengthened by every part, and all come together as an intricate masterpiece of wild, reckless order.

~

Waterjumping was like sinking through cumulous clouds. Rather, it was like sinking through what cumulous looked like from a distance, rather than their clammy, damp reality. It was like petting a thousand sleeping kittens and a few intermittent, slightly coarser yet wonderfully springy lambs. Like under water, pressure pressed from all angles. Directions were meaningless. Colors swirled in greens and browns, and glowed with a faint indigo aura. The transition may have lasted an eon, or an instant.

I stretched my hands out, and felt them grip a spongy material. I pulled the rest of me through the water and onto a stratum of moss. The fern canopy brushed our faces as we stood. The scent of sunshine and leaves welcomed us with a lingering hug around our olfactory senses. An unseen bird played notes of magic that would have opened the doors to the Otherworld, had that been the story into which we rose. The bird’s song sounded like the tinkling bells of the hermit thrush. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Faeries, or talking animals in this realm.

The dip between hills that held our portal was surrounded by old trees. Only the ferns cluttered the understory of that part of the forest. All of the layers of forest were useful for their own reasons, but I was glad our path was not chosen by breaks in shrubbery. These trees had never heard a chainsaw. No branch had ever been taken against its will. The grandmothers and grandfathers of the forest had not been felled by imprudent clear-cutting. Their boughs reached to the sky, as if the trees played volleyball and were trying to spike the sun over the horizon.

“Well chosen,” said Puddle. “If we never find our birth worlds again, at least we have seen this one.”

I liberated a giggle of pure delight that had been building since my eyes emerged from the portal, “I agree. Nothing like a bit of wonder and old growth in the afternoon. Is it afternoon here? The time seems to be relative as to when we left.”

“It looks that way,” agreed my companion. “Although, I have experienced shadows and various lighting can alter the time of arrival in a world. Let us follow the music of the river over these hills.”

Three rolling lumps of land later, we saw twinkles reflected off a brook. It was slightly too wide to wade without wet feet, but could provide some leaping fun with the right stepping stones.

A hearty voice called to us, though no person appeared, “Ho, little saplings. You have come here a strange way, but welcome. Have a cup of tea.”

“Who beckons?” beamed Puddle. “We would gladly join you, but where?”

A big bulbous beech tree sidled over from nearer the river with some of its roots clear out of the soil. Other roots extended down, and glided as if the ground was water without ripples.

The voice that called to us answered, “I am called Beech. Welcome to the Beech Camp. I saw your entrance to this world. From where have you come?”

“My name is Birch, and this is Puddle. I watched him come to my world from his current namesake, just like how we came here,” I said as I tried to look into the tree’s eyes. The places where faces appeared depended on how I used my eyes. There were countless hidden eyes and mouths that needed the right tilt of my head, or the proper focusing of my eyes, to see. Some were humanesque, some not so much.

“We are from many places,” continued Puddle from where I left off answering. “We come from behind us, and are headed toward our toes. Where have we found ourselves now?”

“This planet is Veorda. You have arrived at the beginning of Festival. More formally, you are at the Gathering of Veorda. Your timing is fortunate, as these festivities last only five solar arcs every four seasons. We have been steeping raspberry leaves in clear river water. Here, have a cup,” offered Beech. A lower branch supporting wooden mugs swung around toward us. We sipped the earthy flavor that whispered about berries and sunshine, while they poured their tea on their roots.

Beech said, “We are setting up a game of beechi ball. Would you like to play?”

Puddle and I looked at each other, and nodded with smiles in our eyes. We were on an adventure. Naturally, we would love to play.

Puddle said, “Though, we do not know the rules.”

Beech swayed back and forth in a jolly, laughing sort of way, “Then we will enlighten you. There is a course of wicker baskets. Some are high, some are low, and some are hidden loosely behind a bit of foliage. We have altered these beechnuts to have more tossing weight. You may roll them, heave them, fling them, flick them, or do what you feel most fitting to get them into the baskets. Scoring is negligible. We are here to have fun and perfect skills. If there were points, they would be for style. Choose your own track, though be careful of getting whacked by another player. We try to pay attention, but sometimes this game gets too silly.”

So we sipped our raspberry leaf tea while we spun, hopped, and danced a game with the Beeches. They told bawdy jokes and shared the sorts of stories that happened when they were young and heedless, though not wild in the way that anyone would get hurt or insulted. They appreciated the beautiful recklessness of loving being alive. They dedicated their efforts to create games out of every opportunity. Their games were always for the benefit of everyone involved. Nobody won. Nobody lost. The Beech clan laughed throughout their stories, and the game took ever longer because so often they would begin reacting to their tales with waving branches and rolling roots of laughter, rather than concentrating on the tossing.

Their roots were well out of the ground for much of the game, but when a tree would stand still for a while, waiting for a basket to clear or refilling their tea, more of their roots would embed themselves in the soil where they sat. I was not sure how they were able to dodge all the bits of undergrowth, especially in their rowdiness. Not a fern was bent as they passed, nor blade of forest grass.

I chose one beechi ball from a pile of beechnuts whose weight seemed quite appropriate to my tossing preferences. A wide-mouthed basket hovered in a slump of vines, and seemed like an easy enough target. These trees were looking for style, however, and I was going to attempt to deliver. Success wasn’t mandatory, and a wilder toss would get more cheers, whether I made it or not.

I spun three times, bent myself in a swirly shape, let out a heeyah noise, and lobbed the ball backwards through the hole I made between my arm and my torso. The beechnut flew and knocked against a tree behind me. I immediately remembered these beings were sentient, and yelped, “Sorry!” and got an answer, “No worries.” The beechnut ricocheted off that forgiving Beech and sailed toward some vines, where it bump bump bumped down in a waterfall motion and landed in the basket with a satisfying tiny thump.

And the crowd went wild. No, they were already wild. And the crowd went on as it was.

“Well played, little sapling,” boomed the Beech who had greeted us. “You are welcome at our camp any time. You would be just as welcome had you landed that toss far from any basket, but well done nonetheless.”

Tossing edges of used notebook paper into the recycle bins in class apparently wasn’t just to pass the time, so I answered, “Thanks. I’ve had practice.”

Puddle chose a beechnut and a basket, wound up for his throw, and landed way up in a branch. The crowd kept on going wild. Much of the fun was in the cheering.

“This is refreshing,” I said, “not to boo, and only applaud.”

Beech turned his beaming trunk toward me, “Booing makes a Beech hide itself. We see congratulations as productive because sad trees that have been booed tell fewer jokes, and we prefer laughter to lugubriosity. Do you know what the beechnut said when it grew up?”

We looked at Beech expectantly.

“Gee, I’m a tree,” chuckled Beech.

“Ahhahaaha, geometry,” I giggled. “I did not know you had math in this forest.”

“We are full of shapes, and we have to make sure everyone gets the premium amount of sunshine,” Beech explained. “We work closely with angles.”

The trees swayed about, and we had a glorious time laughing, and tossing, and being alive. At first, I thought the volume would be too boisterous, if a whole grove of trees were to laugh at once. All my ears heard was the quiet sounds of summer in a deep forest, and some bugs saying bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs. The particular speech of the trees flowed in and around the area. I heard their voices in the way that I knew what they were saying, but needed no ears to do so. I heard them in a similar place that I heard my inner monologue. It was the kind of listening that happened when you walked in a room where something intense had recently happened, and you knew before anyone told you. When a Beech addressed me personally, I heard its words most distinctly. I could listen to the general rustling as well, just like at any social gathering.

“Look, the Pine clan is approaching,” Beech said before bellowing, “Hello!”

“Ahoy, neighbors,” greeted the gaggle of various species of Pines as they sauntered toward us. “How’s it swaying over with the Beeches? We have brought a pesto dip and some chanterelles we gathered near our camp. What are these mossy saplings?”

I was a bit disturbed about the pesto, if these trees had added the traditional pine nuts. Would it be considered cannibalism for them to eat themselves? I would wait to ask.

“Ah, good,” responded Beech. “All sways softly with this summer breeze. How grows yourselves?”

“All grows sun-wise,” spoke the Pines.

“And scraggily,” added a Jack Pine, who adapted well to wind and sun.

“We have tea to supplement your delectables,” offered the Beeches. “These little beings rose from a pool of rain three hills over. This one is Birch, and this is Puddle. They show skill in beechi ball.”

“Very nice to meet you saplings. Welcome to Veorda. These Beeches have informed you that you have arrived in time for Festival, yes?”

We nodded, and Puddle kept on, “We are honored to meet you. This land is beautiful.”

“How exciting to be able to experience a forest Festival,” I added. “What an honor.”

We stood swaying with each other for a comfortable moment, appreciating.

There were seven Pines, but they could speak with one voice. Additionally, the Beeches seemed to speak together as one voice, and the Pines as another. Each collective voice had its own flavor. Both sets of voices blended together like melty swirled ice cream. Their conversation became one big rustle, with a few distinct words poking out here and there. If I didn’t concentrate, their voices turned to ambiance, like white noise brushing past my shoulders. They sounded ancient as stone and sand.

I wondered whether they were speaking with separate voices because they were newly reunited at their Festival. As they spent more time together, I pondered whether their voices would grow together too. Would words, even in their mind-speak way, become unnecessary? Words could be useful to examine thinking, and thinking was useful to examine words. However, a comfortable silence sometimes said the most.

Perhaps the Earthen trees had an equivalent speech ability to the trees on Veorda. This forest and my herb garden spoke somewhat similarly. My short experience with the Beeches and Pines gave me insight as to how to listen, and I wanted to try at home. Home? Home was anywhere I found myself now. I could no longer listen to the trees on Earth.

“We were on our way to the Pawpaw camp,” the Pines were saying, “but we heard a frenzy over here and had to come investigate. How did you two saplings learn to use the water portal? We have a variety of ways in which we travel between worlds, but we were under the impression that barked beings were the only ones who held that particular knowledge.”

Puddle cleared his throat as if he had invaded a secret, “I fell through once on accident while holding this tektite. The stone laid on the shore of a lake in a cavern so deep the mountain roots grew there to drink their fill. I had never seen another carry a stone quite like this until I met Birch.”

The Pines watched us thoughtfully for a moment. They Looked at us the way Puddle Looked at me during our encounter in the moonlit garden. I felt comfort in their steady observation. Under the gaze of the trees, Puddle and I were rootless youths with healthy sap, who had a habit of figuring out life through what we called accidents, and they called opportunities. Then the trees all swayed together, and decided that another game of beechi ball would be the best way to savor the afternoon.

While we played, Puddle picked up a handful of pinecones that had been dropped. He tossed one in the air, and caught it while he tossed another. By the end, he had seven flying against gravity in loops and leaps. They wove a story of dedication and delight, of patience and persistence. The pinecones were beautiful, flickering in the stretching sun. Puddle played with gravity, and made silly faces at me, tempting me to laugh along.

The trees paused the game while they watched Puddle juggle. They kept rustle-cheering all the while. Puddle let each cone drop where it would, one after another, and with a flourish, presented me with the final one. I held it in all its pokiness, and my smile explained my appreciation, and my joy.

Puddle winked his acknowledgment.

“You saplings are jubilant,” acknowledged a Pine.

My smile turned toward the tree, and said, “Mmmmmhmm.”

“Your energy flows. You move and laugh, and feel happiness. The forest does the same. Our celebration of being together connects us, and strengthens us. We, as trees, spend a substantial part of the day in meditation as well. I feel you two do the same. Often, our meditation is to sense the continuous flow inside us, in the sugars of our phloem, and the waters of our xylem. We search for blocks, or places that flow too quickly. Our intention is balance.”

“Would you show me what you mean?” I asked, always open for techniques.

“Come. Sit. Hold the tips of your upper branches together,” advised the Pine.

I thought aloud, “You mean hands?”

“Yes, those. Concentrate on the space between the bases of your tendrils.”

“Palms?” I asked to confirm. Tendrils must have been fingers.

“Yes. Hold your hands as far apart as if you’re holding the flower of a daylily. Hold them still, and try to feel the space between them. Feel that there is something there. Feel it, and trust your feeling. Trusting the sensations in your palms is the main element of this ability. If you look in the right way, you can see a ball of energy forming.”

I looked at the space between my hands. My eyes went blurry. It almost seemed as if the air grew denser between my palms.

The Pine continued, “Pulse your hand branches together. You may not see it yet, but we can. Right. Feel it?”

I looked up at the tree with a maybe in my eyes. My palms felt like they held tiny magnets, with the same poles facing each other.

“Make it a bit stronger by intending it to be so. Yes, quite right. We would think you’ve had practice with this.”

I sat with my spine straight, and let myself feel. I felt air on my skin, and soft grass beneath me. My attention was focused on my palms. Extra thoughts drifted away. I felt the space that existed around my body. Everyone else became fuzzy, on the other side of my awareness. I listened to everything and nothing. The world fell away, and all that existed in that moment were my hands, suspended in space. I didn’t feel my muscles. The only sensation that existed in that moment was between my palms.

I pulsed the backwards magnets of my hands. The dense feeling was faint at first. The longer I held it, the stronger it became. I tried to see the ball of energy. I saw what looked like the distortion brought on by heat waves, but it might have been my eyes tricking me. But the sensation was real.

“There is tingling,” exhaled Puddle. “There is warmth. I see it with my eyes that open in a lucid dream. I see it with my eyes that match the ears with which I can hear you. It is difficult to stay focused on that particular plane of sensation, just like staying lucid in a dream. My eyes feel like they are trying to peer through the cover of a book to examine a specific page.”

Pine swayed encouragingly, “Yes, you are beginning to See.”

The ball of energy I held between my palms was like warm taffy. It stretched and skewed as I moved my hands. My eyes didn’t see it so much as my hands felt it. My mind questioned what my eyes questioned, so I told myself to just go with the sensation in my hands. I felt I was at the edge of understanding a world that was happening alongside all other worlds simultaneously.

I wondered what I would leave behind if I chose to enter this world further. The energy was real. I flashed on school. I would leave behind the option of connecting with a lot of people. Who would accept me as a person who sits among trees, exploring energetic sensations in my palms? Well. I had already left that world, and wasn’t sure I could get back. Even if I could get back physically, I wasn’t sure I could return metaphysically.

Pine said, “You can make this ball of energy strong and bright. However, it can be too strong to check whether the flow of energy in your body is smooth or impeded. If it is too strong, it will overpower what you’re looking for.”

I let the sensation between my palms grow dim.

Pine continued, “Place this sphere of energy you’ve gathered in one hand. Hold it like a baby bird. Bounce it in your palm. Toss it into the air, and catch it. Notice how it may leave something of a trail behind, though that trail catches up.”

I turned one palm skyward and lifted the other away. It felt like invisible taffy stretching, then globbing into an orb again, once my retreating palm was far enough away.

Pine continued, “Take both hands away. Let the orb disconnect from your palm and become a shape. Use your orb to scan yourself from your canopy to your roots. Use intention to move it around. Concentrate on any area where your energy ball pauses. Let it tell you what it finds. Let it be a lens into your body. Let it heal you.”

The orb wouldn’t disconnect from my palm. I lowered my hand a bit and closed my fingers. That helped. The orb of energy hovered in front of my face.

I felt it waiting. More accurately, I felt it existing. It was a piece of something too old to wait. Waiting wasn’t even a concept to it anymore. This energy had outgrown waiting so long ago that universes were born and died in its wake. It existed, and let me hold it. The respect it gave was the kind that validated all things everywhere, because all things came from somewhere. Everything had its story. It took the big picture of eternity into account. It was a little playful, too.

My orb became a turtle, though I could not exactly see it. It had the slow, shelled, sturdy essence of a turtle. It sniffed around my skull, and brought my awareness to muscles I didn’t know were tensed as it began to sink. I relaxed.

The orb turtle stared into my eyes, and nodded in a way that said everything was going to be okay. Let free your worries. Love being alive. Bask in the light that life creates, because why not. Sure difficulties abound, but you get to be alive for this little instant in timelessness. Bask in your body. Let free your worries, and feel your feelings because they tell you secrets about your insides.

My energy turtle sunk lower, and breathed on my throat. I felt a lightness, and wanted to sing. It breathed on my heart, and I felt love radiating. It paused. My heart hurt, but not in a physical way. It breathed into old pains, and loved them away. My eyes filled with the kind of tears that heal.

The turtle continued to drop.

It breathed on my stomach, and I felt a wellspring of energy release. My whole body wanted to dance. It breathed a breath of creativity that orbited my being with potent potential. My turtle breathed once more, and ended its journey as it reached the ground. I felt connected to everything near and far. All was kin and kith. The soil was more solid than it had ever been, and I felt its consciousness. I felt how it gave strength to all it held. I felt its age, and wisdom. And even though I felt the solid ground, I felt its empty space. I felt the space between its atoms and electrons, and felt the Mystery of all the forces known and unknown.

An invisible rainbow from below the ground grew skyward as my energy turtle spread out and sunk deeper, like rainwater. The universe felt full of color. I loved how color was the perception my eyes gave to certain wavelengths of light. There was nothing objective about color being colorful, but wavelengths were wavelengths. Those wavelengths had tangible consequences, like photosynthesis. The rainbow that sprung from my turtle concentrated around my body.

Red, the color of a ripe sunset, smoldered low, as roots reaching to the center of the planet. Higher up, a belt of orange twinkled in calendula glory. Yellow celestial stars circled my center, and radiated energy up to my emerald lotus heart. The green flowed out toward my fingertips. Continuing upwards, the deep blue of an empty autumn sky enveloped the wind paths of my throat. A violet triforce extended from my forehead, and a white honeysuckle arched from my mind to kiss the last rays of the setting sun that reached through the forest.

I looked toward Puddle. His face was peaceful. He was busy feeling things and experimenting with what the trees had told us. For a moment I wondered what exactly he was experiencing, then turned back to reflect on what I had felt. I thought about what people at school would say if I told them about this experience.

Nervousness rose up my spine, and filled me with doubt. I would be ridiculed. I began to feel heavy and cringed inwardly, while shutting out this new understanding. I shook my head, and became present in my body once more. I had left that world. I was glad I was far from all the mindless taunts. The nervousness that snuck in my spine dissipated on the early evening breeze. For now I was here. Here I was to learn, without the boundaries of others’ expectations and limitations.

I wanted to learn more. The trees had much to teach. I knew I would have to be patient with myself. There was no rushing eternal energy. I felt like we were experimenting with what I already knew well before birth, and would know fully again after I died. Somehow, in this middle land of living life, I had forgotten.

Was what I was feeling my own energy? Was I borrowing it? Was I, myself, the part that looked like matter, merely a pinch of concentrated energy from the whole spectrum? Was I the universe experiencing itself, or expressing itself? Or both?

Puddle and I looked at each other. He had finished scanning himself, too. He looked more at peace than I had seen him yet, and he always looked at peace.

Pine said, “Now scoot closer, saplings. Hold your hands toward each other, and place your palms together a pinecone’s width away. Feel the circuit of your energies together. Can you feel which hand the energy enters, and which one it leaves? Try reversing it. Play. Rejoice in this healing power. You’re awakening what you’ve always had. Practice and feel your connection with the universes.”

We sat face to face, knee to knee. I gazed into his eyes. He gazed back into mine. We did not squirm or smile. Our atmosphere was neither serious nor whimsical. We created a bubble of serenity, of sincerity, with our minds, hearts, facial, and body positions. Time evaporated from our bubble.

We faced our palms toward each other. Our hands were gears. When one moved, the other was compelled to action as well. We looked like we were going to play a clapping game, like the ones I loved in grade school. Yet, our motions were slow. We moved our palms from vertical to horizontal. We paused with our left palms faced the sky, and our rights faced the ground.

I’m not sure when I first felt the river of energy flow through us. It started as a quiet creek. We were a circuit. The energy flowed into my left palm and out of my right. My eyes had been watching our hands, and I returned them to Puddle’s gaze just as he returned his eyes to mine. He made a twisty nod that I took to mean, let’s reverse this now. I nodded.

It was as if the knowledge had always been there. Puddle and I practiced remembering.

Our flow stopped, and seemed to get a little messy. It took a moment for our intentions and the flow of energy to match up again, which resulted in what felt like tiny swirls, like eddies in the ocean. Eddies in the ocean caused nutrients from the deep cold water to rise. I wondered if our energy eddies stirred up ideas or emotions. Maybe they stirred inspiration. Inspiration was nutritious for the soul.

The gears of our hands moved again, and they faced each other vertically. We pulsed our palms together and apart. The air between our hands felt dense.

Our palms touched. A spark of tiny lightening, like the kind that happens after petting a cat on a fuzzy rug during a dry day and then get too close to its ear tips, reverberated through our hands. It was too much. My head swirled with ocean eddies. I had to break the contact and regroup myself.

I put my palms together, and bowed my head to Puddle to thank him for this experience. He did the same. We sat in our serene bubble for a moment to let our bodies infuse with this new knowledge. A shift happened. We needed a quiet moment to adjust.

~

The cat lolled on the windowsill in the confidently content way only felines can accomplish. With his expression, he artfully convinced the couple that he was really bored, though he listened to everything with the intensity of a dragon slumbering on its pile of pilfered gratuities. Nothing moved unnoticed, and no word was uttered that went unheard. His ears danced to the drum of the tip of his tail, as it silently counted time to the bird chirps outside the window.

[_ “We should go to Veorda, dear,” said one in an elegant it’s- your- choice- though- I’ve- already- made- up- my- mind voice. “The children will want to socialize. We have been lax in attending Festival for far too long.” _]

[_ “Yes, but we have worries here,” the other replied in a steady you’re- right- and- I- could- sure- go- for- a- vacation- anyway voice. _]

“Enta always has issues that could use our attention, but nothing that will miss us beyond the point of desperation. They will take care of themselves while we are away,” the first replied, correct, while shaking its white, papery branches so all the leaves fell into place. Trees had fairly straightforward ways to deal with their hair.

The esteemed pair understood their fellow citizens. They endeavored toward mutualistic relationships in their society, wherein everyone that they oversaw benefitted. Results in their groves supported their work. They worked beside the other inhabitants, and listened to their needs, cares, fears, and joys. Their position was that their subjects would align their actions if they were shown trust and respect. They encouraged sincerity of the heart, supported by the fact that their community had very few rules. They saw rules as ideas with inherent loopholes.

Naturally, there were ones for whom rules were made. Those ones sought to benefit at another’s expense. They would find the loopholes regardless. They had reasons for their parasitic attitudes, though. They had unmet needs, or specific fears. Those roots were examined, rather than rules. They were healed, rather than punished.

Their society had priorities.

They valued both similarities and differences, and supported a root system of interdependence. Each creature had beautiful abilities to contribute, and they found their abilities by following their curiosities. Some displayed their skills during planting or harvest, and some during the more tranquil periods.

They lived at the mercy of a merciful cycle. Time went about as visibly as the turning seasons. That was time’s habit. Their main focus was to listen to the flow of time, of which they had plenty. And, if they ran out of time, it would simply come back around in its annual cycle.

Like many planets, Enta cycled between periods of rest and periods of action. They enjoyed a time of rest, reflection, and planning between harvest and planting. They enjoyed a time of rest, reflection, and maintenance between planting and harvest. And they enjoyed the action-packed periods of planting and harvest.

The reluctant speaker relented, “You are correct. Enta will be okay if we leave now. And Hawthorn’s invitation sounded like they need as much insight as possible. Our people know what they are doing.”

“We will return with gifts of inspiration,” said the willing one. “The saturated atmosphere created during Festival lingers all the way home, and longer. We can utilize the residual inspiration for the Feast of Harvest Moon.”

“My favorite time of year,” reminisced the relented one. “Remember the year when the rains poured so late that we had to postpone the Harvest until they moved on, or our steps would compact the soil too much?”

“Yes,” the other beamed. “The drops were huge and warmed by the season, and were perfect for conducting a late Rain Ball. Then, all of the animals in the kingdom stayed to help harvest because we had to hurry, else the bounty would have become too ripe. What a feast followed!”

“And the performances,” added the other, now just as willing. “Oh their power in the name of that harvest was great. The ducks sang the most intricate song. What vocals! And the squirrels with their acrobatics. They hopped the most dangerous distances. The salamanders even let us watch their fire dancing, a rare sight indeed.”

The cat curled his whiskers in fearsome, benevolent remembrance for the mice he watched with their miniature hula-hoops and juggling seeds. He looked upon the busking mice as more than meals or playthings. He had been fascinated at their skill with centripetal force, and their ability to hoop dance to the music of the turtles and snakes, who drummed, strummed, and rattled a wild, then slow, then wild oscillating sonata for the stars.

“Then it is settled,” one voiced the decision. “We will go to Veorda. I’ll go tell our saplings.”

~

“Perhaps,” I pondered, as Veorda’s sun and moon played their slow sassy game of switch it up, “perhaps we knew how to work with energy more as children, but forgot because we were told that we were pretending. Sometimes I meant to pretend. But sometimes there were things I could not see, but could feel. Those things liked hidden places. They were scary because I didn’t know what they were. I never felt that they wanted to hurt me, though. I was told it was my imagination. What if they were real?”

Puddle asked, “What if their feelings were hurt by hearing that others thought they were fake?”

“More than just squirrels, birds, and gravity knock twigs and cones from our boughs,” said a Pine with the ominous air of someone who Knew.

We were walking with the Pines to their camp. The Pine clan was staying near the Apple clan upriver because they enjoyed similar soil, but the Pines generally slept higher along the ridge. They had made us promises of apple pasta with pastries to follow.

Puddle hummed at me and formed his memory into words, “I used to astral project myself before I knew what it meant or that it existed. I was so young. I thought I got some sort of fever right before falling asleep every night, and hallucinated somersaulting in circles near the ceiling. I thought it was normal, so I told no one until I forgot how.”

“It is too difficult to remember the skills we were born with once we let them atrophy. It’s nothing like riding a bike,” I sighed a theatrical sigh.

“Riding a bike is strange to us,” said Pine, “but we can relate to your plight. We know forgetting. We experienced a mass extinction when the sun was younger, the moon was closer, and the spin of our world was faster. The land felt fire and anger, and destroyed itself. Our oldest roots burned away. Ancient knowledge was lost like scattered raindrops on a hot day. The rocks remember best, though even they have morphed into different rocks throughout the eons. Rowan tells that tale best.”

The Pine’s words made me think of all that had been lost from my planet, if I could still call Earth my planet. How many artifacts were destroyed from fire and anger, or neglect? Each artifact told us about our human condition at a certain time, or at least the person’s condition who created the artifact. Each held a story. What were the stories that compelled the person to make that thing, or think that idea? Did the stories often die with their creators, or could the creator bring the story to the next world? Did the story itself create the creator because the story wanted to be told, and needed a teller?

My quixotic facet was sad for the beauty destroyed. Most artifacts went into the void of careless oblivion. Someone’s effort and energy, forgotten and rotting in the swamps of time. Part of me was sad about the lost artifacts because they were like moments of eternity that broke. They were reminders of the constant cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. Sometimes too many memories crowded each other out, and some needed to go the way of oblivion. Some needed to be composted.

Somberness walked over and sat on top of the joy I felt earlier. I did not mind. Both emotions were life, and both had their places. I made room for all the emotions in the guest house of my existence, and thanked Rumi for his artifacts of poetry.

Pine spoke, “Here, we come upon the Cedar camp. They live by and large in silence, listening to the air that was here before life, and to the water. They listen for lost stories in the elements. The land remembers, but many memories have been buried. Weather wears memories away, and erosion deposits layers of contemplation. Much excavation is needed to resurface some memories. Fire itself has little memory, and is more concerned with moving on. The wind and rain remember, though trying to hear all of their stories takes ages. Each breath, each drop carries a tale. Ahoy, Cedar!”

“Hello, friends,” spoke the serenity of the Cedar grove. Their voice was smooth, clear, and quiet as dew on a yarrow flower. “How fares your festivities?”

“Well. We had a game of beechi ball and snacked with the Beech clan. Would you care for some pesto and hummus? We made mulch to go around. Our friends here are called Puddle and Birch.”

“Thank you, but we are fasting on only sunlight and sap,” declined Cedar with the lacy grace of a tree long in meditation. “Greetings unbarked newcomers. We felt your wondrous arrival through the water. Welcome.”

“Thank you,” we spoke in unison.

Puddle continued, “Your camp has beautiful energy. Walking up I feel my thoughts becoming free as clouds, yet clear and ordered as scales on fish swimming in a deep spring.”

The Cedars glided about their glade doing indiscernible, important endeavors. “Thank you. We have worked long at establishing this sacred space by the river.”

I was intrigued, and asked, “How does one establish a sacred space? I thought that a space was either sacred, or not sacred.”

“The energy of events gets trapped in places,” answered a Cedar. “An argument or similar occurrence can frazzle the energy of a place. We brought our intentions to this space. We beckoned serenity here. This circle of stones has held fire. With that fire, we burned away many mental blocks. With that fire, we ignited reverence. Our intentions created our reality.”

“I feel the effects just by standing here,” I acknowledged. Puddle smiled his agreement.

The Cedar said, “As the sun reaches the zenith tomorrow, we are offering an energy workshop on cleansing from the roots up the apex. We find stillness to better hear the sounds that narrate the space between hearing.”

We agreed to attend the Cedar workshop in the morning, and were politely dismissed. We plodded on upriver and toward supper. The Pines glided effortlessly around the other forest trees along our way. Many trees stood still, and didn’t seem to have the same walking and talking qualities of the Beeches, Pines, and Cedars with whom we talked. Perhaps they were sleeping. Perhaps their jobs were to provide homes and shade for other forest dwellers, and had to root themselves in stillness. Perhaps a third thing. I did not want to break the silence of our walk, so left my wonders in wonderland.

The sun had spoken its last whispers of goodnight before crossing the horizon, and the moon waxed the velvet space until the sky glittered with stars. Evening seemed to last an eternity during this part of the seasonal cycle.

A bend opened to a series of small waterfalls that wandered beneath a bridge of stones. We plodded on, and found that the path along the bank of the river turned from grasses to gravel. Stone steps were cut along the waterfalls. The trees bypassed the steps, but Puddle and I found them useful. Near the top of the ridge, we heard a silent, pleasant voice calling us to feast.

An orchard of Apples swayed at us from their grove, which looked like a well-ordered kitchen. A stone oven sat near an ember cooking fire. Both emitted enchanting aromas.

“Welcome, friends,” the Apple clan greeted with joy. “Come enjoy our evening meal with us. We reserve this spot for Festival every year because of the stone oven, and to be near our Pine friends. Here, try these apple fritters.”

The Apples made sure everyone was well feasted. They served apple pasta, apple curry with rice and beans, apple loaf, stew, stuffing, salad, slaw, sandwiches, cider, dumplings, medley, motley, torte, and delicate apple faerie cakes with apple slices for wings. I made a joke about how there should be a candy house in their grove with a stout oven and misunderstood witch because they were plumping us up so efficiently. Nobody got it, but they shook their leaves politely.

Their feast was fabulous. Hospitality gave the trees energy. The sun gave to them, they gave to us, and our appreciation returned their energy many times over.

I was stuffed silly, and ventured to ask what I had wondered since the Pines came over with their pesto, “Do you, um. If you eat these delectable dishes, is it, could it be considered, mmm, I come from a place where we don’t usually eat those of our own species.”

The trees flipped their leaves in a humored manner, and I heard, “We digest differently. Your parts would stay eaten if you took a bite of, say, your fingers. Ours grow back and are intended to be food for many. We eat the sun and soil, and make tasty treats. Our parts become compost, which we may utilize to grow again because of our very design. You, however, would have a more difficult time digesting the compost you make. We have grown differently, and have different habits. We have roots, not mouth holes.”

“True,” I replied. “Why, then, would you cook at all, if your food needs to turn into compost before eating it? Aren’t you not supposed to put cooked food in the compost?”

“You wonder why we would go through all the work to make hummus when we eat naturally composted humus? We enjoy the act of cooking, and the companionable feeling of creating food together, so we often create elaborate feasts. It makes our meals more sacred.”

“It makes them delicious, too!”

“Well, thank you, friend,” Apple beamed. “Eat your fill, then some. Festival is a time for feasting together.”

“Mmm,” said Puddle. “I could go for a nap now, after all that food. Thank you for sharing.”

“You are wonderfully welcome, little one. Rest a moment. The drumming will begin soon, and you’ll be thankful for a moment’s rest.”

We sat on a flat stone, still warm from the sun, and surveyed the wide valley. The moon hugged the forest and further foothills in reflected sunlight, and made the world a blanket of washed-out indigo.

My eyes closed momentarily. Memories of sandwiches and cider serenaded the sun in its sleep, while the moon whispered for us to dance. In my half-awake dream, I danced the wild dance of one unhindered by a body. My leaps left trails of silvery moon glitter above the trees. On the tip of one toe, I spun an intricate game of angular momentum. My body morphed into animals, and I tried to imitate their signature moves.

The kind of yawn that accompanied a really great stretch resounded near my left ear. Something whacked me in the face.

“Sorry!” cringed Puddle as he took his arm back. “That was a spectacular sleep, and my stretch got away from me.”

“Ehhhh,” I replied, unsure of where I was. My eyes opened to the stars, and the events of the day plopped themselves in order. Sleep could discombobulate the mind of a traveler.

My very sinews knew there was a fire nearby. I heard faint drums guiding the circle, rotating sun-wise around that fire.

“Is fire dangerous for you?” I asked the Pines and the Apples. “I thought trees did not approve of fire.”

“Our limbs occasionally fall off on their own accord, or from outside influence, be it storm or such for catalyst. We do not sacrifice our living selves for fire, but our fallen bits are fine for flames. The danger and pain are risks worth the freedom. Fire is wild, and most effective when used with Purpose. Much can be healed after pain burns away. Much can grow in the ashes. Dance, my dears. The way is over this bridge and to the Pawpaw Groove. Follow us.”

Veorda’s moon chuckled gibbously to itself. Our toes beat rhythms to the Pine and Apple roots sidling, swinging, strutting a synchronistic ostinato over the gravel path. Periodic candles lit our way like ground stars. The tiny flames in the forest were okay because the trees told us rain had recently drenched any chance of spreading flames accidentally. The candles looked like fireflies, and, in several cases, turned out to be fireflies.

~

A languid hill stooped to sniff the path. We entered a clearing with a floor of sand. Fallen limbs of fire spread light from the center. A gathering of drummers sat near the river. They created a rhythm that ignited my mind, and sent the flame of inspiration down my spine. It gathered in my limbs, and tingled to be set free. I yearned to enter the circle of dancers, but had to get my bearings first.

Pine and Apple joined Beech and Cedar, who were already sidling their circular way around the fire. The magic of the grove made sure everyone could fit around the axle of the wheel, the fire, in which we turned.

Pawpaw tended the blaze. I could recognize others drumming or joining the dance: Hazel, Holly, Hawthorn, Willow, Oak, Ash, Maple, Rowan, and Walnut. A trio of Birches swayed across the fire. We noticed each other in simultaneous slowed-time. They nodded knowingly, but what they knew burned away as it passed over the flames. I felt as if they recognized me, but that notion may have come from our shared name.

The music interjected my thoughts, and my feet flipped the rest of me into step with the circling trees. All of our branches wove the wild magic of the fire.

The Apples had mentioned using fore with Purpose. I wasn’t sure what they chose as their Purpose. Mine that day was to celebrate life and love, joy and wonder. I had to leave everything I knew behind to take part in this dance. Was it worth it? My heart was so full of adventure that I felt it was worth it, though a corner of my mind wondered how long I could sustain that sentiment. Now, however, was not for worries. Now was for the moment. Now was for celebration.

Danger in its purest form paced within the fire. Fire was destruction, wild and thirsty. Once fire quenched its thirst, it could rest again. But it was ravenous, and engulfed any available food in its path. From that certain destruction, came rebirth and the fertile loam for growth. Renewal followed devastation. Renewal could heal.

I danced around the fire, and concentrated on a memory from years ago that still made my heart heavy. I had dropped a big box of crayons that exploded everywhere. Everyone around me ignored my plight. Some even cracked my crayons with their shoes. I picked up my broken pieces with lonely fingers, and vowed to help either friends or strangers pick up their pieces. I crumpled up the pain of that memory, and tossed it in the flames.

Ashes themselves did not always provide the best conditions for plants to thrive. Further amendments were needed to correct pH and such for optimal loaminess. The same went for personal healing. One may burn that which causes painmemories, guilt, expectations. One must, then, cultivate one’s inner soil with love and patience. My pain turned to ash, but the lesson remained to nurture my life.

The trees wove the stories that they had lived since their last meeting a year ago with the smoke of time and beauty, pain and change. With every step and stomp, they shared the wisdom that got them through another cycle around the big sky star. The dancers curled and swirled around each other in time. They acted out their lives and knowledge. Every experience was practice for their dance.

Around and around the fire we rambled on as night went on forever. We burned away age and ache, patterns turned harmful or hateful, stress and expectations. Guilt became smoke that withered away to be transmuted into acceptance. Pain that had been held inside welled up and burst out for change. Pain was like pulling an invasive weed. Something needed to take its place, or else the pain would grow back in the empty soil. We called for moments of joy. Life and love came to take the place of hurt and abandonment. Stretched to the stars, we celebrated our connections.

The drums crescendoed, and our steps became hops. Our branches arched, swooshed, and released. A breathless, breathy frenzy circled the fire. Each tree blurred into the next, so no one could tell one clan from another. Energy rose from our circle like heat from the desert, condensed and too fast to see clearly. We became one with the music, and it guided us. The drummers conducted a grand rumba, a waltz, a tango. Dances that never had names, which were taught by the stones the moment the roots could learn, passed strange and beautiful between beats. Quickening beyond critical measure, we shattered. We disintegrated into a miasma of everything, and everywhere. It all made sense, from birth, to death, and all the changes between and beyond. It all made perfect sense.

One, with a flute from the Elderberry clan, joined the dancers in their continuous circle. Notes of dew and frost floated about our feet.

The drums knew their job and did it splendidly. They slowed steadily until we were separate again, but at the same time still One, without needing to wonder at the difference. Energy built up. The dense dome was visible only to those who chose to see. We stored some of the energy in our bones and xylem, but there was too much.

We sent it off. Our chanted songs directed the energy to where it needed to be. The energy had its own consciousness, an old and vast conglomeration of knowledge of everything that has ever been. Still, it was curious as to the thoughts and desires of living beings. It liked to know we were paying attention. It wanted to know what was in our hearts. So, we reached down to the deepest parts of our beings, and hummed our love to the universe. The drumbeats synced with our heartbeats, and wove magic with our humming. Our song was as old as the first cricket scratching its marimba wings. The universe heard us, and was pleased.

I made a choice during that dance. Every action I would choose from that point on would first pass by my heart. Love had the power to transmute any other emotion. I would not fear hurt to my heart, because my heart was strong and could heal. The scar tissue left would be used for strength, rather than fear. Compassion could heal a broken heart. I decided that I deserved my own compassion as much as anyone else, perhaps more. To invest in anyone, I first had to invest in myself. In that way, compassion was a selfish act, a most beautiful selfish act that kept giving, no matter whether the compassion was for myself or for someone else.

I danced for myself that night. I danced because my body loved to move, and my spirit touched the fire.

The tempo slowed, and lingered to let us fill ourselves with cool night air and water of life. Hydration meant more dancing and happier bodies. We swayed around the circle, anticipating another crescendo. I loved the calm between waves of motion. Our dance was timeless as the ocean hugging the shore, and as flawless as flowers bending in the breeze.

The eternal stars stretched and yawned. The golden pink of the eastern horizon released time into motion again. Most of the trees wandered off to root themselves in rest, while Pawpaw, Beech, and Holly remained to close the night.

Puddle took my hand, and our eyes laughed together in disbelief. I spoke in my native language for the first time in hours, for the songs we sung while dancing were universal and beyond words, “Now that was something.”

“That dance was alive. Just like any perfect memory, a dance like that cannot be relived the same exact way,” his gaze shifted to the Apple camp. “I am hungry as an empty dragon. Shall we?”

We stepped from the Pawpaw’s Groove and got stopped by the bridge. There were no trolls asking difficult questions. However, there was enough sunrise to see by, large rocks to hop upon, and clear water to splash in. Our spirits were refreshed by dancing, and our bodies would be refreshed by the water.

Puddle waded right in. The river came up just below his knees. I stood on the bank.

“Come in,” he called. “The chill is glorious!”

I called back, “I would not enjoy getting chilled from wet clothing.”

“What are you implying?”

“Swimming clothesless would make drying off easier. Would that be inappropriate?”

“That depends on where you come from. We would be clad in sky.”

“Huh,” I commented. My tone implied, well, ok, but no funny business. I hope you’re not trying to come on to me, though you’re pretty attractive. This is just a logical thing we’re doing because wet clothes are annoying. I hope you know that, and I don’t want to have to explain everything. But I will if I have to. Wow, I’m hungry. Let’s get skyclad already.

I laid in the cold water, held a rock with my fingertips, and let the leisurely rush of the river suspend my body. The water was gentle with its ancient power. The energy of the water washed through my atoms and took away the weariness my muscles knew. Puddle grabbed some sticks from the bank and tried racing them downstream. The sticks won.

A morning heron flew near us, and stood around waiting for breakfast.

We wanted breakfast, too, and walked toward the Apple camp, dripping and jolly in the morning air.

“Dears, greetings,” the Apples bid us. “Eat with us. You must be quite hungry after dancing.”

The Apples had spread a woodland-foraged meal of chanterelles, candied violets, minced apple pasties, and sweet wild strawberries on a table of woven willow branches. We feasted, and promised to help them cook next time. They assured us that they enjoyed preparing food, and appreciated our enthusiasm. No worries, they said. It all works out.

We helped clean up. It worked out.

Lavender grew around the Apple camp. Its morning scent made me sleepy. Actually, the night of dancing made me sleepy, but the lavender helped.

Puddle and I took an early morning nap on a large patch of soft clover. We dreamt of drums drifting like butterfly wings through daisy meadows.

~

Purpose and Wholeness

The Wreets, wrapped in dew and pollen, performed their Purpose. Their claw mouths munched fallen leaves and dried flowers. They bent in the breeze and solace of each other’s presence. Huddles of Wreets dotted the grazing land. Their grass backs hide them from predators, and grew back quickly if a wild sheep wandered too near. Their watch was assiduous.

Nearby, milkweed called to monarchs, who alighted light as cirrus upon the sky. The purple nectar aroma lingered like jewels made of air. The Wreets paid little attention to butterflies and their dotted, bemused path, so caught up in their Purpose were they.

The underside of a Wreet scraped the soil, loosening loam for seeds to become buried at their proper depth. The Wreets found useful seeds in hostile places, and stored them in their undersides until friendly ground was found. From inside their shells, the seeds knew, and appreciated. As they grew, they held memories of the Wreets, of what the young plants thought of as kindness. The kindness imbued the plant as it grew.

The Wreets paid little attention to the appreciation of those plants. They had more urgent tasks to recall, such was their Purpose. They created livable conditions for effective biodiversity. Their instincts to stay safe in the present also occupied their attention.

Instincts were silly things. Our instincts taught us what we had known to be useful in times past. Some creatures held so tightly to outdated instincts that they perished in a quiet end. They finished adapting. Change was no more.

Some creatures buried their instincts too deep to hear. They tried to completely drown out the instincts that kept them alive through the evolutionary branches. They, too, feared change.

The trick was to balance, to find a place for instincts in a changing universe. The trick was to remain adaptive. The Wreets understood balance. Their instincts connected them with the land.

A disturbance approached. A large thing rushed toward a young Wreet, busily munching its morning meal. The child was content. It had not learned the proper level of wariness. Panic bit the surrounding Wreets. They charged. They snapped their beaks, and drew blood. The danger hopped away from the young Wreet, and slapped its ankle before it stumbled onward. Wreets fussed over other Wreets to make sure all was settled. A lesson had been handled. The young Wreet had further learned how to balance awareness and contentment.

The Wreets resumed their Purpose.

~

Puddle and I crossed the bridge without falling in the river. If we hurried, we would arrive at the Cedar seminar with, perhaps, a minute and a half to spare.

We passed the Birch camp at a distance. A mysterious nervousness tapped my shoulder, but hid when I turned my head. The Birches seemed preoccupied with swaying in the morning breeze.

Yellow lady slippers peeked from the liminal space at the edge of the forest. Wild sweet peas met us in the meadow. Bergamot nodded to primrose and clover, while milkweed and butterfly bush blushed at each other. Puddle started skipping, and I joined immediately. It was a skipping-in-sunshine roll-down-hills sort of day.

“Whaow!” I swapped at my ankle where a something had drawn blood. “There are either strange bugs or sharp grasses around these parts.”

“Let’s not snail around to find out,” advised Puddle as we leaped onward.

We ran through the grasses like gazelles on a mission. The sun smiled on us, but the horizon held rainy prospects. Thunder thought about telling a story from a distance as we leaped over rocks, who poked through the wildflowers.

“Oh,” breathed Puddle.

We were engulfed in the dome of serenity that emanated from the Stone Circle.

Thirty-two boulders were arranged in a pattern, and held the thoughts of everyone who had ever stopped for a moment and shared their energy. Pure intention was built into this space. We learned the true meaning of sacred space as Puddle and I stood like silent stumps. We felt it between our atoms and beyond our bones. Ancestors had passed over these hills. They left moments, and memories. They imbued the land with reverence.

I felt the strength of this place. The place itself knew exactly what it was, even before the boulders had been positioned. It knew what it was beyond all comprehension but its own. In a way, that was true for anyone. If we listen to ourselves, truly listen, we can hear all that we are. Our deepest selves are wild and beautiful. This sacred circle reminded me of that. Furthermore, when we think thoughts of reverence at places and each other, our deepest, wildest, strongest selves emerged.

A condensed essence of the area emanated from the stone that sat in the center of the circle. It looked ready to get up and greet the beings standing about this morning. It would give a hug to anyone who wanted one, and smile to the ones who didn’t. Even trees wanted hugs. On Earth, that tree-hugging title was free for anyone realistic enough to be familiar with the fact that trees had power. To trade hugs with a tree was to understand the exchange of energy within a hug.

We smelled dried cedar, sage, and sweetgrass burning in seashells around the circle. They all were purifying in subtly diverse ways. As I passed the cedar, I felt rooted in the ground, and all that was troubling dropped away. In the smoke of sage, a mountain gust blew away any negative energy that had attached itself to me. The sweetgrass filled me with robust energy.

Several trees from each clan swayed in the wind around the edges of the circle. Many were younger saplings, learning their ways in the world. It looked like someone dumped coffee grounds around many of their roots. I was glad trees liked coffee in the morning, too. It had been a long night. I noticed a Birch, conversing with Oak, notice me. I nearly changed my path, but Cedar began speaking, and we all gathered near.

 

Welcome. Settle your trunk in this sacred moment we will create together.

We are here to make ourselves whole, and to experience being a part of the whole. We are singular pieces living singular lives alone, while together we are simultaneously an infinite amount of energy existing collectively as one. We are the same and we are different. We come with our own stories. We are squeezed from the field of energy that exists everywhere. We are condensed to the wavelengths and frequencies that makes our bodies matter. We grow toward the star which gives us life, and we carry our stories.

Our roots grow in darkness, below the soil. We might be reluctant to acknowledge that darkness. If all we were was light, we would live ungrounded. We would become weak and withered. If we lost our darkness, we would lose ourselves. It makes us strong, as long as we work symbiotically with our darkness and our sun.

We have come together today to cleanse our halves and wholes. We will listen and learn from the parts that scare us and the parts that hold us together. Our space here is safe. To immerse within, let us feel at peace with our surroundings.

Listen to the sounds all around. Conversations from the camps might drift over. Bugging bugs and squeaking limbs in the breeze might distract the peace in our space. Let them be ok. Let them pass around you. Feel the silence in you. Your thoughts drip off your leaves. Your worries blow away like incense in the wind. Feel your space.

Feel the very fact you have life. Feel the energy that is condensed to make your body, and the magical processes that direct each twig, each finger, move.

Listen to the rush of energy from deep within the center of the planet. It bubbles forth from the core of the world. Feel it going through your bottom, your middle, and reaching beyond the stars. It connects you with the ground. It makes you steady and sure. It gives you the power to trust. Know you are an integral part of something big, and old.

Feel the energy of the stars reaching back down. Feel it enter through your canopy, through the top of your head. It fills you with light and possibilities. Feel the glow when your heart is kissed by the magic of the stars. It lights your intuition.

Feel star energy mingle with core energy, and know balance.

Feel your essence. Feel that you do have an essence and that it is a beautiful thing, no matter how dirty it may have gotten along the way. Flow through yourself to find the tarnished areas, the spots of guilt or frustration, of regrets and abandonment. Take a moment to search for potential hidden gifts in those tarnished spots.

Feel your ability to cleanse those moments. Be still, and think into those memories. Pour your love into those memories. Your own healing love and acceptance shines your tarnished spots. Be patient. Give yourself time. Let yourself shine. Remember beauty.

Know there is someone who loves you, and that it is you. Nothing can take that away from you.

Feel the greenness within this stone circle. Green is a powerful color. It colors the photosynthesis that changes sunlight into food. Green is change. It has the ability to change harming thoughts into nurturing ones. Become green. Let it glow within your heart and radiate to your extremities. Let it glide through your veins. It is the sap that keeps us alive. Feel its fresh mint, and juniper twang. Feel it as the mist on the mountain, and the rain after a month and a half of drought. Let the clarity of green grow and garner your creative aspects. Let it flow through your limbs, gifting all you touch with love and respect.

Take a moment to bask in your light.

Feel into your own bubble of space. Like invisible vines, or arms, extend your aura outward and cleanse that space. Then use your branches, or arms, to sweep up the hurt that makes you stuck, or sick. Sweep up everyone else’s expectations. Pry up that gunk left on your metaphorical doorstep, and have a look at it. Pause. Question it. Decide if you are the one limiting yourself. Decide if you have taken these things into the image in which you see yourself. Are they part of your story?

It is time to edit. Decide if you want those ideas to stay, or if you have had enough. If you want them to leave, gather them up. Use your mind to scan yourself. Maybe there are only one or two. Use your twigs, your fingers, to pick off these stealers of energy, these leeches, these predators. They feed off your life-force. If you feel there are many, use more of your branches, your whole hands to scoop them up. A calm motion will gather this energy together.

Prepare to send these stealers away. You choose how to send them, and where to send them.

You may ask the ground to take them. The ground is big and old and can handle the transmutation. The ground is accustomed to the cycle of growth and decomposition. The ground knows life and death. It knows change is constant.

You may choose to let these stealers lay in the ground, decomposing.

You may choose to send them down to the mantle of the planet, or to a volcano. Hold your twigs or your palms to the ground until you feel them on their way. Let the furnace inside the planet burn them to ash. Use intention to speak with the planet. Ask it to transmute these sinks of energy to something beautiful.

Listen to yourself. If your intuition says to do something different, follow it.

Shake your branches, shake your hands to rid yourself of their residue. Later, you may want to rinse them in rain or river water.

Pause to appreciate your cleansing.

Go back within yourself and find the darkness that remains. This likely is a frightening being. It is the embodiment of thoughts and patterns, yearning and desires, actions. They are you, but you fear them. Perhaps you hate those parts of yourself.

Be patient, as this darkness may be buried below the deepest caverns. It is there to protect you. Once you accept it, you can have greater power over it.

Tell it that you know it is there. Say ‘I know you exist. You are me, and we will work together to heal’.

Settle any thoughts of harming it, or sending it away. It is part of you, and you need it as much as you need breath. It has kept you safe, but it can keep you from shining.

Use your mind and intuition to put it under control. Respect your darkness for what it is. Love it. Feel your control. Maybe you think it gets things wrong. Tell it you love it, for that’s what it needs. And you need it. Your darkness keeps you whole. It can tell you important things.

Sit in silence for a while. What is it telling you?

Keep listening.

Then return, but stay meditative for a moment more. Take time to feel your space.

Perhaps, throughout your life, pieces of your spirit have broken off. Some part of you knows, and misses those pieces. You can call those pieces back.

Lean forward and take a breath. Lean backward and take another breath. Lean to one side, and breathe deep. Lean to the other side, with another breath. These actions bring your pieces back to you. These movements help solidify the healing you have accomplished.

Reclaim yourself.

Return from your inward journey, and breathe deep of the outer world.

Feel your essence again. Feel your life flowing through your body. Feel scuffed, strong, healed, and free. Feel connected. Feel your sun face and hidden roots. Feel your light and your darkness. Feel full, and whole.

Be still until you are ready. And until next time, may the sun shine on your leaves, and the rain soak toward your roots.

 

My eyes were like infants. Everything appeared as if for the first time. The distant scent of rain, the ant on my foot, the whispering wind were all full of wonder. A bee bumbled by on its magical journey of gathering and dancing.

The stones we sat around were fresh with spring after an eon of blizzard. The trees frolicked like lambs, yet none had moved from their spots. It was in their faces, and their swaying limbs. I felt it too. We were filled with movement without moving.

I was kitten clumsy, and elegant as a heron in a lily pond. Puddle glanced over and grinned, and we looked at each other with crescent moon eyes that smiled our experience.

After I scooped up any freeloading energy things, I deposited them in the molten innards of the planet to burn to ashes.

I, then, acknowledged my own darkness. I saw despair inside myself. I saw the crushing boredom, and the uncontrolled fight for control. I held anger and fear. Selfish. Lazy. Cruel. Thoughtless. Regret that punched me in the heart any time I saw disappointment in anyone’s eyes.

This darkness confronted me. It congealed into an image, and raised its hackles. It showed its gleaming, stinking teeth. Its strength equaled my own, because it was me. It was the me that hid when the world got too big and dangerous. It was the me that couldn’t handle people hurting each other and not listening. It was the me that wanted to stay safe in a scary, painful outside world.

My darkness did keep me safe in a way. Those qualities were my fortress. I had stood in front of what I thought were my faults. I stared with steady eyes. They stared back. I told them I loved them. I had to love them. I wanted to endorse my life and my choices. I had to accept myself, because I didn’t want to accept being anyone else.

I reached out and touched my darkness. Tears leaked out of my eyes and splashed all over my lap. Those tears released the pain that kept those memories at bay. With the pain evaporated, I had power over my heart. The power of my freed heart filled my eyes with other tears. They were tears of change and beauty. They were tears of love.

Newton’s third law spoke for physical objects. Every action had a reaction. It worked just as well beyond physical. I changed the story I told myself. I saw how I could cause my experience of the universe to change. My darkness was okay. I was okay. My ability to love had expanded.

Puddle looked like the weight he picked up from all of the worlds he had traveled through had risen like rain off hot cement. He wiped at his eyes, too.

“I forgave myself,” he confided. “I thought I had before, but not really. Healing is a process. I was so angry with myself for running away from my home, even though running kept me safe. I was angry at not being heard. I kept moving. Moving would keep me in front of my memories. I could not see them, and they could not hurt me. I was the one who abandoned my family. But they were not listening, so really, they had abandoned me as well. It left an emptiness in me. I filled that emptiness with anger because that was safe. But it left me broken.”

“You were hurting for a long time,” I empathized.

“And then some,” he replied. “And I thought I had forgiven myself. It was not enough. I had to fill that hole with love. Filling it with anger kept me in the past. Filling it with love hurts, but heals.”

“We need to hug Cedar full of our thanks. My heart was hurting, too. The world can be scary. I hide my thoughts a lot because of the resistance I feel from other people. Silence kept my thoughts safe, but made me feel like garbage because they were my thoughts that got judged. That fear of judgement kept me silent. It made me angry too.”

“Fear and anger keep you safe, but silent.”

“Yes. I’m getting better at blocking out judgment. Judging keeps us safe, in its own way. Being wrong is unacceptable in many circles. Being wrong could mean being shunned. Nobody wants to be shunned. Sometimes people joke and say, I don’t care what your friends say about you, I still like you. I think that joke gouges at the very center of the person being joked at. It’s a way to control that person. People build up stories of How It Should Be, and anything outside of that is for judging. Otherwise, one might have to reevaluate one’s thinking. One might have to question whether their story of How It Should Be is right for everyone. Different doesn’t mean wrong.”

Puddle added, “We go through our lives wanting to be accepted. We are aware that at any moment, everything could change. If one belief is wrong, then what other beliefs might be wrong? Unexamined thinking gets us in trouble, while examining that thinking can overwhelm us easily. All things in their good time.”

I agreed, “Life takes a lot of thinking. I really connected to when Cedar said that no one can take away your love from yourself. They’ve tried, but I’ve fought back tooth and nail. It has backfired. Sometimes I judge myself too harshly out of fear.”

“That way nobody could hurt you more than you hurt yourself,” Puddle paraphrased.

“At the same time, that’s not fair. Why would I want to hurt myself at all? I love myself. I want to evaluate, not judge myself. I want to be realistic and patient with myself. I want to examine my thinking. Last night, while dancing, I decided to let all my decisions pass by my heart. That way, I know I’m doing a good thing for myself, and for the worlds.”

“How can you tell it is your true heart?”

“Puddle, you make a solid point. Each instance has its own dilemma. I’ll just have to practice and keep practicing. Choices and actions can have unexpected consequences, as well. On top of that, how do we know when we have enough information to make a proper choice?”

“Well, we will just have to burn those bridges when we get to them.”

“And continue this conversation at a later moment. For now, let us race through the puffed dandelions, letting all the wishes free.”

So we did. The wind was just right to make trails of dandelion magic explode in sweeping, isosceles triangles behind our skipping toes. They kissed the sky with all their swirling secrets.

Over the hills and back toward the center of the festival grounds we flew. A pinnately compounded leafy friend was wading through the meadow as Puddle and I raced by. It was Rowan, with grapevines draped around its branches. We circled around and slowed our pace.

“Hello. This is Puddle, and I am Birch. Yesterday we came from a rain puddle, and we have been enjoying this world. It is beautiful.”

Rowan waved in the wind, and spoke, “Welcome. I heard of your entrance to this world. Most remarkable.”

“We were told that trees can do the same thing, but easier,” commented Puddle. I think he was fishing for stories. Good idea.

“You heard correctly,” whispered Rowan. The voice of this tree sounded like woven dew and fresh berry jam. My ears wanted to bask in every word.

“Do you have a favorite world?” I asked, putting my lure in the sea of stories I felt Rowan carried.

Rowan swayed, “There is goodness in any world that appreciates sacred space. Rowans have a tendency to watch over such places, and we enjoy being appreciated.”

“Being appreciated is nice,” I interjected, then regretted it because my interruption stopped Rowan’s voice. I kicked myself because my statement wasn’t even helpful to the conversation. Just as quickly, I forgave myself. That was the point of Cedar’s workshop. I didn’t want to hide from my voice.

The perceptive Rowan swayed and continued speaking, “I was born on a different world, but this one holds my heart. This land where we are now holds much appreciation, but the distant past knows a different tale. Would you like a story of Veorda?”

We nodded, and my smile screamed YES, as we settled to listen with the sun on our shoulders and young butterflies dancing among the clover.

 

There was a world in place before this one that you see, and its echoes are so faint the stones do not whisper them aloud. Perhaps we would be better leaving that world to its echoes, because some things are gone for a reason. But rumors have risen, quiet as the space between stars. There was a secret in that land before this, and all who lived there craved to possess it, rather than understand it. The secret passed from place to place. It manipulated those who handled it. It was hoarded, stolen, and hoarded again. The few who sought to understand it, in order to be free of it, were hushed to a silence from which few can return. The secret fought back. Its influence grew.

The secret was an object. It was chaos itself, held in a metal disk.

It was action without balance. It kept the beings of the planet moving, always moving, and never a moment of rest. This piece of chaos seeped into the minds of all who lived in the land. Untrue thoughts settled in to stay. Foundationless worries pushed all that lived in the land to fret. This piece of chaos put holes in their hearts. Those holes filled with fear. Nowhere was safe. Each creature built walls around its heart, and placed its mind in an impenetrable tower. Nothing in and nothing out. Every living thing put up a siege against the others. Every living creature lost its own story, its song that kept it connected. Love was silent. Truth was silent. The battles began.

All was destroyed in fire and anger. Emptiness entered the land. The survivors retreated below the ground, and slept for many years. The world tossed and turned in its slumber, and shivered periodically. The rivers, mountains, and prairies morphed until they were gone from sight and memory. They were replaced by other rivers, mountains, and prairies. The stones dreamed, and forgot themselves.

In their desultory dreams came a choice: to awaken and start afresh, or to keep their silence. They let the choice pass on. They were too tired. They had seen too much. They wanted nothing more to do with the heartless outside world, and their consciousness sunk beyond silence.

Seeds slept underground. Their memories were more peaceful. They were hidden away at the first sign of trouble, before the chaos reigned. Their strength survived, as did their intelligence. They spoke in dark whispers, trying unsuccessfully to remember their past, and planned for their future. They waited what felt like ages, without a change in light or temperature to indicate the cycles outside. They felt the land shifting. They knew they must stretch their strength in patience. They held more hope in the cycles of time than the rocks.

Then, one reckless Mugwort screamed in hunger and disorder, and stretched forth toward the sun.

Others heard and followed.

But the land above ground had been changed. The sun had left, and in its place was an overcast so dense that it held back all water from the arid land. The young seedlings were thirsty. Many plants tried to reach skywards and poke a hole in the clouds, but the clouds were too high. The new plants discussed wakening the four-legged, or the feathered, or any flapper, buzzer, or slider. None could be found.

Oak, in wisdom, flung acorns toward the clouds. They bounced back without piercing the thick cover. Holly followed Oak, and sent serrated leaves to cut the clouds, but they only fluttered back down after shallow scratches. A few drops followed, but not enough to even soak through the first dusty layer of soil. The plants, so thirsty, wilted against the wrath of withheld water.

A last chance awoke. Hawthorn appeared above ground and shot a spike up to the sky and ripped open the clouds. Thunder broke the air and fell in shattered pieces for all to hear. A mighty rustle erupted from the plants across the land as they waited for the rain to reach them. Their thirst, finally, was abated.

However, physics was its own Trickster. Gravity pulled the thorn toward the land with such force and little air resistance that when it hit a branch of unsuspecting Pine, the new branch broke off with a crackle and caught fire. To this day, that is why Pine pops and sizzles when burned.

 

Puddle and I sat for a moment after Rowan finished speaking and let the story settle in our ears. I wondered how Hawthorn had any thorns after an age of slumber. I thought it took a while for the thorns to form after the sapling peeked out from under the soil. Whatever. I believed in magic. I believed in the magic of story. Stories could mess with facts, and still be true.

Anyway, I was more interested in the fact that I had seen bees, squirrels, and such about, while Rowan’s story indicated that all those non-planty loosely-termed people had gone extinct.

“So,” I began, “I have seen bugs and squirrels in this land. Your story held that animals died out. Everything but seeds and rocks were lost. Evolution takes a long time. What happened?”

Rowan caught a breeze in its leaves, then said, “We trees travel land to land in similar ways as you have discovered. We accomplish interplanetary travel a little differently, but the basic concept remains. We try to be careful, but sometimes we will pick up passengers. Every now and again, we’ll get an invasion that we need to have a meeting and decide upon a solution. Most of the time, there is an easy enough remedy to be found. I saw some booths at the market carrying a cayenne pepper and garlic aphid spray, and neem oil for the bug called scale. Those can get pretty bad, but are manageable pests.”

“Where is this market?” asked Puddle.

“We have one going on while we’re here at Festival,” replied Rowan. “It’s between the Hawthorn and Elder camps. From where we are, head straight toward that boulder and keep going.”

“Do trees use money?” I pondered.

“We barter and exchange energy. That can be material things, thoughts, tasks, or whatnot. Trees can get creative with sharing.”

I put my hand in the pocket of my dress. Something clung to my finger, and I yelped. I opened my hand to a shiny beetle. I figured it had crawled in there while Rowan was telling the story, and I flung it to the wind.

“Hey Puddle, let’s check out the market,” I said.

“Sure,” said he.

Time was endless, didn’t exist, and always running out. It was a special gift. Rowan’s gift of time came with a story. Puddle’s and my thanks came with deep gratitude and a hug.

“Sorry to rush away,” I said to Rowan.

“No worries, my friends,” replied the tree. “It’s all part of the journey. You are young and there is much to see.”

“I want to see everything,” I continued. “There was so much to see in my world, and now there’s this world too.”

Puddle elaborated, “Yes, I find myself bouncing between rushing to explore and stopping long enough to meditate on all I experience. The difficulty is knowing when to wait and when to rush. Each choice of what to do, or not do, changes your entire destiny. Your available options change with those choices.”

“Like if I go wade in the river rather than go dangle my feet off the bridge, and I met someone walking by with an interesting story to share. What if that person had crossed the bridge? And I had needed to hear that story because all these things were going on in my life, like useless homework and a crush that wasn’t crushing back, and my mind felt in a tizzy, and that story was the key to finding my calm at that point.”

“I think that story would get to you somehow,” countered Puddle. “Maybe not on the timeline you hoped, but it would get there eventually. At the same time, I think you have to be looking for it.”

“Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”

“You just feel something is off?”

“Yeah. Like I feel I’m supposed to be doing something other than whatever I’m doing, or talking to someone particular. Like something is trying to get me to remember it.”

“I get that too. My intuition seems broken sometimes.”

“It’s all about balance,” noted Rowan. “We can hear our intuition best when all our partsour minds, hearts, and bodiesare in sync. Following intuition has a tendency to bring us what we really need. There are times when worries and judgments block intuition. It can be difficult to sort out what is intuitional, which comes from a sincere heart, and what is something that comes from an old pain or injustice. Most often, if you find yourself repeatedly drawn to something that causes you pain, it is trying to give you a message. It is trying to show you where you need to heal. Reflecting on experiences helps. We trees have set a pace for ourselves that requires little rushing and much contemplation. That is why we appear so calm. Proper timing is still necessary. We survive by living in season.”

I nodded to this, “I’ve noticed that the food growing in my garden tastes best, and not only because it’s fresh and full of love. Our human bodies have adapted themselves to crave the food growing naturally at a particular time of year. Our bodies have their own intuition.”

“The traveling I have done to other planets supports that,” added Puddle. “Mostly, though, the creatures on any of the planets graze their natural habitat. They have little choice but to eat what is growing.”

“As for trees,” said Rowan, “we enjoy the hummus of the ground as much grape jam or fresh blueberries. I could talk endlessly about the complexity of soil, and the microbes needed to keep it alive and healthy for plants. There is acidity to consider, and the layers upon layers. That is for a different time. I will walk with you a moment in the direction of the market. I’ve got a meeting with Beech soon about the sweetgrass by the pond.”

We sauntered along beside the scratchy bark tree, and it told stories of the forest delectables that we passed, and warned against a few dangerous counterparts.

Rowan’s advice was sound, “After you meet the plants personally, you’ll be able to tell the difference. Leave away your worries on being hurt by eating anything growing here, once you’ve been properly introduced.”

And on that note, we parted ways.

~

Puddle and I commenced our hunt for the market. It wasn’t much of a hunt, but we had fun pretending to sneak about so we wouldn’t scare it away. Being a market, it didn’t scare very easily.

The forest opened into a glade, where sunbeams sifted dust and pollen together into sparkling magic. The glade was lined with stalls, tables, rugs, and buckets. Wooden trunks held my entire imagination until I got close enough to see inside. The market looked like my garden, in its ordered chaos. The main aisles left enough browsing space, but it still appeared a little difficult to weave through with the vines and limbs of everyone around.

Along the paths of the marketplace, trees traded tales and wares. A tree’s need for material things was minimal. They took delight in adding extra bird and bat houses to their groves, and sparkly bits to keep the nature spirits and crows happy. We passed strange and secret things, concoctions in colorful bottles, and shovels. We sniffed teas, and carved boxes of spicy scented resins. Incense caressed my mind. Stones were carved into shapes, and crystals still had their roots on them, so they could be put into rich soil and grown. Strings of beads, jingles, and little mirrors made the slight breeze sing and sparkle. One stop had jars of valerian root, with its sleepy old sock smell.

“Hello saplings,” greeted a voice with administrative edge. We turned to see Hawthorn surveying the market. “I trust you are enjoying the Festival.”

“Yes, quite,” Puddle replied. “We have learned so much.”

“And we have delighted in the tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten,” I said. “Rowan just told an amazing story. You saved everyone with your thorns. It was wonderful.”

“Ah, that one,” said Hawthorn. “That one has survived many generations, but you give me too much credit. The final solution was built upon the attempts of those before me. We worked together, and I just brought the right tools for the job.”

“Do you suppose Pine would not pop in the fire had the thorn landed elsewhere?” I asked.

“Perhaps. Perhaps the robin would lay purple eggs had it eaten bergamot rather than the sky piece.”

“I am unfamiliar with that tale,” Puddle surmised.

“Another time then,” said Hawthorn. “Rowan for the stories, and I for portents and protection. There are days I would have preferred a different job. Still, I find my work fulfilling and accept my responsibilities. They keep me balanced and grounded. Go to the meeting today. It would do you good.”

“What meeting?” I asked.

“The one today. Go to the Stone Circle when the sun is halfway between the zenith and the horizon.”

“What’s the zenith?”

“Straight above your head.”

“Cool.”

“My future sight is fuzzier than my present sight. I only see that you would be wise to attend the meeting. Dawdle another day.”

“Hey, we never dawdle,” I objected. “Well, maybe sometimes. Isn’t dawdling healthy for you?”

“I would say so,” said Puddle. “To dawdle is to bask in the enjoyment of life.”

“Just not today,” instructed Hawthorn. “See my thorns. They hold knowledge. They are a warning. They are advice. You would have to go elsewhere for a threat, but these spikes are a blessing and a warning. Heed to their direction, and find the right answer. Mostly, they are a good nudge. However, ignore them, and they have a tendency to cause strife.”

“Halloo Hawthorn and small saplings,” Hazel greeted, while plodding over with all the gracefulness of a bough full of possums. They were surprisingly graceful. Squirrels and sparrows rode in other branches, while a porcupine clung to a stem.

“Cheers. You have lovely critter friends with you,” commented Puddle.

“It takes a special sensitivity in a tree for critters to allow themselves to be carried about,” said Hawthorn. “Hazel’s roots are so sensitive that hidden things reach out and touch them, both physically and with their aura of energy. Deep wells of clear water call to those roots, which makes Hazel’s dowsing devices quite useful in thirsty lands. Metals underground ring in various vibrations that Hazel can identify. The animals feel the sensitivity too, which in turn makes them feel safe. They love to lounge in those branches.”

“They do,” Hazel agreed. “And I love to have them there as company. Hawthorn, we both have some sort of divinatory prowess, you and I, huh.”

“We both search rather effectively,” said Hawthorn. “You find benign hidden things well, while my thorns make me more naturally suited for protection. They help sense when danger is near.”

“That is a lovely delegation of tasks,” I said. “You can weave your abilities together to make a stronger cloth.”

Hazel added, “If we were all the same, we would be weak as snowflakes on the sun. We would be dangling threads, wearing away in an attempt to stay useful.”

Puddle concluded, “Variety is the spice of life, and the tubers, vegetables, and grains of life as well. Perhaps even the very essence of life.”

I looked out at the market. The variety of wares pulled my attention. Browsing would take a long time. Carrying anything extra through our journeys wasn’t that appealing. I remembered the dowsing wands Puddle and I picked off a Hazel tree before we got to Veorda. They could have dowsed us to the right places, if we had the right intention, maybe.

“We lost our Hazel wands between words,” I whispered to Puddle. “We’ll not be able to find anything now. There is so much.”

“I heard you need some of these,” stepped in our sensitive, critter-laden tree friend. “Here, I wasn’t using them.”

Two perfect pointers lowered themselves our way by way of bent branches. Hawthorn gifted us a few thorns to attach to our new Hazel sticks for protection.

We thanked and hugged the trees and followed our divining wands around the marketplace. Shiny things that snagged our eyes overruled our divination. The trees in the market smiled at us and continued their conversations while we gooned around, minding no business. We found pewter statues of leaves and unicorns, and butterfly wings. We found blank books made of papyrus, and walnut ink with quills. One place had wind chimes that sounded like birds.

One of my favorite stalls had assorted teapots for assorted purposes. Some were empty and could hold tea. Some held growing plants, and others carried river-washed stones. Some had pieces of yarn that birds could take for their nests. At the same stall, we found waxy wooden boxes held blends of herbs for steeping that we sniffed and guessed what might be their effect. One smelled of oranges and orange blossoms that I said was for sleeping. Puddle guessed the one that smelled of cinnamon and cloves was for getting a crush on someone. I said it probably helped boost immunities too.

I held out my Hazel wand in front of me. It wasn’t doing anything, so I stood still as stone and tried to empty my thoughts. I needed a solution that would let my dowsing wand move easier. An image of an idea began to form in my mind. Ah.

If I poked a thorn through one end of the wand, at a ninety degree angle, I would have something that rotated on its own, as long as I held the thorn part gently enough. After fiddling a bit, my modified dowsing wand was ready to point us in some direction.

I stood still again, and let intentional thoughts fill my hands. I wasn’t sure what the intention was exactly, but I tried to push it toward something useful on this journey. It was a clumsy compass at first. Puddle and I followed it around and around until something felt like it clicked. It was as if the stick decided where to point, and that was where we were to go.

It ran us into a table laden with piles of stones. I recognized the rose quartz in a wooden bowl, and tree agates in another, like the one Puddle gifted me. The Maple in charge pointed to some metallic hematite, and said it was helpful to stay grounded and strong. The fluorite helped stay grounded too, and was useful for mental clarity and enhancing intuition. A flat, round, gray and turquoise stone, with a hole through the center, called to me.

“I see you have made a connection,” observed Maple.

“This one wanted my attention,” I responded. “It looks like it has secrets it wants to tell.”

Maple nodded in the wavy way of a tree, and said, “It will show you many things. Peer through its center. It will show you that which your regular eyes might not be able to see.”

I put it to my eye. Everything looked normal. Well, normal enough.

“I don’t think there are hidden secrets here,” I stated.

“That is probably quite accurate,” confirmed Maple. “There is little need to hide at Festival. Perhaps the stone needs to go with you, in case you sense something hidden in plain sight.”

“What would you want for it?” I asked, then offered, “I’m full of carbon dioxide. That could be helpful.”

The tree swayed in the breeze, thinking. I opened my backpack to see if I had anything else useful with which to barter. I put the tick kit on the table for easier rummaging. Trees don’t have much need for extra socks. I would likely want my warm shirt later. Hmm.

“What about that jar?” inquired Maple.

“Huh?”

“The one on the table.”

“That’s my tick kit. I guess the jar is a little superfluous because I’d have to get back to my world where all the Lyme testing equipment would be, and that might not be so possible. Well, ok. Let’s trade.”

“Deal.”

“Why do you want this jar?”

“Glass can be difficult to come by in this world. I make Maple sugar water every spring, and like to share with my critter friends. Jars are efficient for storing sugar water. They also hold curious bugs to study, similar to your own intention for the jar.”

“Cool. Thank you, friend. I feel good about this trade.”

“Agreed. Be well.”

~

Poetry

Puddle and I wandered on. A smooth jazzy sphere drew our attention away from the market and to the long-haired Willow grove across the babbling brook. We hopped across the water on some naturally well-placed rocks, and sat among the welcoming atmosphere of Willows, who were engaged in spoken word and slam poetry.

The Willow grove was groovy. I felt cooler by association. Even the air felt saturated with awesome. If I had used my eyes that saw the plane beyond seeing, I suspected the trees would be wearing sunglasses and leaning on things with style. As it was, they were listening intently and encouraging each other with their swishing branches.

The trees stood in a circle, with the performer in the middle space. Someone was just finishing. The facilitator added a few lines for our sake before introducing another tree.

“Hey, hey, here’s what we do. Lay down your rhymes, speak up your schemes, and let us know your minds. We welcome prepared pieces or what you can sprout on the spot. We welcome joys and sorrows, observations and perceptions. We welcome all you’ve got.

“We have some mystery up next from a couple of comrades who listen to the ether of the in between. Snap your branches together for these Willows.”

I imagined the Willows with their weeping branches as dreadlocks swaying in strange applause. The non-weeping varieties had spikey dreads. Puddle and I sat entranced as the performers stepped to the middle and captured our attention with their words and rhythm. The drums helped keep pace. My heart beat to the pulse of the magic of poetry.

 

Wormholes Underground

Dry leaves spell their names in the wind

drifting only in their own nostalgia

lay their transient bodies for renewal

their names are immortal

though only to the wind

Night crawler sleeking through the ground

light and dark above

shreds of leaf mold in between

forward is backward yet always onward

visions blind as a potato eye

Hungry mushrooms feed the woodland floor

their dance circles the midnight meadow

stargaze and forget an endless cycle of regret

leaf laughter for the morning glory

Make your home in the wind

 

 

Haikus

Xylem strong as life

Just going with the phloem

Photosynthesize

 

Never feel the bite

Until a moment too late

Wiley beaver teeth

 

 

Holding Space

They’ll try to get you

Their words push on your branches

Your roots are strong

They crack your fingers off one by one

 

They want to steal your breath

Because they’ve forgotten their own

Their pain attacks you

Their wounds remember your own

 

Your pith shines open to the sun

Photons mend your cracks

Your scars heal stronger

Your breath is steady

 

Your knots remember

The pain they push

Disguised in shadows

You know a salve

Of truth and love

 

Invite them to join you

Your roots, your scars

You are a serene mirror

Who reflects permission

To experience the sun

 

 

The crowd swayed enthusiastically, and we were told we would have a short intermission to absorb the energy created by performance.

I didn’t always get poems. They could be really elusive, and I’ve had too many embarrassing moments when someone told me my interpretation was wrong. How can an interpretation be wrong? I used my life experiences to connect with the words. I saw those connections as meaning. Would that, then, mean my life was wrong?

The trees on Veorda created a feeling of safety. They never hinted at judging me. They respected my thoughts and questions, and, in doing so, validated my existence. I felt comfortable going out on a limb and thinking about the words in their poems.

My ears listened to the cadence and tone of the performers, perhaps even more than the words. Actions and delivery held meaning, too.

Puddle sat for a moment with a bemused look on his face before he said, “You are a serene mirror who reflects permission to experience the sun. That was the last thing they said. How do you feel about that?”

I thought, and replied, “To be a mirror, you would have to lean toward being objective in your outlook on a situation. You would have to remove your emotions and think of things as they are. At the same time, the way things are could be so many different ways, with so many interpretations. It’s more of a matter of a way than the way. It would be up to the one looking in the mirror to see what they themselves are, or could be. Maybe to be a mirror means that you walk around with acceptance in your eyes, and others see that. When they see acceptance reflected at them, they feel it for themselves. They feel acceptance, and it feels like the sun.”

Puddle was quiet long enough to let my words sink in, then said, “Acceptance is a powerful way to create a healing space. Even if whatever you are accepting is something you might normally disagree with, because it might be scary or painful, it is where the other person is at that moment. Something brought that person to that spot. Accepting that sort of puts a rock under their feet so they can step forward.”

“But what if accepting whatever scary or painful thing about that person is like giving them permission to keep doing that? What if they end up bringing you into their pain?” I countered.

“You might start by defining why you find whatever might be scary as scary. You would also have to try to accept them without becoming them. You would have to accept that they are somewhere on their journey, and that you have to stay strong as a mirror without judgments. They would see themselves, and then have a choice. They could start searching for healed and healthy roots to strengthen, or continue growing their pained roots, without that inward journey.”

“I have another thought about being a mirror,” I said. “What if, when they look at you, they see you? What if they see this accepting person, and think they are an accepting person themselves because that’s what they see in you?”

“Somewhere in them is an accepting person already,” said Puddle. “Maybe you could help strengthen that by being the force you want to see in the world. Teach what you think is ok by acting that way. Imagine a universal increase in acceptance. Guilt is a natural response to not being accepted. Increase acceptance, decrease guilt.”

“Life is full of math, like inverse proportions,” I gasped.

Puddle laughed, “And magic. The results of acceptance can keep spreading, and the healing power is like magic.”

“What if that person is full of hatred and anger? Would accepting those cause them to accept their hatred and anger, and increase those bad things?” I asked. Then I decided, “That’s a judgment. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. Those are our darkness. Hatred and anger could be useful in keeping a person safe. Outside forces can be debilitating, and anger would push that back. Accepting their anger would give them power over that emotion.”

Puddle summarized, “We are incredibly complex creatures. We are simple creatures, too.”

A Willow glided over to us real smooth-like, and asked if we wanted to perform anything. I was feeling bold, and had written a poem about cats a while ago that I secretly wanted to share. I asked Puddle if he wanted to keep a beat while I made some shapes, and we stepped to the center of the circle.

 

Mewsing in Mew Time

Crouched beneath asparagus

fronds

chirrup chirrup

in the night

I inch closer

I smell your stink

chirrup chirrup

in the night

Your silence

at my approach

awaits

my claws

knead soil, knead carpet

Need your space

What place have you gone?

There you are, where you are

on the other side

of the double-paned glass

Where you are, you watch and sit

I sit and watch

will you get through

today, or will you sit and nap?

Slumber, slumber there

Slumber all over everywhere

I lick you

while you’re sleeping

in my room

You taste dusty, you are dusty

You and I should start battling

The humans are watching

You don’t want them

to get the wrong impression

of you and I

 

 

The Willows swished praise upon us, and my heart glowed. I’m not often bold or comfortable enough to get up and perform, but the trees created such a beautiful atmosphere. Each one had the intention of supporting everyone around them. They created the community feeling I needed in order to shine out loud.

The last poet shook its branches, and swayed out of the circle. A Holly shrub shuffled over to announce a meeting that was happening around the grassy knolls on the other side of the Festival. Puddle and I were given a plethora of interesting places to explore nearby, and we followed our toes to wherever they would lead.

~

Puddle and I leisurely wandered in one of the directions Holly recommended, enjoying each other’s presence. Quietly sharing space with someone was comforting. I also got to hang out inside my mind. Not all of my thoughts easily translated to words, and talking could be tiring.

My thoughts lingered on the Willows’ poetry. I would have liked to read the words as well as hear them. Seeing the words would let them, and their meanings, float through my mind. My eyes could make connections. Sometimes my ears got too distracted to pick up the meaning of words.

I felt as if I’d spent my whole life waking up. I took sips of coffee from the myriad observations, contemplations, and conversations that crossed my path. I appreciated how poetry condensed ideas and elicited emotions that took time and effort to explore. I liked that even though death took that leaf in the wind, the leaf remained part of the never-ending breeze. What happened in completely still air? Would the sleeping wind still dream of the leaf?

The low stratus clouds we had seen that morning kept on their quest to cover the sky, but held back whatever drizzle they carried. Our wanderings ran us into the river, where small leafy greens hugged the bank and held the soil in place. We followed the curve downstream to a place where the river lumped out into a pool. My mind map thought we might be near the place we entered Veorda.

A hill hugged the pool we stopped to explore. My inner amateur geologist concluded the ridge that helped shape the river was a low moraine. The pool appeared to be fed by a spring; it was so clear. Shades of blue in the water could hold one’s gaze for eternity.

“The spring is deep, and the hill is steep,” I said. “Let’s leap.”

“Let us first check the temperature,” replied Puddle. “Springs can be quite cold. We would not want a shock.”

“Eh.”

The water was warm as a hug from a special person.

A thought seeped into my brain, like water through porous rocks. I gave it a voice, “I think it’s a thermal spring. It feels like one of those sacred spaces. Let’s not disturb the energy. We can get splashy somewhere else.”

Puddle agreed, “You are correct. This place appreciates serenity.”

“We can still sit in the water.”

“It wants us to.”

“We can trade our appreciation for a soak.”

Puddle smiled his approval of this plan.

If I was playing a videogame, my hearts would have blooped all the way full as we floated through the water. Hermit thrush songs twinkled in the air. Riverbank ferns mingled with moss, and I felt so full that I could just burst with light.

I drifted alone to the other side of the Oasis. Bubbles that formed in the depths of the spring floated up to tickle my legs. I floated like a semi-buoyant duck filled with a few tiny rocks.

My head rested on a flat stone. My eyes shut out the world for a moment of Zen, and they opened to a couple of green peepers with slitted retinas. The cat’s whiskers tickled my cheeks, and its purr overpowered the thrush.

“You’re enjoying yourself,” it said.

“Hello,” I said.

“Looks like you’re doing something very real,” it said.

“Appreciating my existence?” I ventured. I wasn’t really contemplating much at that moment. In fact, I had zero thoughts happening.

“May as well. You only have this form for so long.”

It licked its paw.

“Your priorities value respect over doing whatever you want,” it added. “I heard your conversation about whether to cause commotion in this spring or not. You are wise to question your consequences.”

“Thank you,” I said. One rarely receives compliments from cats. They keep it real.

The cat flicked its tail. “Watch the ground closely during the next few sun cycles. Closed eyes miss much,” it warned with the common crypticism of cats. I knew better than to dig deeper.

“Ok.”

I had experience getting cats to talk. They own the staring contest, unless you half close your eyes several times. That lets them know you love them. Once they know that, they will consider approving of you. I half blinked at the cat, and it brrewled at me, and kept talking.

“I observed your respect for the unknown here. You would be welcome at the other hot springs in this area. Take Rowaise Pass through the Undoel’ough Mountains. Enter the Hruun Dae springs through the waterfall. There you find pools that will soothe your past and present.”

“Is it far?”

“Trivial trifles. If your next question is will it take a long time, you are no longer welcome.” Cats can be harsh.

“Oi, sorry. Thank you for the invitation.”

“That is better.”

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

The cat stared at me. If it were any less poised, it would have breathed a breath of exasperation.

I ducked my face under the water for an instant, and only four footprints remained of the cat when I opened my eyes again. I was left with the feeling that someone, the cat perhaps, said release of control brings true tranquility. Listen, and your questions become answers.

I smiled serenity, clear as the spring, up to the sky.

~

The Council

Most Festival years were used to celebrate life and love, health and healing. Most Festivals planted and fruited wishes and dreams. Most Festivals imbued each participant with energy that they carried with them through the year, so they could create what they wanted to see in physical reality.

This Festival year had an additional purpose. A new force was upon the land. Its influence was spreading. Concern grew. Action became imminent.

Any given tree could tap into all the thoughts, and reflections on experiences, of the forest. To do so meant finding a way into a specific plane of existence, and walking through that ever-growing cloud of shapes and colors that made up the thoughts of that species. Certain trees were drawn to hone their ability to walk through that plane. Their endeavors meant they could navigate the needs of their fellows most effectively. These were the ones called to Council. They always gathered when they were needed.

This ability worked especially well within tree species. Thus, everyone required for the dialogue was represented; Beech, Pine, Cedar, Apple, Birch, Pawpaw, Oak, Hawthorn, Hazel, Rowan, Maple, Walnut, Willow, Holly, and Elderberry.

Any outside worries were to be left at the entrance of the Stone Circle, in order to fully arrive mentally. To assist, a bowl of water and pile of stones were provided. The trees could drop a stone, representing a worry, into the water of solace.

The trees spent a moment smudging their atmosphere with sage.

The Council began.

 

What do we know about these things?

Their ability to hide in plain sight is remarkable.

Their numbers grow.

They are plant and they are animal.

They are both.

They are neither.

So, they are difficult to categorize.

Their actions are indiscernible. Our observations give us no insight.

Their numbers grow.

Their communication is unintelligible.

How have interactions played out?

As soon as they notice us, they disappear.

All attempts at contact have proven futile.

Their numbers grow.

They cause destruction.

What is your evidence?

They hide.

They’re sneaky.

They keep secrets.

Their numbers are growing. They will overtake the land.

We must contain them. We must take preventative measures.

We must stop their invasion.

We must stop them now.

 

The chorus of trees swished to a frenzy. Leaves broke away. The trees called for action. It was mostly bark. The stratus greys in the sky flicked droplets on the ground.

Hawthorn called a pause from the commotion, and advised that everyone reconvene in the morning. The time would allow everyone to have a good think, and hopefully a constructive solution would precipitate.

~

Puddle and I stacked some flat stones on the bank of the Oasis. They were tiny houses for frog spirits.

The spring filled my heart with life. I felt sure of myself. I felt prepared for anything, like I wanted to take on the world. However, this world had nothing that I felt needed to be taken on. It went with its cycles, and flowed with balance.

Puddle and I stacked more stones. I thought our tiny houses were beautiful. Building them taught us a lot about friction, gravity, and balance. How productive.

Then I felt a hungry earthquake in my guts.

The sun yawned behind the clouds as Puddle and I journeyed up the ridge. The Apple clan had offered that we could stay with them again.

The sky sprinkled a few drops, and I wondered if the trees would cancel the evening fire.

~

The Council had finished their raucous conversation, and everyone went about their evening activities. The Birches gathered for a meal in their camp.

“She’s here,” one began.

“She said she figured out how to get here on accident,” another pondered.

“The other one instructed her,” the first corrected.

“She has her tektite stone. She needed that to travel the worlds in her current form,” one had observed. “Only plants can travel without that key, and she has chosen to incarnate as an animal.”

One of the trees who felt extra jaded after hearing what happened at the Council, and scoffed, “Animals are such consumers.”

Another countered, “Her insights can help our species.”

The one that had attended the Council said, “We have another worry. We need to compose a list of options to bring back for tomorrow’s meeting.”

~

The Apple clan’s grumpiness was the kind that got passed around like a hot potato. Nobody wanted to keep the grump, so they said borderline cruel things to each other to pass it off. Their jaded answers denied anything was wrong when Puddle or I asked. Their reasons for the fire cancellation were sketchy too. The sprinkling of rain was light and infrequent. They told us to be patient. They were the ones that needed to be patient. Ugh.

The sponge of evening sat in the dingy water of disguised discontent. Experience taught me that things didn’t always need fixing right away. Sometimes acting like a sounding board could be helpful. Other times, it was best to let someone full of thoughts stew inside their mind. The trees needed a moment. Trees were incredibly capable at life. Puddle and I decided that it was in everyone’s best interests if we found somewhere else to be for a while.

Puddle and I went to the bridge to brush our teeth. The natural antibacterial properties of salt made those little crystals good for cleansing. The Apples liked to bake, which required a little salt here and there. They were grumpy. We pilfered a pinch of salt each. It was one of those times when it was better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission. We picked a couple of sticks and chewed their ends until they splintered enough to be adequate brushes.

We had a drizzly, fireless, half-shunned sort of evening ahead of us. However, the air was warm enough. We sat beneath the bridge, thinking of riddles for anyone who tried to cross. The right words were always magic keys from one land to the other.

The dripping gray grew darker. We decided to sleep beneath the bridge. If any trolls came, at least we had riddles for them.

As I watched the last of the light fade, a patch of fog moved in to form a human figure. It sat with its smile to the sky. Its eyes pivoted toward us. My first thoughts were of fear because we had not encountered any other people, or people-like creatures, in Veorda. Usually people were more frightening than plants.

The leafy chuckle could have warmed mountains. We watched each other, smiling. My fear dissipated.

“Good evening,” it called.

“It is! And to you. Who are you?” I asked.

“We could talk for ages about who I am, or was, or could become,” said the plant person.

“Right now you are someone in the rain,” said Puddle. “Would you like to join us under the bridge?”

“I enjoy the rain,” it replied. “I would also like to join you.”

The air turned sweet and drowsy. The crinkles around the plant’s eyes told stories of joy, and its wiry hair defied the weight of the rain it held.

“You are the first person we have seen on this planet,” I commented.

It nodded. “I look like a person to you now. My true form is that of an herbaceous plant. I am Wormwood. We condense our essence into a form so we can explore differently than our rooted physical body.”

“The trees can walk around freely.”

“Some can.”

“Can all herbaceous plants change their form to walk around?” I had a garden back home.. home?.. that had some explaining in store.

“Everyone has different talents,” answered the plant. “I heard you laughing, and wanted to investigate. Wormwoods appreciate laughter.”

“We were making riddles.”

“How very abstract.”

“Why did the cabbage win the race?”

“It leafed early.”

“It was a head!”

Wormwood shook its foliage in amusement.

Soon enough, the evening made us yawn. Sleep would wander in soon.

“I never remember my dreams,” Puddle lamented after another yawn.

“I can try to help,” offered our new plant friend. “Wormwood is a dream-working plant. Would you like me to watch over you this evening?”

Puddle nodded, “Plants, thus far in my life, had proven themselves trustworthy. Dream world is a delicate place. Realities in dreams can affect realities after waking up.”

I felt that Wormwood held no malice, and asked for dreams as well. The plant conceded.

We talked and laughed a while longer until the sweet, drowsy aroma took over. Wormwood sat out in the rain again, because plants traditionally needed rain to survive. Puddle and I curled up on the tiny, soft grasses under the bridge. We chuckled through dreams of joy.

~

The plant spirit leaned against the trunk of the scraggle pine and waited for the sunrise. The cold blue light carved its face into deep valleys, which were difficult to tell from the texture of the tree. Each wrinkle was a story untold for ages.

You’re most alert between day and night, its voice said. It lasts but a moment. Be quick. Speak to the instant of perfect balance between light and shadow. Pick up a bubble of dew. This orb of dawn sun and smiling moon is a dream condensed from a creature reposed. Peer through the rainbow inside. There plays a story. Taste the pure energy. Experience the tale.

Wormwood’s voice scratched like the bark he leaned upon, and his words stretched from his lips like cooled honey. The pine needles hung in the air. Each dangled a world inside a drop of dew from its apex. Through the drops of condensed morning, I saw the moon from one angle, and the first silver rays of the sun from another. Drink me, the dewdrop dared.

A last dream formed as if fog took shape and focused its attention on me.

I entered the reverie as smooth as a practiced dance. A ribbon made from the dust of reality trailed in my wake. The dewdrop dream became more clear than waking life. Colors were supersaturated, sounds existed inside my mind like gems chipped from rainbows and shaped to refract exquisite condensed light. Thoughts appeared without the hindrances of words in the sorts of pictures only dreams constructed.

A note of silver began as a hum. It wavered, like hot sun on summer cement, and lifted me weightless. The moon-shaded silver grew brighter, and engulfed all my senses. I felt like I was nowhere and everywhere. My feet touched ground. As the silver turned shadow, it left a faint indigo glow around the edges of everything, yet somehow it defined the world even more.

This wasn’t my dream. Whose dream was this?

I took a deep breath and a croak escaped my throat. I sat upon a daintily undulating lily pad and watched a turtle’s face create ripple lines as it swam away. Food was buzzing all around. Without a moment to spare, I lapped up the air and everything that went with it. Then danger shivered through my leapy legs, and I flew from the certain moving reeds that has a heron attached to the top. Gravity pulled me into the water.

The subaquatic world was bathed in indigo. I felt my dream body lag behind as gravity kept pulling me. And pulling me.

Earth. I was me again. I was home. Nobody noticed.

I saw my siblings digging holes where they shouldn’t, and they knew it. Elsie picked up a clod of dirt and tossed it at Kail. Her intention edged more toward malicious than mischievous. He grabbed a grub and chased her through the echinacea.

Mom was pruning in the greenhouse. Her off-green aura flowed through her pruners to bite the chopped digits of the plants. Dad was slicing vegetables for sandwiches. He hummed as he slathered some sauerkraut on the bread.

I wandered around, touching masks on the wall. I thrumped my fingers on a djembe. My shoulder hit the doorway as I walked back into the kitchen. I put a piece of raisin bread in the toaster, and wondered if anyone had noticed I was gone.

Perhaps my room would show some evidence. At least I could pick up some extra socks.

I walked down the hallway. It stretched so the far end moved further and further away, but really went nowhere, like that camera trick when the director wanted the shot to look intense. I felt intense, though not of a particular emotion. Just intense.

My door was stuck. The handle didn’t even jiggle the way it would if it was locked. It just got warm.

My dream brain reminded itself it was indeed in a dream, and I prepared to walk through my door. In dreams, you remembered how to do the impossible things.

I put my hands flat against the door, and made a triangle with my fingers and thumbs. I pressed forward as I swept my hands back and to the sides. A portal opened. I entered my room. Everything was the same, but frozen. A dusky gray energy glowed throughout the room.

My raisin bread sizzled in the toaster.

A carved wooden bird box sat on my desk. It waited.

Kail burst through my door.

“Here it is!” He yelled as he opened the wooden box. Elsie grabbed at what he held. I stood up to see.

The toaster popped my eyes open. The only impression I had left was the faint scent of a burnt raisin.

~

Morning awoke fresh from the rain. Wormwood was growing where we had seen our friend the night before. The plant ignored us when we called. I thought its spirit might have been crepuscular.

The rain had freshened up the Apple camp. The trees bustled over breakfast with their usual joyous air. Whatever was wrong the night before was fixed. They invited us to a meeting that morning in the Stone Circle.

On the way, we met up with a couple Hollies. They strongly implied Puddle and I should check out the grassy knolls full of wildflowers. We said that would be a great plan after the meeting. To which they implied even more strongly the wildflowers should be seen sooner than later. We took the gator-nose-floating-in-the-nice-calm-swamp hint and went to frolic among the Asclepias.

~

Rowan was uncomfortable. The scratchy feeling started yesterday, around the time the sun crossed the zenith. Scratching an itch for a tree meant leaning back and forth. That calmed Rowan’s discomfort in the way a broken umbrella calmed the drizzle. It felt like someone was tickling away the vascular cambium, and the phloem was flaking away from the xylem. Rowan found it difficult to concentrate on the conversation around the Stone Circle.

Oak and Maple discussed how the little grassy creatures posed only a small threat, and that was a threat of the Unknown. They flip-flopped between action and further observation. Holly hopped in and said further observations would waste time, and then it would be too late. Willow said there was plenty of time.

Apple said they made the decision at the last meeting to do something. Apple secretly thought further observation was best, but had gotten agitated. Agitation had turned Apple stubborn, so it kept on with the destructive action ideas. Holly added that calling down lightning was solid action, and entreated Hawthorn to lend them thorns. Hawthorn agreed that was one option.

Walnut stood silently, and wished to be back with the Daylilies. Those conversations were easier. They mostly talked about how much they enjoyed sunshine. Elder wanted to hang out with Walnut and the Lilies, and play the flute. The flute was Elder’s meditation. Elder said that if they played music at the grassy creatures, they would stop their foolish secrecy. They could dance it out. Maybe they had bee-like communication, and could only talk through dance.

Pawpaw stayed at camp that morning, and lamented that the fire was canceled the night before. The Pawpawian fire hospitality was insulted. The tree that was supposed to be at the Council knew it was driving dissent even more by skipping the meeting, but felt it had to support the other Pawpaws at all costs.

Beech and Pine said they should get those grassy things to play beechi ball with them. To play was a humbling act. It could transcend the wall built by incompatible ways of understanding. Cedar added that meditating afterwards would be helpful.

Birch kept to itself and thought about the human creatures that had been sent to see the wildflowers.

The meeting kept on. Ideas were volleyed around. Nothing was decided, except that more mulling time was needed.

~

Nooks and Knacks

Puddle and I sauntered in the direction the Hollies had pointed. Out of the grass peeked what appeared to be limestone, which generally only formed around the coasts of oceans. I wanted to ask the trees if the Festival area had once been a marine landscape, and about caverns. Caverns formed well in limestone areas. Granite outcroppings stood around like giants at a cocktail party. Granite formed underground. I tried to puzzle out how granite and limestone happened in the same landscape.

“These hills are magical,” said Puddle.

I considered his words, but had been thinking with my scientific brain, and said, “Geology can explain it. Probably the limestone stuff settled as sedimentary a long time before the plutonic granite intrusions happened. Then weathering and erosion caused these tors. Is this sweetgrass?”

“Something can be magical even if you can explain it,” Puddle defended.

“You’re right. Sometimes it’s only magical if you can’t explain it. That magic is based on secrets.”

“If you decide to look at something through a magical lens, a certain mindset, that thing turns special. That thing gains value. It becomes alive.”

“Yeah. Science can explain the geology of a place, or how the body systems work together to create a generally functional machine,” I said. “Think of the air you breathe in. Your blood finds oxygen molecules, and carries them around. Too many, you die. Too few, you die. There is true art in that intricacy, and definitely a certain type of magic.”

We scaled the granite tors. It was more like climbing on rocks than rock climbing, which was okay with me. I was a land creature, and liked to stay near the ground.

We listened to the wind while sitting on top of rocks. I thought about the magic all around. I listened to the air molecules running into objects. It whistled around corners every now and then.

I thought about the trees of Veorda. They had nobody to ignore them, who would then force their ideas upon them. They knew no chainsaws. They worked to include everyone.

Their life-force was tangible.

I thought about my garden, whom I infused with love. I heard the soil speak without words. Even in winter, I could hear the land that I loved dream. It had memories of green and growing. Those memories kept me going when the winds of March stole my breath and the ice threatened to never melt.

I thought of the trees who would probably call me a sprout no matter what my age became. There would always be something to learn, some part of life to figure out, some reason to get up and try again.

I thought of the soil in the conventional farm outside my town, and the time I snuck out to walk through the corn. They were in their neat rows, swelled up shiny with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The soil felt lifeless beneath my soles. The microbes that kept plants healthy suffocated from the harsh nitrogen, and starved to death from the lack of composted plant matter. The groundwater was polluted from the need for more and more and more chemicals because the soil was dead. I thought of the dead zones in lakes and oceans caused by runoff from those fertilizers.

I thought of all the lawns that grew in the desert because somebody came along and said grass was supposed to look nicer than native plants and rocks. I thought of golf courses that provided pleasure, as well as humidity in areas where humidity would throw off the balance of homeostasis.

I thought of all the times we fought nature. Did we think we were smarter than the cycles that had supported life for far longer than we could truly comprehend? Did we think we were stronger, or our needs came first? Were we so removed from the roots that sustained life? Had we thought our individual choices wouldn’t make a difference? Did we hope someone else was dealing with it?

I thought of all the places where magic had once been. Perhaps it was ignored for so long that it was lost forever. Perhaps not. My final thought wondered how many people it would take to notice the magic for the land to wake up again. I sat back and listened to the wind. I hoped it would tell me its secrets.

 

One Wreet was known for wandering away, alone. It didn’t care about the Purpose. It saw the Purpose as the enemy, as an offensive world of fences that blocked it from realizing its potential. This Wreet wanted to fly. It watched the birds among the branches. It could not hear, but it felt the songs resonate within its dirt-filled body. The words were simple, direct, honest. The Wreet wished for feathers rather than grasses. Feathers could fly. It pleated its grasses together to simulate feathers, but that was a gravitational failure. It kept trying, just in case.

It picked its way toward the tallest rock it could see. A falcon flew by and noticed a disturbance in the sea of grass. The raptor circled around, and swooped down on our Wreet. The talons would have broken the Wreet’s back, had it had bones. Instead of bones, Wreets had an aggregate inner structure that reformed with adequate water and compost. This was a healthy Wreet, so the talons only slightly squished its body.

The bird realized it held an inedible clump of dirt, and dropped its fare. The Wreet did indeed fulfill its dream of flying, for a moment before crashing into a butterfly bush.

“What is this?” asked the whisper voice of the shrub. “Oh, grasses.”

The shrub shook itself and noticed the mobile nature of the Wreet. The Wreet jumped branch to branch down, and stared at the shrub. It thought it was the only cognizant plant matter around. The shrub stared back.

 

Puddle and I listened to the wind atop the tor. It didn’t tell us any secrets. We watched a bird swoop then drop something. The something fell into a shrub and scattered a handful of butterflies. The something wiggled itself free. We went to check if it was hurt.

Some grass was staring at the butterfly bush when we climbed down.

It turned to stare at us.

“Did you see that?” rasped the shrub, with a voice like butterfly wings on a chalkboard.

I bent down as eye level to the clump of grass as I could guess. It raised rooty eyes to me. At least, they seemed to be eyes. The creature was sort of shaped like a fish, scaled in grasses, with a hooked bird-like beak. I couldn’t tell if it had talons or root legs.

“What are you?” I asked. I held out my hand. It hobbled onto my palm and I looked at it with smiles in my eyes. Its own eyes seemed mostly useless, but it apparently could tell I meant it no harm. It sniffed around my arm, clicked its beak in my direction, and wandered off.

“That was cute,” I remarked.

“Do you think it lost its herd, or do you think those things are solitary creatures?” asked Puddle.

“Duno. Want to follow it?”

“I really want to make a fort.”

“Let’s go back to the forest then.”

~

Lavender aroma swam through the air like fish. Air fish would be appropriate for this setting, but they were absent because their scent would have overpowered the Lavender. Nimupara was careful about ambiance.

The leaves of the impossible tree that grew in Nimupara’s grotto gave off their own light. They reflected like distant galaxies in the rainbow pools that sat among the roots. Each pool opened a window to another world. Rainbows leapt from the liquid windows and danced along the walls.

Time had no meaning in Nimupara’s grotto. The Undoel’ough Mountains that held the Hruun Dae springs were just a shallow-sea dream when Nimupara first found her space. Plate tectonics happened outside. Nimupara altered what she needed to inside, in order to keep her space balanced. Her grotto would remain timeless after their sun stretched its final stretch, and engulfed their world in its nuclear fusioned death.

To Nimupara, interruptions were the bane of all existence. She focused her attention the way a magnifying glass focused sunshine. The smashing power of interruptions left shards of thought all over the stone floor. One would need shoes to walk around. Nimupara didn’t like blind feet.

Thus, her grotto was invitation only.

Though the gate was closed to any uninvited inquisitors, she had a certain understanding with Beppu, the elder turtle, and Caht. Only those two ancient friends were gifted unimpeded entry to her grotto. They minded their own business well enough.

Beppu was a hatchling when she first stumbled inside. Nimupara created the mud bath pool that soothed her knobby skin, and energized her to swim through the worlds. The turtle had business to deal with in many places, and Nimupara’s observations helped guide her.

Caht had his way of walking through walls. He barely bothered with the portals directly, and always came with news, and stories. He would appear like the first stars of evening, winking into existence behind her ankles, prowl fallen leaves, and be gone like the morning mist.

Hers was a place of transformations. Her pools were filled with healing waters, mixed with sap from the impossible tree. The power of her concentrated attention and intentional love sent soothing ripples to the places she watched.

Not only did the healing properties of pure observation and love assuage strife, it precipitated solutions. Living and nonliving affairs were complex webs full of patterns. Her studies untangled those strings. She connected the scatter plot points of life on the Cartesian coordinate plane of existence, then whispered her findings through the windows.

The watching of worlds had been her choice. Nimupara had once been a part of a society that valued quickness. If she had a small monetary unit for every time someone told her to hurry, she would have refused them all in order to spend her time watching buds open or ants walking in wiggling lines while they carried leafy bits much larger than themselves.

So she created her observatory of pools, and kept journals of her observations for reference. Her insight had become so keen that she could usually read inner monologues.

Nimupara watched the neptune blue pool. The two she had asked Caht to invite to her home observed a Wreet. She hoped they would have observed it further, but they went off to do something else.

She took a jar of mint leaves from a nook she had carved in one of the walls of rock. She went about making a cup of tea, while wishing everyone worked on her timeline. She could only do so much. She would try to arrange another meeting.

Nimupara turned back to the pool, and watched the two youths build something out of sticks.

~

Puddle and I found a corner of the forest. We leaned sticks against other sticks, and played with physics until we built something that could be considered a fort. We sat in our new home, then knocked it over, before wandering to help the Apples with a zucchini pizza feast.

Later, we found ourselves in the Cedar grove. Their lacy leaves held constellations made by the evening sun.

We asked them about language, and how all the trees spoke with their own voices. At the same time, their voices together sounded like listening to the forest. We wondered how they kept everything straight, like who was talking with whom. We wondered if it was rude if a tree talked over another tree, or how the quiet ones got their voices heard.

The Cedars shared a story.

 

At the dawn of time we were One. We lived our cycles, shared our space, and loved our thoughts. Before the fire, floods and ice, before our Doom was called upon us, we were One.

We were peaceful. We were tranquil as a glass pond, yet still passionate about all our endeavors. Each of us shined with divine light and love, clear as crystals. We were balanced.

But our best and most useful feature was not in our beauty or our actions. It was in our minds. Or, it should be referred to as our mind, singular. What one knew, the entire tribe knew. Our tribe included anything with the ability to think. You would be surprised as to what has the capability to think. We spoke with animals, trees, rocks, wind. Words were unnecessary, uninvented, and would have been a nuisance. Thoughts were thoughts, and every one of us could access that infinite cloud easily as a warble warbles.

Harmony reigned, and we were truly One.

But, of course, nothing lasted forever.

There was one, born of a wrong moment, who succeeded in breaking that bond. This one found the ability to shield thoughts. We still had to communicate, but many thoughts were now hidden. Our reasons for hiding thoughts began to vary. More thoughts became hidden. Yet, we needed to communicate.

In time, this conundrum brought about speech.

That invented monstrosity sucked in followers. Soon, before we knew what was happening, or thought of how to stop it, that evil force grew to the point that even the most unwilling of us put up walls to our minds. We experienced reverse evolution, brought about by the stubbornness of the mind. Greed, jealousy, and hate took over to try to abate the hunger caused by our separation.

Worst of all, we encountered misunderstanding.

Instead of our connection through love and full communication, we connected through fear.

We were closed, and our bond was forever shattered.

Since then, we have returned to some semblance of what we were. Trees have worked for eons to break down our mind walls and communicate as forests. Our minds connect, though the complete bond is rare.

When it does happen, we hold a power, a magic, a strength stronger than the most powerful piece of artillery the universe has ever seen.

 

“Is that why we hear different tones when you speak?” I asked.

“Even before, we spoke with different tones because we each had our own voice and our own mind. Our thoughts were shared.”

“You didn’t have secrets. Spoiler alerts everywhere.”

Puddle said, “When I work through an idea, usually I have a bunch of less helpful thought strands that get me there. Would those distract from the main thought, if they were all floating around in the same cloud?”

“Puddle, you and I tried listening to everything right before we waterjumped to get here. You said it gets loud. Would those extra thought strands cause that?”

“That is why we are still working through the logistics of how it was done,” Cedar said. “We lost a lot because of language, and are still recovering.”

“Language shapes the way we think,” said Puddle. “I use dust from my planet to bridge languages. It makes translations quicker. At the same time, it has allowed me to study words and the way we put them together. If we still spoke with Oneness, would that avenue to shape our idea be lost?”

“It’s like my choice to stay on Earth, or waterjump. I would miss experiences either way.”

“Saplings, you make a powerful point.”

“So do you,” I said. “Misunderstanding has been the cause of so much pain. Hidden thoughts hurt the hider and the one from whom they’re hidden.”

“They can cause pain when they are aired as well,” said Puddle. “At the same time, they can place you on a path to understanding.”

“Understanding protects our lives,” Cedar said. “Compassion allows us to live peacefully. We know a Universal Dance of Peace honoring that if you are interested.”

We danced and sang among the trees. Our muscles warmed to the movements in forethought to the gathering that evening.

The sunset constellations between the leaves faded, and star constellations showed themselves. I thought of how it was up to us to make meaningful stories with the points of lights in the night sky. Language was like the stars. The universe existed without our meaning. It was up to us to create constellations so we could talk about it.

~

Though not fully full, the waxing moon shed silver light over the land. Fireflies sparked in and out of golden sight like stars.

The drumbeat started slow and low. One beat after the other. They left footprints on my heart. They counted seconds not made of time. They counted a primal present where all that mattered was the now that demanded your attention. My bare toes massaged the sandy loam as the drums massaged my soul. I felt my limbs sway like a breeze. The fire cracked. The beat stepped up. My feet swirled in the sand and took their first stomps.

I sidled along the circumference. The fire blazed with added sticks. My feet flew with the beat, steps wide and fierce. Each stomp released muscles until my limbs became the surf on the ocean’s shore, rolling in the air, solid and light as clouds.

I circled the fire once, and again. The third time, we became as One. All heaviness in my heart glowed orange and singed as it flaked away, transformed. I leapt and spun. My fingers wove a story of ashes and renewal.

A predator inside my mind whispered that my steps were silly. It hissed that the trees were watching. And judging. It scoffed and asked who I thought I was to move around the fire, heart full of flames and passion. It asked how I possibly thought I was worth anything. That I was worth happiness. That I could do anything but blunder. Why should I ignite my darkness? Its laughter was a cudgel to my stomach. I broke in half like a dried twig.

My broken pieces rolled on the ground. The dancing trees kicked them with their roots. Dust filled the cracks that I put in my heart, each from a time I told myself I wasn’t good enough. Each game when everyone else was picked before me cracked my skin. Each blank stare that held the word weirdo tugged my muscles like gravity. Each cruel joke that wasn’t really funny put a tiny hole in my lungs so the air would escape. Each message that I wasn’t good enough scratched an ulcer in my stomach.

Every smile I gave when someone took advantage of me, confiscating my time or energy or else, because I wasn’t sure how to respond, or they were sly enough to make me think it was my idea, that it was what I wanted, nicked my jugular. Every time I stayed small, scared, and safe rather than show my true heart slashed at my spine.

My broken pieces covered themselves in dust, and rolled into the fire, one by one. My skin and sinews bubbled and burned away. My organs and tissues evaporated. The fire scorched the predator that stole my strength and told me I was endlessly wrong. Its stench lingered a moment like a rotten cat fart, before a breeze came to waft it away.

Only my bones were left. My structure. My unbreakable deepest self. I walked through the fire, and picked up each bone. This one was for my creativity. This one for my sense of justice. This for my listening ears, and this for speaking through my heart. There was one for intentional community, one for purposeful isolation. I chose a sturdy one for intuition, and another for observation. I piled up ones for weirdnesses that I loved, and ones for peculiarities.

Some bones had holes from being ignored so long. I caked them with dust, and wet them with tears. My bones dried stronger than ever.

I stacked them up, each in its place. Once they were settled, I sat in the moonlight and sang my truth across my bones. It started as a whisper of a hum that tumbled over my teeth and through my ribs. I didn’t know the words, but I could feel them. My song was clumsy as all the times I sang with the radio before being anywhere near sure of the lyrics. But it worked.

Muscles stretched like ribbons. Fascia oozed from the meaning of my song. New flesh, which looked exactly like my old flesh, covered my body. I was whole. And tired.

I stumbled through the forest and into unconsciousness, like a skipping stone into a pond.

~

I awoke in a sea of moss. At a distant glance, moss was a most comfortable bed. Up close, it was full of tiny pokey sticks and ants. Nonetheless, my body felt renewed. I crept off the moss as tenderly as a butterfly kiss to avoid crushing it further, and went to find Puddle.

A trail led to the river. I liked trails. They kept my feet from clodhopping all over anything small trying to grow, or nests built on the ground. The morning was warm, and the water tickled my toes as I walked upstream to find Puddle stretching near the bridge. I joined him. He hadn’t been worried about me wandering off the night before. The trees were watching out enough.

“Want to try telepathy?” Puddle asked in the middle of a triangle pose.

“Sure,” I said as I stretched out in a crescent moon. It was a good morning to try things.

“After the story last night, Cedar was explaining a way we could practice sending and reading thoughts.”

“We would go beyond the hindrances of language,” I said. “We could create complete understanding. We wouldn’t be able to hide. How frightening.”

“How exciting.”

“Yes. Still, what if, for example, I had thoughts you didn’t agree with. What if you shunned me?”

“You would rather hide your thoughts than risk me getting upset?”

“Well, no, but..”

“I will listen from a place of love, with a desire to understand. Is that reassuring?”

“Maybe. What if I have embarrassing thoughts? What if you have embarrassing thoughts that I have to then deal with?”

“Put aside the uncomfortable middle moment. Would you feel better or worse after our thoughts became clear?”

“Yes. No. Both? It probably takes a lot of practice and being open to the idea to get to that point.”

“Probably. Do you feel safe with me?”

“So far. Part of that comes from the fact that I ran away from home to do something exciting, and you’re the one I ran with, even though I had just met you. Any sane person would have looked harder at their second thoughts. But you never felt scary, even for a nanosecond.”

“If you question your sanity, you are probably sane. But we know the limits of sanity, and we are where we are. This is much more fun. Just because we find ourselves in an unbelievable situation does not mean we are insane. Furthermore, extraordinary does not mean unbelievable. Extraordinary means more than ordinary. That is where we are.”

“Imagine if speaking with trees, learning techniques from trees, was an ordinary feat. Nobody could say they’re in the middle of nowhere when they’re away from houses and stores ever again.”

“Trees see the world with very different eyes. They do not often have the option of moving very fast. Except for here, I suppose. Then again, these mobile trees still know the secrets of being still. That is perhaps why they are good at telepathy.”

“Ah, good point. Let us practice too.”

We sat facing each other, with our knees nearly touching. I was the thinking person first. Cedar had said start with a color, then get more complex. I thought of sunshine and daffodils, bees on dandelions, and birch leaves in autumn. I played canary songs in my mind, and remembered the scent of corn cooking over a fire. I imagined a breeze disturbing a wheat field, and tiger eyes shiningboth the animal and the stone.

“Yellow?” asked Puddle.

“Mmmhmm! Your turn to think.”

I let my mind be still. I concentrated on my breath a moment, then moved into a zone of zero thoughts. I sat in the fuzzy blank space between spaces, and let myself be open to ideas. My closed eyes filled with a lazy afternoon sky experiencing high-pressure conditions.

“Blue. So blue you would think it was purple.”

Puddle smiled with a wink, “Let us try images now.”

“Your turn to go first.”

“The category is animals.”

The red glow of the early sun pressed against my closed eyelids. In the mingling shadows, I saw shapes. They felt like fur and freedom, bounding through long grass, and luscious manes. “Lion,” I ventured.

“Horses.”

“Both are large mammals. Though one is a predator of grasses, and the other of gazelles. Ok. The category is.. more animals.”

I thought of bubbles and blue, of buoyancy and sticky salt. My mind made acute angles in the forms of teeth and fins. My imagination swam through fathoms of the sweet sea, then came to blood, and hunger, and chaos.

“Some sort of fish?”

“A shark. They’re known for murdering people in bloody melees.”

“How deadly.”

“Yeah, somewhat. Actually, deer kill more people than sharks do every year. They’re known for murdering my tomato blossoms. I think when deer kill people, it’s mostly because they don’t look both ways before crossing the street. Fools. We need better bridges. Also, falling out of bed kills more people every year than deer.”

“Life is fragile.”

“Yes, yes it is. Appreciate it when you’ve got it.”

~

We practiced mind-swapping images until the aroma of lunch tapped our shoulders and flicked the tips of our noses when we turned to look.

We followed something savory to the Apple camp. The Elderberries had taken over the cooking fire with frying pans, tempeh, oyster mushrooms, and onions. They had a chocolate and berry syrup to go on top. Surprisingly, the syrup complemented the savory stir fry well. Apple and elderberry turnovers waited for dessert.

Lunch was my favorite time to feast. My stomach was awake enough to appreciate it, and there was plenty of day left for the rest of me to use the food energy.

The Elders were expert flute makers and players. Their music had no lyrics, but still sang of strange beings and legends that forgot time, of death in life and life in death. Their notes flowed freely over mossy stones and ancient hills filled with secrets, and were arranged carefully as flower petals. Each change asked again what happened here, whose lives created the stories that roamed this land? And the answers had to live within the realm of music, because to translate those to spoken language would remove the essence of the tale.

My spine tingled as it awakened to such mystery.

Puddle and I did the washing up after lunch to show our gratitude. We danced around each other in mostly silent cleaning mode, as the Elders’ music made our minds ponder what might have been and what could possibly come next. Every time I spoke in sporadic bursts, I forgot to include the thoughts that led to my words. However, Puddle flowed along with what might have otherwise seemed out of context, and I for him. I had a slight sneaking suspicion that our practice of reading each other’s thoughts had left a few linked strands.

My growing compulsion to visit the Birches whispered in my ear that this afternoon might be a good one to stroll by their camp. We shared a name. I wanted to share stories. Puddle said he wanted to explore the Oasis further, and we agreed to meet by the bridge when the sun reached a twenty-four degree angle. With a hug and word of appreciation to the beautiful morning, we parted ways.

~

Sticks and Songs

Ferns flirted with his knees as he walked the trail parallel to the river. Fallen logs watched him with their dragons’ faces and moss scales. Canopy light fell green and dusty in strategic patches, and the shadows flickered. They tricked his eyes to thinking frames were missing from the silver screen of life.

At first, he saw a tipped-over stump with wild roots. That was until she stood up and peered at the fallen stick in her hand. Her hair stuck out at all angles. Leaves and bits of twigs tangled at the ends. Her dress had the appearance of earth and moss.

Their eyes met. Her stare reminded him of the calm, steady gaze of a bison, whose gaze is calm and steady mainly because of the immense power behind those sky-fed eyes. He could tell she carried answers to questions he never considered, but should have. She knew the words to songs that changed reality.

She stepped closer. The undergrowth gripped her skirt as she walked, and examined its myriad of dusky fabric scraps. Her feet were bare and listened to the ground with every step. Sticks, sea green with lichen, twisted at strange angles from her basket. The raven at her feet picked up another twig, and held it up to her, but she had paused her collecting.

“I know you,” her voice was the gravel-whisper of a long winter. “You are a world changer. You think that the places you go leave their mark on you, and you carry memories of those places with you through your worlds. To truth, you are half correct. Your presence alters those worlds just the same. Every step, every interaction changes the path of those you meet. Sometimes, your changes are subtle. But you do not know your power. I see times, memories that hang on your bones, where a word from you has molded a new path for another. World changer, do you know who I am?”

“You are the second being I have encountered on this planet with the appearance of a person,” he answered. “However, what one appears to be does not always dictate what one is.”

“Clever. Menially tactful.”

“In other words, considering everyone I have met from this world, there is a good chance you are a plant.”

“Ahh.”

She picked up the stick that the raven kept offering with hands that had dirt so embedded in the cracks of her knuckles that an ocean could hardly wash it away. Her hands were of the earth. If she held them to the sun and rain, there was a decent chance that they would sprout.

She gave him the buffalo gaze again, and motioned as if she had a secret, “The songs that hug your bones tell many stories. They shape your heart and your face. You are one who has seen much, and lost much. Your shoulders have seen sunsets, faded horizon fires that opened the sky to infinity. On your ribs hangs a memory of a sky so filled with time that everything close to you overflowed with extraordinary meaning because you could feel its proximity. Galaxies swirled from your lips as you sang to eternity. The rocks you sat upon smiled with your words, and began a harmony outside the range of your hearing. But you felt it in your marrow. You felt it in your soul.”

That moment passed worlds ago, yet still held magic for him. His connection to the ether of life was powerful as a first kiss, full of wonder and a little clumsy. “That world. Yes. I wonder if those rocks still sing.”

“Perhaps. Rocks hold to songs like the sun holds heat. They radiate their identities from their cores. Watch long enough, and you can see their identities change. Listen with the right sense, and you can hear everything.”

“Some senses are easier to deal with,” he weighed.

“We all have our favorites.”

“What is your favorite?”

She accepted another stick from the raven before answering, “It would be my sense of construction. I gather pieces of strength and beauty from moments of destruction, and build structures from those materials. Eventually, those art projects take on a creative life of their own.”

“What do you do with the pieces that lack strength and beauty?”

“Those parts, those lonely, angry, broken, pained parts helped build the strong and beautiful parts. They stretch and test the parts I gather. After they have served their purpose, they are composted. They are left as memories and transformed into soil for further growth. If they are not treated and transformed, they turn into regrets. It gets sticky once it gets to regret.”

“How do you transform regret?”

“Love, patience, forgiveness. Acceptance. Discussion. Understanding. Overall, it depends on the regret. I see that your bones carry regrets as well as joys.”

“I abandoned my people so abruptly.”

“Do you wish to let it go?”

A hermit thrush whistled its tinkling wind chime advice as he considered her query. “Part of me does. Another part of me wants to hold that regret because it comes from unfinished business.”

“May you resolve what needs resolving, and carry always strength and beauty.”

“Thank you, though the chances of that are microscopic. I have lost my way home. At the same time, I am my home.”

The raven cawed once loudly, and twice subtly, then spoke in a midnight rasp, “You are there and you are here. You are this, and that also. Lose yourself. Fall apart. Learn what is important to keep close. Find yourself. Then find yourself again.”

She listened to the bird with smiling eyes, and added, “Your heart is complex. On your shoulder blade perches the story of meeting your traveling companion. You work in harmony.”

He nodded, “She saw me enter her world. That had never happened before. We do have something of a working harmony. It has been easy to find harmony in this world. The trees keep things balanced.”

“There are many chances to find or create balance here,” she agreed.

He nodded again. The hermit thrush sang its affirmation, while it simultaneously claimed its territory through song.

“You have a great job to do,” she said. “I see the tip of that unfinished story peeking around your elbow. Be brave. Be vulnerable. The power of vulnerability is far greater than the power of fear. Vulnerability does not equate to fragility. In fact, it is strength. When you are vulnerable, your mind and heart are wide open. When you are open, you create a place for love. That love is pure power.”

Puddle tilted his head in contest, “Love has brought pain.”

“Things in pain are drawn to love because they know that love is a healing force. Vulnerability does not equate to safety. When you are vulnerable, you are open for attack. Something in deep pain might try to come in and ravage the place, and leave wounds that turn to scars. I see your scars. Sometimes it takes lifetimes for those scars to heal. Sometimes those scars, yours or someone else’s, need more time to smolder in order to be in a place to heal. It is a tricky balance.

“Remember, vulnerability can leave you open for attack, and it can leave you open to incredibly rich experiences. It can let you see into the heart of a matter. Love your vulnerability. Trust your love. Find ways to pick up the pieces. A good blanket and cup of tea always helps.”

Puddle said, “I have met arrogant creatures during my travels. What if arrogance was an attempt to cover up fear of vulnerability?”

“It can be a scary place,” she affirmed. “We all show our insecurities in different ways.”

“The Cedars said they used thoughts of reverence to create their sacred grove. Reverence is the opposite of fear. It entails respect for the existence of the place, creature, or your own self. That would remove arrogance from the equation.”

“Trust that,” she said. “Your unfinished story calls for your vulnerability and a lens of reverence. Then, you will be a healing force of love.”

~

I strolled through the forest with bare feet and half a song upon my lips. Most of the words were mumbles that held the emotion of a gadabout classifying leaf types, and the various textures those leaves made for bare feet when their petioles broke away from their stems.

My heartbeat increased its tempo the closer I got to the Birch camp. We shared a name, and I thought that would have a calming effect. Instead, my nerves twanged like a banjo that didn’t quite know what it was doing. I paused my leaf song. My breath had become too shallow to keep it going. All that kept on were my tentative footsteps.

When the Birch camp first came into view, they looked like they were busy appearing to do important tasks, like they wanted to be interrupted in the middle of looking impressive. It clicked. They were as nervous as I was. They knew I was coming. Forest trees whispered all sorts of happenings to each other. My insides calmed at the thought, and my outside smiled.

“Hello,” I called. “Do you mind if I join you?”

“We sent you a thought invitation this morning,” came the reply. Their voice sounded like silver bells, mist, and catkin sessiles sifting through the morning sunshine like snow. Their voice also held latent power. Despite their fragile looking skin, they had a special hardiness that let them grow in places others could not. They created fertile soil for others after years of leaves grown, shed, and decayed. They created beginnings for others. I noticed it in their voice, with ears that did more than hear.

“A thought invitation?” I pondered. “I didn’t hear anything specifically, but I did have an almost overwhelming inclination to venture over here. It felt like a good day for visiting.”

“Quite. We’re glad you followed that. You heard our invitation without consciously realizing. There are several matters we would like to discuss with you.”

“With me? I’m honored, and also have no idea about anything I could be useful about in a discussion. It’s you and everyone else here that I’ve been learning from. I’ve been experiencing some few things I’m familiar with, but in new ways. Like the fire last night. I’ve danced around a fire before, but last night I danced myself into a new being. I needed the atmosphere created here in order to do it. I was a phoenix.”

“You’re carrying yourself differently than yesterday.”

“I feel it. It was like I was walking along one path of life, and the effect of that experience caused me to angle in a slightly different direction. At first, the effect feels subtle, but further on in my life, I feel the place where I will find myself will be far different from the place I would have found myself. Experiences tend to do that. It’s all part of the journey.”

“You have been on a long journey. There was a time when you knew what we knew. There was a time when you were as we are.”

“Oh.”

“You could be more impressed.”

“Impressed because I forgot things?”

“Impressed because you used to be as we are now.”

“So is that better or worse than what I am now?”

“It is different.”

Finding a helpful answer here was like squeezing tears from a Weeping Willow, who were often much less sad than their name implied. They didn’t actually have tears. Truth be told, Willows would have promptly turned any of their tears into notes of obscure music that floated through dark corners of dusky jazz bars.

But. I got it. I changed. We all change. The things that didn’t change tended to be the ones that went extinct. We all forgot things. Why rub it in my face? I didn’t know what they knew anymore. How could I know what they knew in the first place? What did they know?

“Ok, so I’m different. How do you know what I was like? I was like you? Like I had roots and leaves and innate knowledge of the cycles of the planet?” How cool it would be to photosynthesize for real, soak minerals through semi-permeable tissue layers, and flirt with the wind? Sassy wind.

“We have ways of knowing many things. You had fine roots and leaves. You come from a strong line of Birches.”

“Oh.”

“You could be more impressed.”

“I… was a tree?”

“Yes.”

“No way.”

“Yes… way.”

“Wait a second. I.. was. a….. tree?”

“All chlorophyll and sclerenchyma.”

“Huh.” The short sound of incredulous acceptance.

It sort of made sense, though. Early memories started to puzzle out and show the big landscape of my life, rather than do their usual casual stroll until they jammed themselves in wherever they thought best. Still, the logistics of such an undertaking were overwhelming. My brain overflowed for a moment, and I watched an ant navigate around a clump of grass while my subconscious processed alongside my conscious mind. I was a tree. No wonder I could hear my garden friends so well.

Among the steady gaze and ancient knowledge of the Birch trees, a memory unlocked itself from deep within my mind.

 

I slumbered through the cold and darkness. The impression of endless cycles hung dormant in my core. Hungry deer tore at my ankles in search of a hint of frozen sap. My buds huddled together through the long nights, whispering stories to each other over and over to take their mind off how tightly they must crouch to survive. Each eternal night pushed me further into my dreams until the only thing that existed in my world was silence. Even the deer stopped visiting.

I huddled alone until the day that plucky woodpecker tickled me out of my respite. Its knocking began to dissipate my slumberous fog. I saw light again, and felt its warmth. My smiling branches hugged the open sky, while the freeze-thaw pressure in my roots awakened my blood as well. A cerulean warbler toting a caterpillar paused in a branch. It tilted its head at me for a moment to say good morning, and check this feast out. I was impressed.

With a hearty stretch, my leaves burst open with the song of joy that had hid in my dreams, and my xylem cells became photoautotrophic straws to the sky.

The cat in my branches breweled at a pair of wood ducks on their way to the annual duck-goose river scrimmage reenactment, where everyone floated around at each other, then partook in riverside leafy green refreshments, then floated around at each other some more. The cat continued its commentary on the degradation of ornithological society these days, and how, back in its day, duck quacks were special. They did not echo, but now some sort of knowledge experts said a quack was like any other sound. Its echo worked perfectly fine. And the sun smiled, and kept on shining.

Then the sun’s bright smiles turned golden, and the shining blue of the clear sky deepened into violet. The sleepy full that came after a long meal settled in my petioles. My chlorophyll started to die, and once the green faded, my natural yellow carotene highlights were allowed to show through. We leafy ones always dressed colorfully for the Harvest Fest, where we celebrated abundance as well as the impending sleep. Wistful with memories, we wished each other sparkling dreams for the long slumber ahead.

In that sleep, I dreamed of possibilities. I dreamed where my leaves fell, crumpled with stored packets of sunshine, patience, and love. My leaves fell in layers, and broke into tiny pieces that mingled with frozen ice. Death howled outside my dreams, trying to find me and wake me. But I reached deep in the ground and hid in slumber, and was never found. I dreamed of running, dancing, and exploring. Each dream movement kept me just out of the reach of the one who would leave me as a bodiless spirit to wander. And of wandering I also dreamt.

I awoke that year to a new force within my heartwood. It was stronger than magnets. It was a wanderlust that burned like wildfire as it consumed every cell in my body. I would have gladly turned to ashes in order to travel with the wind.

My wanderlust grew stronger yet. I sent my intention to the others, with whom I shared my heart and my life. They loved me in return and understood my need to live an experience that was only possible in another state of being, with a different body.

The moment between sleep and awake holds infinite possibilities. We pass through that moment so many times throughout our lives, and so often it remains unnoticed. When we do notice it, we lack comprehension to truly experience it. It is a moment of nothing. We flicker from existence, and trip over the nothingness as we fall to and from sleep. It was the perfect balance between consciousness and unconsciousness, where one could be anywhere and nowhere at the same time.

My goal, enlightened by my hibernation, was to harness that moment.

I put a lifetime of concentration into that instant between awake and asleep, and released myself from my roots. My body stayed, and swayed slightly in the breeze. Tiny purple flowers grew around my feet. I floated in a place that words couldn’t touch, only colors, shapes, and raw energy.

The others, who were not exactly others, and I shared shapes and colors in that space, that was not exactly space. We floated around with our experiences, and only a vague smudged line of what differentiated our pasts from other pasts.

In that place where opposites were the same, I found not quite a book, because words were too limiting where I was. But book sufficed as well as any reference material. In it was listed every vessel in which a spirit could inhabit. I considered my options carefully, and chose one which seemed to hold an interesting contingency. The option put me in a place to learn a great deal.

I wanted to have a human experience.

I floated in that space for however long, because time did not exist there. I had to wait for the right door to open. When I found it and floated through, everything I had been in that space of opposites got sucked away. My dreams and memories were locked in a vault of forgetfulness.

The world became dark and squishy. I paused a moment in another between place, then took the first deep breath from my new form.

 

I was back among the Birches.

I felt the sun on my shoulders, a breeze around my neck. I could do nothing but stare back at my ancestral relations in silence while my story rested in my heart. My rational mind that thought it knew everything was a little disconcerted with this new information. I told it to rest a moment because sometimes there are more important and real things than can be rationalized, especially when new information becomes apparent. Just because something was unbelievable, didn’t mean it lacked truth.

Two stately Birches strode toward me with an air of love and justice. Their familiarity overwhelmed me, and I knew they were my propagators.

“We missed you,” one said. “We chose to let you explore the universe as you needed without interference.”

The other added, “Though we did send sentries out to check on you. You seemed to be doing well and generally enjoying your human experience. They always came back sleepy, though.”

“The world, or at least the tiny part I lived in, could be exhausting,” I explained. “There was a lot of keeping busy without really doing much. One could often feel an unnerving buzz in the air of Doing What You’re Supposed To. And these squishy bodies are always needing things. Not enough food, too much food, cold, hot, sticky, achy, tired, stinky, crampy. Part of the constant business was maintaining body functions. I missed being a tree without knowing that was my true past. I used to put my feet in the dirt, sit in the sun, and pretend I was photosynthesizing. Sometimes I got a sunburn, but mostly I got vitamin D. I’m sorry I forgot I was a tree.”

“You would have likely lessened the richness of your experience as a person, had you remembered your treeness. Rather than live your human experience, staying present in the moment, you might have constantly been comparing. You might have tried returning to your tree body before you were satisfied with your human experience out of frustration. By the way, your tree body is still functioning automatically in your absence. We watch over it.”

“Oh.” Hmm. The possibilities. Not yet. “Not yet. That is good to know, though. There were times I was so fed up with being a person that I wanted to end it. Life seemed ingrained with doubts, regrets, and guilt. Pacing the mainstream fringe, labeled weird and insubordinate. I learned it took courage to be strange. The mundane was reserved for the less adventurous. There was so much judging.

“Pain was everywhere. It seeped from cracks in the sidewalks. It was often so overwhelming I would sit in my room and turn my frustrations to tangible, salty tears. But. There were beautiful moments too. Like board games by candlelight when there was a thunderstorm outside, or toasted peanut butter and raspberry sandwiches, or oil paints.”

The trees swayed around me knowingly. They valued living with a sincere heart, and the creative power fueled by eccentricities. Tears of relief sparkled on my cheeks as I stood among those who understood.

Memories of spring plantings and fall harvests started to push through the walls of my consciousness. I felt blocks dissolving in my mind, as I sat with my new old friends and discussed cycles, sunshine, and the meanings of real unconditional love.

Trees had a special capacity to love. They cut out all unnecessary hindrances, judgments, and fears. Certain bugs, weather conditions, and various sharp metal objects gave trees hesitations, but overall, their capacity to take their stand without judgment created an astounding base for love.

We wove stories through the afternoon. Solace entered my wounded heart and gave lift to my soul. I found my people, and they were trees.

~

I skipped through the forest with love flowing from my toes and fingertips. The sun neared the angle at which Puddle and I had decided to meet. Skipping got me there faster than walking, and with much joy.

Puddle sat on a rock by the bridge. He was spending a moment with Rowan. They were both dipping their toes in the river, and offered me some of their lunch of rowanberry chutney and eggplant delight. I saw biscuits and berry jam stashed for later.

After we ate quietly in the delight of each other’s presences, Rowan asked, “Have you had a good look at your energy centers lately?”

I tilted my head, “You mean chakras? Sort of. I have been working with different layers of myself. The last fire dance burned away a lot that was keeping me down. But that wasn’t with chakras.”

Puddle asked, “Are tree chakras and our chakras similar?”

“We all have centers of energy,” answered Rowan. “You and I both have roots and a crown, and ones in between. Your chakra placements can translate also to, say, that squirrel’s chakra placements. You are both animals.”

“I’m a Birch tree too. I just happen to be in this body for now.”

Puddle glanced over in surprise, which turned to a silent that makes sense.

Rowan continued, “Our chakras are useful as lenses to our inside landscapes. When they’re clear and flowing, we tend to find our tasks easier to handle. When they’re muddled, we become stuck as well.”

“Oi!” Puddle exclaimed. “We did an exercise with the Pines near the time we arrived in Veorda. We created energy orbs that we used as lenses to our inside selves.”

Rowan shook its branches to acknowledge the usefulness of the energy orb scan, and asked, “Would you like to go through a meditation?”

Who could deny such an offer on a glorious Festival evening?

“Let’s begin,” Rowan began.

 

Sit in comfort. Feel the breeze on your neck and soft clover under your legs. Close your eyes. Breathe in life and love until you feel you will burst, then burst. Let your breath out in an explosion of fearless fury. Let your breath take away any crinkled energy inside you, bent and broken from existing as anything but your true, vibrant self.

Again, breathe in vital life, and eternal love. Fill yourself with inner smiles. Feel it stretch your body further and further yet. Let your breath out. Roar again. Roar away all that tarnishes your glowing soul.

Let the stillness enter your aura. You can still hear the wandering bees, and the boisterous conversations around the Festival. Distractions are inevitable. Hold stillness inside your space, and accept the distractions around you as beautiful and existing in their own right. They cease to call your attentions. Breathe deep.

We will start from the deepest vibrations, ancient and primal, and move starward to the ether. Let us align ourselves and shine.

Concentrate on your tailbone, your roots. This is your base upon which you stand upon. This is your connection with the living and nonliving beings that surround you. It radiates blood red, low and sturdy. It lets you know your purpose, and fills your instincts with ancestral knowledge. Look in through this lens. Consider what you find. Perhaps your connections could be stronger, perhaps your intuition could be louder. Make it so by sending intentional thoughts there. Let healing love enter your lowest center of energy, red as strawberries and pomegranates. Feel truth as strong as the song of the deep, old drum. This is your center of trust. Let love flow into the cracks where trust may have been broken in the past. Let it fill you with the power and strength of ancient rocks. Know that in this space, you are safe. Trust in yourself, and in the innate wisdom of your very essence. From there, Connect.

Move your concentration upward to your reproductive organs, your sacral chakra, your center of creation and creativity. Look through this lens. Consider what you find. Hold your love and appreciation in this space until it feels bright and passionate. Feel the flame of inspiration radiate to give life to your projects and endeavors. Sweep away all that may impede your creative prowess, all that may frown upon your wild nature and honest emotions. Let healing love enter this center of energy, orange as pumpkins and tiger lilies. Feel your creative rivers coursing through you from an endless ocean of pure inspiration. Know that the ebb and flow of inspiration is rooted in the same natural cycles as creation and destruction, balanced in moments of change. Trust in yourself, and in the innate wisdom of your very essence. From there, Create.

Let your concentration rise to your navel, your solar plexus. This is your inside sun that gives you power to photosynthesize your life force. Look through this lens. Consider what you find. Perhaps there are shadow factors that block your light from mingling with your life. Shine your cleansing love on this center, yellow as pineapples and summer squash. Sense those shadows that suck away your energy dissipate. Feel your radiance. This lights your sense of justice, and your power to make change. Know your strength. Know the value of moments of solitude and rest in order to replenish your strength. Trust in yourself, and trust in the innate wisdom of your very essence. From there, Charge.

Let your concentration lift to your heart. This is your most powerful center of transmutation. Here, you have the ability to change pain to beauty. Here, you find compassion for yourself and all around you. Breathe deep. Look through this lens. Consider what you find. This is a tender arena. Perhaps you find scars, bruises, or still-open wounds. Search out the source, and pour in your healing love, green as pea pods and clover. Wish all and sundry the very best from your sincere heart, which may be difficult. Let go, wish well, and feel freedom. Know that choices made from your heart heal and revive life around you. Know that the love you put out returns, though perhaps in a different form than you expect. Trust in yourself, and in the innate wisdom of your very essence. From there, Choose.

Let your concentration rise to your throat. From here you breathe in life. Reach into your soul, and sing the songs you find there. Look through this lens. Consider what you find. Perhaps your breath has been stolen. Perhaps you have had to learn to communicate in a different way. Pour in your healing love, blue as the corresponding berries and clearest sky. Know that your words are alive and carry power. Your words dig soil, and plant thought seeds. Think deeply about what you want to grow. Trust in yourself, and in the innate wisdom of your very essence. From there, Convey.

Let your concentration ascend to your eyes that see without seeing, your pineal gland. This holds your vision of what has been, is, and could be. Open the eyes of your intuition. Look through this lens. Consider what you find. Perhaps you question yourself when you know the right actions. Pour in your knowing love, violet as plums and eggplants. Listen. Trust in yourself, and in the innate wisdom of your very essence. From there, Cognize.

Move your concentration near the areas behind your ears. This area is an offshoot from your main trunk, and useful to see your past lives. Here, you may hear stories from your distant past, before you found yourselves in this body. Here, you carry soul memory. Remember this space. Your past informs your present. This past is often difficult to reach and heal because we forget. Let your love flow there.

Release your concentration and let it slip behind your head to your pituitary gland. This is where your soul connects with your body, and navigates your life. This is where your body discusses its discoveries with your soul. Look through this lens. Consider what you find. Perhaps the dialogue is continuous. Perhaps communication is blocked. Pause and listen. Listen with your heart open, in perfect love and perfect trust.

Know that each point of connection is as essential as the others. Each has a function and a purpose. Together, they create a fully functional, vibrant being.

Now let us connect with the bigger picture.

From your tailbone, feel the downward space, infinitely further than your physical body. Feel your connection to the center of everything. You are a conscious being, a pivot point from the center to the edge of eternity. Feel your connection to the edge of everything.

From the top of your head, feel the upward space. Feel the light and love of forever. In that forever, feel the cold, empty space dotted with intense moments of heat and nuclear fusion. The asymmetric rhythm of warm and cold, space and stars, is a cosmic frolic. Feel the inherent cycles. The cycles create balance, and change.

Know you are in the perfect time and perfect space for this moment of your journey. You are learning and growing. Feel your space. Trust your space. Love your space.

 

We took a moment to come back to ourselves, because to move and talk too quickly was jarring. We thanked Rowan with hugs, and agreed we felt the strength of our ever growing connection with ourselves and surroundings. The night stretched its arms above us, and we followed fireflies to the drum circle.

Then we danced, oh we danced, in our bodies of light and wholeness through the night. We swayed the ways our bodies felt they should, to connect and to create. We danced a dance of inner power that shared true and honest love with the other dancers. We whooped and sang with the rustling leaves, as our bodies twirled with the mysterious magic all around and within.

~

Mae knocked on the door. She had felt restless all day. A tingling sensation around her shoulders told her something was wonky. She heard an exasperated, “Do I have to do everything around here?” before footstomps came to see who so rudely interrupted.

“Birch isn’t here,” replied Shari’s flat voice that matched her flat eyes. “She’s off playing her pissy ass games.”

The door closed before Mae had a chance to respond. Like it mattered anyway. Who cared what she had to say? Nobody. That’s who. And she better not forget.

The back of her mind said there was something outside of herself that influenced her self-deprecating comments. It said Shari was feeling it too. Mae was too grumpy to listen to the back of her mind.

Because it was acceptable when times were less tense, Mae walked around back to see what was happening in the garden. Kail was busy tearing daffodils out of the soil. He brought his bouquet to Mae, who looked at the well-meaning flower corpses.

Let’s put the roots back in the ground so they can come back next year, she suggested.

Elsie crouched to peer at the last crocus. She tromped on it and said that it was gunna die anyway.

The weird tingling in Mae’s shoulders reminded her that strange and off-putting unknowns were around. This had gone too far. She shook her arms and her head to try to knock the unnatural feeling off, and decided to step in.

She knew from watching Kail and Elsie grow up that one of the best ways to stop them from doing something unsavory was to distract their attention, rather than let them know how wrong they were. So, even though she felt her day had been full of walking into large metaphorical brick walls, she shelved her grumpiness, used the strength of mountains to muster up a calm voice, and asked who wanted to play Memory Mosaic. When Mae and Birch were young as these two, and entirely too filled with energy, Shari made up Memory Mosaic. The game set that bustling energy free, and enhanced memory skills. To play, the game facilitator assessed potential available options, and picked a series of obstacles to overcome. The reward of task completion was either a high five or a hug, chosen by the participants.

Elsie and Kail stood poised and ready.

“Ok…” paused Mae. “Ok. You have to run clockwise around the garden three times, jump over that stump, do a summersault on that side of the greenhouse, find a stone this big and put it on top of the stump you jumped over, then make one loud dinosaur noise and one quiet one. Who wants me to repeat any steps? Ready? Go!”

And the siblings were off. Around and around they went, up and down, and laughingly came to get their bounty. Watching them play dissolved Mae’s own shelved grumpiness.

What magic, she thought. Shari came out with iced tea. Her mood seemed to have shifted as well. The strange tingling still lingered in Mae’s shoulders, but, for now, all that mattered was the golden afternoon sun, and watching her non-blood siblings enjoying life.

What magic, she thought once more.

~

“Good morning sweetlings!”

We woke to the light in the sky and the light in Apple’s voice. They made baked apple streusel pancake bars with maple syrup drizzle, and apple slices with peanut butter and raisins. Twist my arm.

Each of their meals seemed to have different sorts of apples.

“How many types of apples are there?” I asked.

“All of ‘em, and then some,” chorused from the trees. “Each with their own properties. Sweet, crunchy, sour, though always splendid. Different sorts are more suited to bake, boil, batter, or leave raw as rain.”

“You sure know which fruits to choose for every meal.”

“We’ve had a bit of practice.”

“And your fruit has a secret star if you cut it right. You probably knew that.”

“That star holds our magic and our ancestry. If you plant one of those seeds, the tree that grows will be a balance between our original tree and the pollen of our present. We graft our branches to continue the lineage if we want to keep the properties of an apple type that has evolved already. Our seeds hold our past, and our future together. Through our seeds, we change. Diversity keeps us strong.”

“And exciting.”

“Saplings, you know of the star in our fruit. Do you know its origin?”

We drew in close because we loved the tales the trees told.

 

Before robin’s eggs were blue or giraffes had long necks, the stars in the sky longed to speak with the soil on the ground. They spent each night gazing at each other in wonderment. See, the soil was ancient stardust, and remembered dancing through the eternal darkness as a bright light. The soil felt so far away from the rest of its tribe, while the stars conversed in their constellations, but could never share new stories with the soil.

One evening, the longing grew too much for the soil.

“Bat!” called the soil to a creature nestled in its own wings.

“Mmm,” mumbled the Bat, who was sleeping under a rock.

“Bat!” called the soil again.

“Heh, whatchawant,” mumbled the mammal, slightly more awake.

“I miss the stars. You are so quick and your wings are powerful. Will you fly up and bring my salutations to them?”

The Bat crawled from its bed and agreed to the soil’s request. Soil understood a good sleep, so the Bat knew soil’s request was serious. After scrambling up and leaping off a rock several clumsy times, the Bat finally was able to hop into the sky. Away to the stars it flew.

The soil thought about how it could show its gratitude to the Bat. It thought and thought until it thought a hole in the ground. In the hole, it placed a seed. That seed grew into an Apple tree, with wide branches and many crooks and nooks. Its fruit was solid all the way through.

After a long time, the soil saw a bundle of fire fall from the sky.

“Oh! Apple tree! Catch that!” exclaimed the soil.

The Apple tree reached a branch out and caught the tiny fire, which exploded in dazzling brightness. After the light subsided, the Bat lay in the branch, nearly dead from exhaustion.

“Woah,” said the Bat when it could. “Big up there.”

“Thank you, Bat,” said the soil. “I grew this tree for you to sleep in, so you don’t have to leap from the ground.”

“Mmm,” replied the Bat, which meant gratitude that was really close to sleep.

It was then that the soil noticed the Apple fruits had changed. Each one held a tiny star, and each star held a story. When the fruits dropped, they told the soil stories from the stars.

 

“And to this day, that is why Bats fly around at night and like to roost in trees,” concluded Apple.

“And how stars got inside your fruits.”

“Yes.”

Puddle and I thanked the trees, helped clean up the breakfast things, and headed toward the Oasis.

~

On one sandy section of the bank around the Oasis pool, Puddle and I stacked flat rocks. We spent the remainder of the morning constructing a town of tiny shrines out of sticks, stones, and moss for any nature spirits or faeries that might be about. Puddle took something that looked like a coin out of his pack, put it on a shrine, and then decided it should go back in his pouch. Some familiar impression radiated from that coin, like an awkward déjà vu. The cat from earlier walked up before I could ask him where he got the coin.

“Maow,” it stated.

“Hey, cat,” we said.

“It’s Caht, with an h,” it corrected.

It stared at us to make sure we understood. You could hear the h like a placebo effect.

“How is your morning?” I asked.

“Bountiful,” replied Caht.

“So was ours,” I smiled. “Apple shared breakfast and a story.”

“I ate the face off a mouse.”

“What? Ew.”

“To you maybe. To me, your apples are disgusting. They’re not a dietary option.”

“But. Ew.”

“I’m keeping order in nature. Look at my teeth. Do you think I could eat plants like you? They fall right out of my mouth.”

“We do have a lot of flat teeth. We have a few pointy ones like yours.”

“I can go get the rest of that mouse if you want to eat proportionally to your teeth shape,” offered Caht.

“No, thanks. We just ate,” I declined.

Puddle caught something Caht said, and asked, “You are keeping order by eating mice? Would that not create chaos for that mouse?”

“Is death chaos?”

“Not necessarily. It is a natural process of life.”

I added, “And. New life always comes after. The spirit of that mouse is in a different realm now, exploring. Or however it works. I think it doesn’t just work in one particular way. We all do different sorts of things in life, so we probably do different sorts of things after life.”

Caht circled back, “What is chaos, then?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Confusion, fear, anger, destruction, pain, disarray, selfishness, suffering. Doing too much.”

“Ok,” agreed Caht. “What is the opposite? What is order?”

Puddle answered, “Peace, cooperation, creation, patience, understanding, stillness, selflessness. Being very still.”

“What is better?” asked Caht.

“Order,” I decided quickly.

“Has there ever been a time when pain or fear has helped you?”

“Pain caused me to leave my home,” Puddle said. He paused and thought further, “Now I am here, and I met Birch. She is a delightful travel companion, and I am glad. I still miss my home.”

I missed mine, too. I wondered what Elsie and Kail were getting into. My love for them and my parents made me smile and sniff.

I added, “Fear of the extinction of Karner blue butterflies caused me to plant more lupine in my garden, because there was an Oak nearby. They have particular needs. Now I get to see the butterflies and smell the peppery flowers.”

Caht approved, as much as a cat would, and continued, “Confusion. What does that mean? Confusion is a signal. It indicates that you have a lot of information, or conflicting information, in your brain, and it needs sorting out. It could also mean you need more information. So, what is better: confusion or patience?”

Caht let us ponder that while he showed off his hunting prowess on a falling leaf.

“They work as a team,” concluded Puddle.

I thought about selfishness. I had been taught that selflessness was preferable. Always give. But. When is being selfish useful? I know I’ve given my time and energy to the point where I’ve felt like a balloon stretched beyond capacity. I passed my popping point and could do nothing but lay around destroyed and all wrinkled up. But I was worried I’d be shunned. If I could give away all my time and energy, I’d be valuable. What? I had to do the things that made me feel beautiful inside too: walk through the forest, create a mobile of acorns, enjoy a large bowl of rice, read a book all afternoon. Sometimes being selfish was just fine.

Caht stared at my mind, and said, “If you really want to invest in yourself, you are still invited to the Hrun Dae springs.”

When a cat invited you somewhere, it was a most profound compliment. We agreed. Then we made a game of dropping dead leaves for Caht to catch. They fluttered slowly, and Caht leaped through the air with eyes wild with triumph.

~

Wanders, Wonders

Nimupara watched her pools without really seeing them. She paced a while, then told herself to calm. To calm down, she continued pacing. And fiddling with nothings.

She had watched her pools for long enough to know certain patterns happened at specific intervals. The meetings were infrequent, at least relative to her personal timeline. Time did its own thing, and changed according to the situations in which it found itself. Still, a meeting that was supposed to take place was late. If this meeting did not take place, certain energies would build up and cause… problems.

Caht prowled over a pile of boulders with satisfaction woven through his whiskers.

“I saw it,” he hummed. “He was going to leave it on a little house he was making out of sticks. Then he picked it back up again.”

“Good,” she said, and calmed. “He needs to keep carrying it for now. You invited them here. This meeting is on its way.”

Caht batted a sparkle that floated by. “You’ve been worrying,” he commented.

“This is rather important.”

“Is worrying doing anything useful?”

“…”

“Let’s go stalk dust bunnies.”

“I’m not sure that will help.”

“Want to stick pieces of tape on our backs and slink across the floor?”

“Hm.”

“Ok. You may pet me.”

Nimupara smiled. Caht was particular about who pet him. His fur felt like the first warm sun after winter. Calm decided to hang around a while.

She looked over at the scroll where she kept notes:

 

Two coins existed, to the extent that they were round, flat, and made of metal. They were not coins, in that they possessed zero trade value. Their diameter was that of the length of a person’s thumb. The circular labyrinths in their centers faced different directions on either coin. The labyrinths concentrated flip sides of energy.

Four triangles were carved all the way through. They signaled four cardinal directions on a planet or star.

Those coins must exist simultaneously, or else all that has existed or will exist would shatter. The nothingness that would ensue would be noticed in the way that the instant between awake and asleep was noticed. We lacked comprehension to truly experience that moment. That in between instant was made of pure nothingness. We tripped over the nothingness as we fell to and from sleep. We flickered from existence in that moment. Those coins held power over that domain. From there, they did their work. They influenced our dreams and thoughts, in a way that we thought we were in charge. But they knew. They were deliberate.

They were forged when the first universe was born into reality. They know nothing of weathering or wearing away. Their metal is found nowhere else except within themselves. Their very existence bends time and space to their specific natures.

They need each other. They attract each other, just as their mutual repulsion keeps them in balance with each other. Always in flux, these forces weave meaning into existence.

I have named them to assist my studies.

One is Crataegus. It causes those near it to push and pull on each other. It causes action, but can overwhelm the creatures it influences.

The other is Quercus. It causes those near it to go inside themselves. It causes stillness, but can create stagnation in the creatures around it.

They each exist as extremes. However, they bring perspective to each other when they meet. To meet, they infiltrate dreamers, who then carry the coins to their meeting place. Through meeting, they create a coin of balance. I have dubbed this third coin Picea.

Picea is the heart of an alarming, yet fragile creature born of these meetings. Salix “Sprouty Legs” Balsamea has the extraordinary capability of sprouting legs of trees and roots to wander long distances. Its eyes are Crataegus and Quercus, though it can’t see with them. The coins use Sprouty Legs to explore, and they drop off when they’ve seen what they need to see. It has tentacle-like feelers on its head that it uses to sense its environment in ways I can perhaps only imagine, and perhaps not even get that close.

Picea coins are scattered around the universes. Part of my work is to collect and reposition them. Beppu helps. We are on a constant search for balance.

~

The Oaks invited us for a lunch of acorn-porcini soup, which tasted like someone boiled down all the richest earthy flavors of a deciduous forest, added some nutty notes, and served it in a wooden bowl. On our way there, Puddle and I picked handfuls of raspberries to share.

As we finished our meal, the Oaks mentioned a meeting in the Stone Circle at noon the following day. We agreed to attend.

“What do you feel like doing today?” asked Puddle, as we helped clean up.

“I kind of want to go visit the Birches again. We had a moment the other day when I learned that they were my people. How about you?”

“I am in the mood to wander aimlessly and think about life.”

“A Willow is hosting a workshop on intuition this afternoon. Want to meet up then?”

“I sure do. See you then, friend.”

~

Puddle remembered.

He walked through the forest with a cloud over his heart and a wet autumn day, the kind where the cold leaves fell and stuck to everything, in his brain. He did not want to concern Birch about his less-than-sunny mood. He knew the power of talking through things, and he knew the power of thinking through things. This was a moment for thinking.

All the meditations and healings they had undertaken at the Festival had left him contemplative, in a worrisome way. He had dredged up memories, confronted them, and loved them into a state of healed scar tissue. But he worried.

He had gotten accustomed to having a traveling companion, and loved sharing experiences with Birch. He worried she might decide to go her own way, and he would find himself alone again. She had every right to do what she had to do. He worried he would miss her. He worried that he might have to break away from her to do something that he had to do. He worried what that something might be, and that she might get lonely. He worried about causing her pain.

He worried she might get sick or physically hurt, and he might not know how to fix it. He worried he might get sick or physically hurt, and she might feel guilted into fixing it. He worried she might not try.

He worried about worrying. Were his thoughts useful? Were they preventing potential disasters? Were they from an old pain that he had not yet dredged up?

His worries scattered his brains so he could not think. They drained his energy, and he sat down in the middle of wherever he was. He had stopped paying attention to his position in the forest. He sat, and breathed shallow breaths, and worried.

That was not helping. He sat straighter, and took deeper breaths. The oxygen coursed through his blood, up to his brain, and his mind cleared a little.

Puddle remembered a wise woman from his home planet. She refused to gather certain healing roots and herbs unless an issue arose. She said keeping those things around invited illness into their lives. Those medicines were for specific purposes, and they would remind anyone who saw them of illness. They would plant worries in minds, which would grow into truths. Deal with it if it happened, rather than ask it to happen.

He wanted to put his worries away, to let them go. He worried they would come back around and get stuck in his mind, and sabotage his life.

Puddle blinked and found he had wandered to the outskirts of the Stone Circle. So much trust and reverence had been intentionally placed in that sacred space. He stood up and walked closer. It felt as if someone had put a blanket around his shoulders, and handed him a warm cup of tea. Everything would be ok.

Would it? His breath quickened.

Yes. Even if something unplanned happened and caused pain, it would be ok.

Would it? His breath became a little angry. Anger pushed painful things away.

Yes. Remember the power of vulnerability. Remember your intuition.

Puddle walked into the middle of the circle, and put his hand on the stone that sat in the center. It filled him with trust. He knew he was adaptable. He knew that sometimes blocks happened that pushed his path to a more interesting one, eventually. He knew many of the triggers that caused him pain were indications of places he needed to put more love. The triggers were like broken bones. If you kept banging them on stuff, they would stay broken and mangled. If you put them in a calm environment, and wrapped a cast of love around them, they would heal strong as a sun.

His hand rested on the stone. It told him to take a pebble from around the perimeter of the Circle. The pebble could be a source of strength in a time of need. He decided to trade it with one he had with him, as an exchange of energy. And he let his worries go.

~

The Birches were slowly squeaking at each other in the language of trees and breeze, which I haven’t been able to master since the time when I was a tree myself. I used to photosynthesize more than just Vitamin D. My mind went giddy as it took its time fully internalizing that fact. I wondered where exactly my Birch tree body stood.

I stood around, blending in as much as possible. I didn’t want to interrupt. I thought about swaying too, but since I didn’t know the language that well, I was worried about accidentally swaying something offensive. Then I thought, maybe it was offensive to stand around really still. Maybe it was boring!

No. Trees knew stillness. Trees could read the intentions that made up actions. I just had to be patient. Trees liked patience.

Just as I settled into patience, the trees finished their creaking conversation. Funny how that worked. Once you figured it all out, it changed.

“Come, get into one of our branches,” greeted the Birches.

I looked up and around, but the nature of Birch growth did not lend itself to curved sitting nooks. They were also difficult to climb because their branches start so high up. One tree stood by a pile of climbable rocks with a branch at a fairly satisfactory angle for sitting. It might only make one leg fall asleep. I went for that one.

“Birches are for beginnings,” began the Birches in their unified voice. “We protect newborns when their cradles are made of our boughs. We create humus in harsh areas for other trees to set root. We set ground for making changes. If you need your life to change direction, come to us.

“We can help travelers return home if they are lost. Home is a safe and comfortable place. Thus, home might be different than the place you were born. That place is physical, and could be anywhere along your eternal journey. This home we speak of is a place that is not a place. It is your origin. Your beginning place is free of pain and disease, and you return there to return to a state of complete wellbeing.”

I wanted to interrupt to ask if, in an energetic sense, we were really all One. Was Oneness our origin place? If we broke off from that Oneness to have an experience on a physical plane, would the Oneness be where we returned. Or, were there many origin places that weren’t exactly places where we could return? Or, if that origin place could be anywhere, on a different plane of existence, could we reach it any time? I wondered if one got a nice cup of coffee after waking up from that placeless place. But I didn’t really want to interrupt.

The trees continued with a story, “One stormy evening, a farmer heard a knock on her door. A ragged stranger shivered on the porch. The farmer immediately brought the stranger to the hearth fire and offered a bowl of thick potato stew. The stranger ate with the eager mouthfuls of someone who has known hunger. The farmer offered a soft bed of straw out in the barn for the night, and the stranger accepted, with the behest that should the farmer find herself alone and lost, knock on a Birch, and ask if the Crooked One was home. The stranger was gone when the farmer went to the barn the next morning.

“Years later, the farmer was traveling, while her fields were sleeping through winter. Somewhere, she took a wrong turn and found herself lost. The feeling of being completely alone came over her. She liked the feeling of being alone, but this time it came with devastating loneliness. She kept walking, with tears on her cheeks, and wandered into a Birch forest. She remembered the stranger’s advice. She knocked on the nearest tree, and asked if the Crooked One was home.

“The stranger appeared, and gave the farmer the most sincere smile and hug the farmer had ever known, and she had seen sincerity in her days. All of a sudden, the farmer was back in her hometown, holding a warm bowl of potato stew, with old friends in snow boots walking toward her.”

A respectful silence stood with us as the story ended, because stories liked to sink in and feel appreciated without words. A bird sang somewhere over the next hill.

After a moment, I thanked the trees for the story. I felt my question of whether we came from one origin place or multiple origin places was less relevant. The point was, we all had at least somewhere where we belonged.

Perhaps we were lucky if we belonged in more than one place. I loved my people parents and blood relatives. I loved my tree parents and sap relatives. I loved my friends and forests. Being with any of them felt like home.

The other Birches and I relished in life and togetherness for the rest of the early afternoon. We told stories about when we felt like we belonged, and when we felt excluded. We discussed the immense power of helping someone feel included. Eventually, shadow angles alerted me to the time, and I hurried to meet Puddle for the Willow’s workshop.

~

One Wreet nudged another, who paused in the Purpose to bob its head at the nudger. The nudger lunged at the bobber, who sidestepped and lunged back. Other Wreets joined in the lunge-sidestep melee. Dust rose from their footsteps as they leapt and challenged each other with head bobs. Their play brought bumps, but no bruises. The point wasn’t to hurt. The point was to play.

To mature does not mean to stop playing. Maturity does not equate to seriousness. Maturity means making mindful choices, taking responsibility for conscious and unconscious actions, and problem solving without going into a fit. It also means noticing and celebrating love and joy, life, health and healing. To play, the kind where winning wasn’t an option because the goal was to connect, was to heal.

The Wreets played. Their games broke through any loneliness that might have seeped in while they performed their Purpose. Their games were strength.

~

Puddle and I joined a grove of saplings that surrounded an old Willow, whose dreadlocks reached the ground. A pile of leaves waited patiently on the ground, among the Willow’s dreads.

“Good afternoon, friends,” began the Willow. “Welcome. Let’s bring our energy into this workshop. Take a moment to rustle your leaves at someone you don’t know very well.”

I shook my hair at Puddle first, because I knew him and was comfortable with him. Then I looked over at a Maple, and shook my hair in that direction, while it shook its leaves back. We didn’t need words, which, in a way, made me more comfortable. The wordless introductions were effective. After a few more introductory shakes between various saplings, the air in our grove felt more like home.

“We’re here to practice intuition,” continued the Willow. “More specifically, we’re here to work on seeing hidden objects. Trees use this technique to help communicate across forests. This might come easily to you, or it might be difficult. Some of you might already have had much practice. All ways are ok. Each of us is part of the whole, and contribute as such.

“My advice is, it works better the less you try. Trying gets in the way. Trying is sometimes too full of eagerness, anxiety, and potential disappointment to really feel the flow. Trust yourself. Let yourself be still, and your mind be open. Refocus any time you try to compare yourself to anyone else, or to yourself. Be patient with your ability.

“There is an object beneath these leaves. Focus on your transpiration, your breath, a moment. Focus on the flow within your xylem. Greet any thought that comes in your mind, and then let it sift back out. You are safe here. Allow any sounds to happen. Notice them with the edges of your perception. Let those sounds, or smells, exist, and refocus. If you have eyes, close them. Send your attention to the pile of leaves. What impressions do you get? Think silently to yourself. Then we can share.”

I sat with my breath slow. It filled my innards, then left again. Bees hummed nearby. A breeze hugged my back. I put my hands near the sides of my head, as if I was putting on a fishbowl space helmet. Immediately, my mind felt a barrier for distractions with the action.

I sent my attention toward the leaves.

Impressions of crinkles and dust wandered through the space between my consciousness and unconsciousness. The surface leaves. Not far enough.

I felt grainy darkness, and immense time and mass. The soil. Too far. My knee tickled. I scratched it and refocused.

I saw gray and black behind my eyelids. I felt the impression of lumps and scratches. My mouth tasted a little like tin. Maybe it was metal under the leaves. A lumpy piece of metal.

The willow chimed a twinkly bell to bring our attention back, and said, “Ok everyone. What did you experience? Discuss with a plant near you.”

“I saw acorns,” said Puddle, “and felt like I was leaping through trees.”

“I tasted metal,” I said. “Well, not tasted tasted, but, well, tasted. Metal. Something metal.”

The Willow brushed the leaves away, and there sat a pewter statue of a squirrel.

“We are a good team,” said Puddle. I smiled in agreement.

The Willow gathered our attention again, and said, “Reading minds is a fundamental part of being a forest. That’s how we communicate, for the most part. The more we practice, the better we become. When we’re really good, we speak with one voice and individual voices at the same time.

“Now, turn to the partner you were talking with just a moment ago. Decide who thinks first and who reads first. The thinker should then pick a categorycolors, animals, things that fly, and so onand let the other know. Then, hold an image in your mind. Try sending it to your partner.”

“We did this by the bridge,” I said.

“Let us practice more,” Puddle replied. “I enjoy this.”

“Me too.”

~

Pieces of Secrets

Mae walked around to Birch’s backyard. She stopped bothering knocking on the door after her last encounter with Shari. The families had been friends for so long that she was fine coming over whenever, but she didn’t want to deal with any potential grumpiness at the door. Her intentions were to check on Birch’s garden. Her friend would appreciate that.

The garden was looking grumpy itself. The plants were growing over each other. They looked like they were trying to steal each other’s sunlight. Aphids had taken over the cabbage, and no ladybugs were in sight to keep them in check. Tarragon was looking droopy and depressed, while some dandelions told it to get a little tougher. Sage looked like it was ridiculing the lavender, who was acting superior over some marigolds, who was talking behind bergamot’s back in order to prove that it could look superior too. The bergamot had fallen over and was struggling to get back on its feet.

Mae looked at the plants with dismay in her frown. Elsie and Kail slammed the door as they ran out of the greenhouse.

“Mae!” yelled Elsie. “The geraniums are being mean.”

“What?”

“One of them fell off the shelf and landed on my foot.”

“Are you ok?”

“Mmm.”

“Let’s go clean it up.”

As they swept up the mess, Kail held a coin out to Mae.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Angry thing.”

“This is a coin, Kail. Coins aren’t angry,” Mae thought about it, and added, “They can sometimes make people angry, though.”

Mae took the coin from Kail, and it buzzed in her hand. Her vision blurred for a second. She felt ready to react to anything and everything, but pushed that emotion aside. It went to sit nearby and waited for another opening. Reactions were like that.

“Where did you find this?” she asked.

“Birch. Room.”

“You got it out of Birch’s room, eh. She might not like that.”

“Sad.”

“You miss your sister,” Mae affirmed.

Kail nodded. Mae was suddenly angry that Birch had disappeared, but pushed that emotion aside as well. Anger wasn’t going to find Birch.

“Let’s put it back in her room,” she said. Mae also wanted to poke around to see if there were any clues as to where her friend went.

Birch’s olive and lavender walls calmed Mae’s nerves. She picked up a book about biodynamic companion planting. It was intriguing, but had nothing suspicious. None of the various rocks, sticks, or watercolor paints scattered about held clues as to Birch’s whereabouts.

Kail pointed to an open box with birds painted on the sides, from which sage leaves had spilled out on the desk.

“There,” he pointed.

Mae put the coin in the box, stepped back, and tripped over a djembe. Maybe Birch ran away to join a traveling band. She had often talked about getting out of town as soon as she graduated. Why would she ever leave when she was so close? If something was wrong, why hadn’t Birch come to anyone for help? Didn’t she know she was loved? Didn’t she know she’d be missed? Mae decided to trust her friend. Birch would come back when she was ready.

Remnants of her desire to react and her anger at Birch’s disappearance dissipated.

“Come on,” said Mae. “Let’s go back out to the garden.”

~

 

Evening came upon us quickly. Puddle and I, absorbed in practicing reading each other’s minds, were surprised to see the wild roses across the sky when we finally looked up. We heard the drums, and smelled something wonderful, with just the right amount of spicy.

Our noses brought us to a potluck at the drum circle.

“We didn’t bring anything,” I said, ashamed.

“It’s ok,” was the response. “The single Sunflower is held up by the bunch of Marigolds. We all take turns being the Sunflower. There is enough.”

The rough wooden table held juicy portabella on mung bean noodles, gnocchi with pesto, savory roasted beets, and a stir fry of variously colored peppers and onions. Someone made persimmon and pear bread for dessert. We feasted, and discussed how we should dance with Purpose again. This dance was for our far-reaching sight, our mind connection, our intuition.

The drums found our souls, like they did every night. Puddle’s eyes locked with mine. He had smiles in his eyes. We circled the fire, aware of our surroundings just enough to not trip over anything. Our feet stomped simultaneously, and our fingers wove designs of wild animals in the air. I felt full to bursting with life, and knew he felt the same. You could read it in the smiles in his eyes.

~

The day dawned with a breakfast of cucumber slices, goat cheese, bread, and honey. It was a slant rhyme of a morning, though. The evening was glorious, but the air of the morning was heavy and off-feeling, like the carton of milk that may or may not be bad yet.

The ground was a little too uneven. I kept tripping over nothing, so I blamed it on ruts. The sun was too sunny. So what if it was behind clouds? The clouds were too full of themselves. Floating all around up there in the sky. I wanted to yell at the sky for being there.

My mood did not make sense to me. I had loved every moment from stepping into that puddle on Earth to the smiles in Puddle’s eyes last night. What was wonky? I decided I had to go on a walk by myself after the meeting at the Stone Circle. A turtle watched me from the top of a log. Jerk.

~

The Wreets fake-worked all morning. They did a little Purpose here and a little Purpose there, but finished nothing. They scraped soil just to scrape, and dropped seeds in the wrong spots. They bumped into each other in less than their usual affable manner.

The Wreet that liked to wander wandered off. It cursed the birds in the sky, which was a new thing for a Wreet to do. Something scared it, but it didn’t know what. The unknown something felt close. The Wreet sensed the air with its feather ears. The air felt crackly.

It kept wandering.

The cave was more like a giant hill made of rock that slanted inward, with monster eyebrows of trees that grew down and then curved skyward. A waterfall dripped into a muddy pool, secretly populated by fish, but it was too muddy to tell.

The Wreet cared for none of this. It just wanted to go somewhere it felt safe. It hid behind a boulder in the cave to wait out the day.

~

Puddle and I joined the Council at the Stone Circle. They were the trees with the most practice at reading each other’s minds, and could easily keep tabs on what the others of their species thought. The air was crackly.

Hawthorn began the meeting, “We decided to wait to choose an action concerning the grassy invasive species. We needed time to think about our thinking and consider multiple solutions. What options might be brought to the circle?”

Walnut posed the first potential, “I could walk near them. The juglone in my roots would inhibit their growth.”

Pine added, “I’ll drop some needles there, too. Their acidity would inhibit them as well.”

“I could block their sun to block their photosynthesis,” put in Cedar.

Pawpaw, master of the drum circle said, “What if we trample their ground and compact the soil near them so their roots would get stuck?”

“I can soak up the water near them. Thirst would slow them down,” chimed in Willow.

“We could extract some toxic saponins from my berries,” suggested Holly. “They’d get sick and then get on their way.”

Apple, chief chef, clearly uncomfortably choked out, “We could deprive them of food.”

I saw how hurting these grassy things, whatever they were, hurt Apple, which hurt me. I asked, “Why do these things need to go away?”

Hawthorn said, “They’re invasive. They take space and resources.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s rough.” I didn’t have a better solution. I wanted my friends to thrive.

Oak posed, “How about fire? We can have a controlled burn in the area. The ashes will result in fresh land.”

Silence came over the circle, like a calm before the storm.

Hawthorn felt the atmosphere and called for a vote, “Any nay?”

The silence continued. I wanted to shout. I saw Apple wanting to shout.

Rowan whispered I’m itchy to the nearby Maple, who ignored Rowan.

“How about yay?”

The rustling was deafening as rustling can be. Burn the enemy.

“I have to go,” I whispered to Puddle and hurried out with no ado.

~

Beppu floated into Nimupara’s grotto.

“What are you watching?” she asked.

“Children playing with one of the most powerful forces in any universe.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Did Birch’s siblings take Crataegus out of her room again?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember when you sent Puddle to Earth to try to get that meeting kick started?”

“I influenced his waterjump. I should have brought him here first. I should have said something. He thought it was his choice to go. He thought he was just exploring. But I made sure his entrance to Earth was near Birch. I thought that would be sufficient. They jumped to Veorda before the meeting could take place, and Puddle kept Quercus with him.”

“Well, they will be on their way here soon enough.”

“We all have our own definitions of soon enough.”

~

I wandered without seeing.

The trees’ solution felt wrong. I didn’t know the situation well enough to add anything useful. It just felt wrong. Fire was useful in many situations, like for the survival of the prairie chickens, who couldn’t get to their food without small, regular fires that cleared the way. However, sometimes fire burned too much.

I trusted the trees. I loved them and intimately knew the beauty they brought to the world, to all worlds. I was one of them, even as I was human.

But Apple had paused. I had seen doubt. There had to be a better solution.

The rest were so sure. And I loved them. How could something you loved be wrong?

My thoughts bumped against each other in my mind, as my blind eyes followed my feet wherever they stepped. Eventually, thunder called my eyes to look up. I was in the grassy hill area that held milkweed and sweetgrass. The sky yelled again, and I yelled back. My energy buzzed, and I released it with a primal scream.

The sky wasn’t having any mouthy replies. The fat drops of rain soaked me immediately. A nearby pile of boulders provided enough of an overhang for a temporary shelter, like a shallow recess cave.

All was safe. Nobody was building any fires in that rain.

A clump of grass shivered behind a boulder. I went to investigate. Puddle and I had seen a similar mobile clump of grass when we climbed that tor.

“Are you one of the dangerous invasive grasses?” I asked the creature.

It stared at me with rooty eyes.

“You must be. There aren’t many other sorts of grassy clump creatures that I’ve seen. Are you really that dangerous?”

It sniffed me and tickled my hand with its feathery ears.

“Where are the rest of you?”

It bobbed its head and lunged at me.

“Iyek!”

But the lunge was playful. I bobbed my head back at it, and lunged. It ran around to the other side of the rock, and bobbed its head before charging back.

We played, then watched the warm, summery rain. Each drop was a faraway story that the clouds told the ground. I loved this grassy creature, who wanted to play and hide behind rocks. My heart filled with conflicting loves, and tears leaked out of my eyes in frustration. What could I do? I decided to bring this creature to the Festival, and ask the trees if they would call another meeting. Just in case.

I often sang to myself to calm down. I sang to myself, and the grassy creature.

The rain provided a beat. A song with words that I had never heard sublimated from deep inside me. The words felt like an ancient language. They held oceans and mountains, the breath of life and sparks of love. The words carried infinite cycles and infinite mystery. I sang to my grassy friend, to the Universe, to Life and Death and Life again.

Fear of pain, and fear of fear dissipated as I sang. I sang through my true and vibrant Self. I sang through curiosity and awe. The sounds vibrated with healing love and loving salutations for the light of life inside every being.

My deepest, secret heart sang out to the magic held in every instant of eternity. Eternity sang back.

I found my song, my heart, and I would sing it for the rest of my life.

~

Birch had hurried from the Stone Circle like lightning. The clouds soon answered with thunder. Everyone else moved more slowly, like cold vascular bundles. The vote had been fiery. Choices had been made. Yet, nobody rushed to grab kindling.

Wind caused Puddle’s hair to wriggle like a bunch of cat tails. The grassy invaders burned through his mind. He had met a fishy grass creature when he and Birch climbed that tor. It was cute and rather clumsy. There was nothing malignant about it. Then again, cute and innocent could be completely separate topics.

Puddle sat next to Elder.

“Do you play music, little sapling?” asked the tree.

“I do,” answered Puddle. “Your playing the other day spoke directly to my soul.”

“We have extra flutes back at camp,” replied Elder. “Come. Let us join our styles.”

Puddle followed the Elder back to its grove. A basket held hollowed branches with strategic holes. Each flute had its key. Puddle picked one that called his attention, then he sat down on a rock among the Elders.

His mind was broken in half. The trees had been good to him. They shared their food, stories, and songs. He wanted to go along with them, but their choice to burn the grasses felt needlessly destructive. He blew into the flute with breath that asked for clarity. The notes that floated out filled the air with answers just out of reach.

The breeze was the right speed that when the Elder held a branch just so, the air that blew over particular lenticels caused musical vibrations. The power of those subtle vibrations caused Puddle to alter his playing. The resulting harmony seeded hope in all who could hear.

~

Rain splashed out of the clouds, wild as wolves. The soil drank, and distilled pure life out into the world in the form of scent. It reminded me of the power of mutualism. When things cooperated, not necessarily out of necessity, everyone won. Even the onlookers.

The grassy creature had a natural shovel apparatus on its belly. It scraped the soil at the edge of the cave with its shovel belly, and pushed stones around to make walls. Water filled the creature’s pool, and it splashed inside with the joy of kittens in a yarn ball box.

How could anyone think to hurt something so filled with joy something that intentionally brought real happiness to itself, and thus to the world?

I sang the song of my deepest heart to the creature. The words kept changing, but the essence stayed true. The faucet of the sky turned itself off, but hadn’t seen a plumber in a while, so it still dripped a bit. I scooped the creature up, without resistance, and started the trek back to the trees.

“Please!” I called, as I neared the heart of the Festival. “Please, Council, join me in the Stone Circle! Please, please, please!”

I waited while everyone showed up. The forest spread my plea. The trees sensed my need was real. I didn’t wait long.

“My friends,” I began, “look closely at this creature. This is what you want to destroy. This causes your fear.”

I set the creature on the ground, and it sniffed around. It scratched a hole in the soil and placed a seed in the hole. It sat on the seed like a hen on eggs, and made a purring, cooing sound. Sweetgrass began to poke out around the creature’s sides. Satisfied, it sniffed onward.

I looked around the circle. The trees were stumped. This creature was an invader, yet it helped native species grow. It asked for nothing in return. It didn’t seem to even notice anyone was watching it.

“These grasses do take up space. They do use resources. As you can see, it gives back just as readily. I’ve watched this one play. It makes the world a better place with its joy. I think it is more complex than we realize. I challenge you to rethink your decision.”

Apple came to my defense, or perhaps my saying something strengthened its voice enough to speak up, “We are comfortable in our cycles, maybe to the extent that we have become stagnant. Let us remember old Chestnut. The blight got each and every one, because Chestnut decided that it was at the end of its evolution. It refused genetic diversity, refused to adapt, and monocropped itself to death. Once one got the blight, it spread worse than wildfire. We need variance. We were blind to these Wreets during our observations. We wanted to see them as invaders, so that’s what we saw. However, I feel this change is a good one. Let us make a different choice than Chestnut. Let us adapt. I propose we welcome the Wreets.”

Puddle stood up, “Not everything that is nonnative is invasive. I am one who travels. This lifestyle was forced upon me at first, until I realized I am no lost wanderer. I embrace my nomadic life. Each turn adds more curiosities. I am my full self when I explore. Perhaps these creatures are passing through, too. What if their purpose is to shake things up and herd on?”

The grassy creature’s feather ears pricked up. It sniffed like a hungry city deer that knew corn was on the way. It hopped over to Rowan, who stayed patiently perplexed. The creature climbed Rowan’s trunk, and sniffed again. Its proboscis licked at Rowan, who shivered.

I stepped close. The creature’s tongue pulled shiny, green bugs from the tree’s innards.

“I know this bug,” I whispered. “I saw it here before, but didn’t realize. It’s one of the most destructive bugs in my area. It’s called an Ash borer, and it’s in the process of wiping out all the Ash it can. Rowan, I know that you’re not related to the Ash family, so this bug should have left you alone. However, if it has no other food, it might work with what it can find.”

Fear shook the leaves of the trees in the Circle. I heard ripples of shivering leaves expand as the other trees of the forest listened carefully.

The grassy creature hopped around Rowan’s limbs, sniffing and licking. It bobbed its head when it was done, and hopped to the ground.

“I’m not itchy anymore,” proclaimed Rowan. Rowan turned to the Wreet. “Thank you. If I’m reading everyone right, you are welcome to stay as long as you want.”

The rustling turned agreeable.

Rowan continued, “Please, Wreet, gather your family. I know other Rowans are feeling the borer.”

The Wreet bobbed its head, and lunged at Rowan.

“It’s playing,” I explained.

“We have little time to play. These bugs are dangerous.”

I wanted to remind the tree that it had voted to eradicate the grass when it thought it was a nuisance. That wouldn’t have helped the situation, though.

Instead, I said, “One characteristic of knowing it’s too late is that your bark would fall off. Ask your trees. Has any of their bark fallen off? Good. We still have time.”

“Let’s go to the Wreets,” suggested Puddle. “That seems to be how they work. They sense the bugs, and that puts them into action.”

Rowan agreed, and called upon a few of its most itchy fellows. We didn’t want to overwhelm the ones who could help the best.

~

New understandings brightened the fire that evening. It was the last night of the Festival. The trees would be parting to go back to their home forests and other loved ones. The rain had cleared the air, and only the brightness of the moon dimmed the stars.

A new dance step entered the arena. The trees called it the Bob and Lunge. My favorite part was watching the trees learn the motions. Broken twigs blanketed the dance circle, mostly because of the lunge. They were slowly getting the hang of it.

Caht appeared as a star in the evening, like he had always been there. It was just the light and my eyes that had to adjust in order to notice.

“Hello Caht.”

Brewl.

“Did you have a nice day?”

An ear flicked. He leaned in, and whispered, “The way through Rowaise Pass holds hot springs that will relieve your tired muscles.”

“Oh yeah! That sounds lovely.”

“Follow the Turtle on the other side of the hills.”

“How will I find the Turtle?”

“Don’t worry. The Turtle will find you. Then, follow the deer path.”

“Thank you for inviting Puddle and me to these springs.”

“You helped the grassy things out. Cats like grass. It helps us digest. The grasses that grow on them taste purrfect.”

“Cool. Cheers to mutual appreciation. Want to dance?” I looked at the circle, and back at Caht, who had disappeared like a cloud before stars.

~

Mountains

We awoke, charged with life, and ready to accept any challenge ahead.

The cleanup nature at the end of a Festival imbued the atmosphere. The nice thing about a Festival with trees is that most of the things that usually needed cleaning up were made of natural, biodegradable elements, and didn’t count as matter out of place.

Farewell hugs and tears were passed around. I learned tree tears were made of sap. The Birches and I would meet up again.

Puddle loved the idea of searching for the hot springs just as much as I did, so we headed out through the hills a little after noon.

The foothills took up a good chunk of the day.

Caht was right. The Turtle would find us.

A massive half sphere of rock sat at the entrance of what I assumed was Rowaise Pass. Another protrusion looked like a squarish turtle head that munched the foothills like they were cabbage.

Upon closer inspection, which took longer than we thought because hiking in unfamiliar lands expanded space, we found a cavern under the Turtle’s left armpit.

“We go through here?” I asked Puddle.

“I do not know. We may as well explore now that we are here. This, at least, appears to be a worthwhile detour.”

The mouth of the cavern held enough sunlight to see the flat stones of mica schist sparkling on the ground. Glam rock cave. I felt underdressed.

Further, but not nearly as far as I had hoped, the cavern swallowed the sunlight. We kept on by feeling along the arm bones of the Turtle. Drips from the ceiling told us puddles existed.

My sense of time stayed in the sunlit armpit of the Turtle as we felt our way onward. We fumbled through the timeless dark until we didn’t, because the ground was dry and even until it wasn’t. I stepped off a rock and fell into eternal oblivion, which lasted several centimeters until my feet landed in water.

I had disturbed the peace. Light exploded from my splash in slow motion. Blues, greens, and purples rippled from my feet, and showed us a room that might have been proportional to the stomach of the Turtle. Happily, the water was not stomach acid. It smelled of stone, and a refreshing kind of dampness.

The ripples in the water rose up the sides of the cave. The ceiling held galaxies made of glow worms. Strings of auroral pearls hung from stalactites, which dripped mineral-rich water into the sparkling pool that drenched my feet. Bioluminescent fungi grew in rainbow clumps around the walls. I wouldn’t have been surprised if DJ Glow Worm had started to spin a hip beat.

The ankle deep water was cold enough to keep us moving, while the amazing glowing gut flora of the Turtle kept our pace slow. Eventually, we came to a solid wall with a sunbeam winking from above. We climbed boulders toward the sunbeam, and exited the Turtle’s shell. The deer trail that Caht had foretold meandered into the forest.

“This is more of a deer highway than a trail,” commented Puddle.

“Good,” I agreed. “We probably won’t get lost.”

~

Numerous cavern-shelters, cloaked in moss, hid among craggy rocks. Balsam Firs lined the deer highway with their equally mossy fallen limbs. The vibrant beauty of all that moss overtook my senses, from visual to olfactory, and… yes, even touch. My fingers felt the emerald majesty of this ancient lineage of rhizomic genealogy. It was spongy, yet pokey. Up close, the moss whispered stories of the sort of love that grew without roots, because moss itself grew without roots. That sort of love had no past to complicate things. It grew, and loved, and was.

We passed a wellspring that seeped through a doorway in a hill, framed with logs and lichen. Later, the trail’s zig zag of decent placed a stream in our path, where a mosh pit of water droplets and rough rocks made a hullabaloo around our chosen picnic spot. The Festival trees had sent us off with peanut butter and rowanberry jam sandwiches. We feasted, while a red admiral butterfly sunned itself above a pool of water spiders, whose legs made vine-shadows on underwater rocks.

Later still, we entered an amphitheater designed for frog and bird harmonic concerts. The river song presented the perfect mixture of tones, fit for forest goddesses. I felt lucky to hear such glory. I wanted to keep walking to see each new wonders around every bend. I wanted to stay still to appreciate the wonders where we already were. Pause or press on. The mountains were full of dilemmas.

Leaves along our path blew, though no breeze passed us. A forest spirit smiled into the corner of my eye as it continued its survey of the land.

My face pressed against one of those strong spider webs. I stopped and backed up. She sat in the center of the trail, feeling her strings for food. The top of her abdomen looked like small moth wings, or as if she was carrying a piece of curved bark on her back. Puddle waved his hand below her web, and it stayed still. Safe. We thanked her for wonderful weavings, and ducked below her web to continue onward.

Mountains were tricky. Each time we thought we were reaching a peak, we found more ascent around the corner. Down was the same. Mountains did what they wanted. Most of the time, however, the deer highway meandered in a way that we encountered few unnecessary changes in elevation.

Sunset in the mountains dragged on like falling rocks. We reached a peak just in time to see the sun dip behind the elevated horizon.

“We should find shelter in case of bears or rain,” I whispered.

I wasn’t sure about every mountain top, but at least the peak we stood upon knew how to display an evening. That peak also knew the true meaning of silence, which caused my whisper. I was reluctant to unmute the world.

A tiny bird thundered past in search of berries.

Luck, nature spirits, or both were on our side that evening. A pile of boulders called our attention. A tall, thin entrance opened to a short, squat talus cave. We used the lighter from my tick kit to explore, even though there wasn’t much. At the same time, the little room was absolutely perfect. We built a modest fire with the dry wood scattered on the floor. We had warmth and light, as the stars stretched and yawned awake.

The trees had provided us with food they called cibum. It tasted more boring than cardboard, but filled us up. We tried putting rowanberry jam on it, but that somehow made it worse. Whatever. We were warm, fed, and on an adventure through the mountains.

The stars sang us sweet lullabies, and we went outside of our transient home to hear better. Puddle and I sat close to ward off the chill of the darkness. His touch was calm and comforting, undemanding, as we watched the symphony of stars.

~

I woke first and stretched in the blue mist before sunrise. Morning’s unique scent wandered with me while I looked at the mossy boulders and slopes that fell off the peak, which could, questionably, be considered cliffs.

The wolf sat on a rock as I turned a bend.

It was too late. They had closed in. I fainted and slipped off the slope cliff to my certain doom, or would have had my second thoughts not been so persistent. The wolf was not searching for a meal.

Its golden eyes peered deep into my soul.

If the wolf wanted to search my soul, so be it. I knew I was worthy. I accepted myself, and accepted I would probably get frustrated at myself and other creatures a few more times before I left my human body. That was ok. I lived with love in my heart. No matter how many scars had healed, were healing, or opened back up, I would always endeavor to live with love in my heart. I would do so no matter how many times I screwed up trying to become the person I wanted to be, or do a thing that went haywire and hurt more than it helped, or when I screamed or cried or hid because no one listened. It saw the time I kicked a flower because I was in a bad mood, then got a thorn in my toe. It saw the changing moment in my life when I first read the quote, I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better, which taught me I deserved patience for myself. Life was about learning how to do more life. It saw the times I felt that some mistakes were too much fun to try only once.

It saw the times I wanted to leave my human body earlier than was its natural course. It saw the times I felt disconnected from everything, judged by everyone, and either in trouble for what I thought was no reason or bored beyond my boundaries. It saw when I thought to myself, this was life, and wanted no part of it. It saw me as I scraped away layers of skin off my wrists, as I hoped for a sign that life wasn’t unbearably crushing and cruel. It saw when I laid in my garden, snow melting on my face, hopeless, because all my friends were asleep for the winter. It saw the cat nudge my face. The cat was either trying to make me feel better, or it was hungry, but it was enough of a sign to get me through to spring.

The wolf searched my soul. Or, it just looked at me and I searched my own soul. It lolled its tongue out and walked off.

I wandered back to Puddle waking up.

“I dreamed I was a wolf,” he said. “And good morning.”

“Good morning. Yeah?”

“The world was full of beauty.”

“How beautiful,” I smiled. “Let’s be wolves while we walk today.”

“Yeah.”

Puddle and I periodically howled at each other as we walked. I watched the mountains. The deer highway often ran parallel to a modest brook, or one of her branches. I loved how the tiny streams broke apart and met back up, causing wrinkles in the face of the mountain.

Waterfalls abounded, from the kind that barely gurgled to the kind that drowned out the wind, had there been any wind. Someone had recently constructed a bridge of boughs across one tough waterfall. The trees were looking out for us. With their nimble hops, deer had no need for such a bridge. We were grateful.

I loved how the little rivers danced around gravity and rocks. Rocks had responsibilities. They shaped the land with water and wind. Rocks held ancient history. One particular chunk of granite demanded my attention, and I rested my hand upon its surface. It told me its journey from the innards of the world, and how its crystals formed during its plutonian lifestyle. Large lichens on its face spoke of the ages it lived above ground, as lichens grew so slowly.

The song of the bumblebee hovered among a patch of blue star asters as we rested a moment on a slump of mountain slate, whose edges had worn away to gaudy up the surrounding soil with sparkles. We snacked on more cibum and were on our way.

Squirrels and birds busied about with the bidding of the forest, as they endlessly transported nuts, seeds, and berries. What delegation of tasks.

The voluptuous mountains, draped in decadent forest and cloud-shadow accessories, brandished their beauty while we walked past hours. When my spirit felt drained, one solution I found particularly effective was to search out beautiful sights. However, when my body was too drained, my eyes forgot to see the beauty that filled my soul with energy.

“Break!” I called.

“Awooo! What? I cannot hear you over the complaints of my feet,” Puddle called back.

Balsam Fir roots built perfectly uneven steps on the incline. We watched the trees’ sappy spitting contest while we paused on the steps. The residue reflected rainbows on the ground.

I watched a centipede, once and a half as long as my finger, rustle over dead leaves. It legs looked like slow photons traveling in a line. Puddle made sandwiches. When we continued, the world was beautiful again.

As was the cycle of life. Go, rest, go.

Experience had made us ready for the quick flip of day to night in the mountains. We began our search for a suitable sleeping spot before the sky garden bloomed.

The mountain revealed a secret.

We named it Rock House. My inner amateur geologist was stumped with my inability to acutely grasp the time it took for nature to build a structure like Rock House. It looked as if a tube of a river swiveled near the top of the cliff, because of the cave’s undulating walls. The river was underground enough to create a roof, and close enough to the edge to add windows that lit the cave. The smooth walls were painted in sedimentary layers. We peered out of the windows at giant trees that looked tiny; they were so far below.

We found home for the night.

~

Much later, the midnight embers of our fire appeared as red galaxies when I awoke. A moonbeam broke through the canopy to illuminate the wolf, who lolled its tongue from the doorway of our cave. My dreaming brain remembered the turquoise stone with a hole in it that I traded for at the Festival market. I took it out and peered through it.

An indigo aura radiated from the wolf, who now sat among wisps of haze. Puddle was having a funny dream because he giggled in his sleep. I didn’t want to wake him, so I unobtrusively rolled over in pretend sleep, and kept going until I steamrolled over him.

He woke up and I handed him the stone to peer through. His expression let me know he definitely didn’t mind waking up.

We walked toward the wolf, who led the way down the hill and over a small brook. The wolf sat again and looked at me as if it expected something. My blank face changed when the idea hit. I bent to let water flow through the hole in the stone. That water appeared indigo. Puddle and I splashed our eyes with the indigo water, and we could see the aura around the wolf without the aid of the stone.

We followed the wolf further, over logs and around boulders, past walls of rock and moonlit awe. Notes of Otherworldly music floated through the forest, faint as the whisper of a faraway bee. We followed the wolf.

Someone had lit a fire that burned orange and indigo in the center of a glade. The wolf led us to the edge, where figures danced in a circle. We had danced with trees. Usually, each dance felt like it had a Purpose, and each Purpose was charged with change, and I loved every moment. These figures danced in order to dance. They flowed around the fire like water around rocks. Their movements narrated elements of fire, water, wind, and land.

Puddle took out a flute gifted to him by the Elders. He added notes of moondust to the Otherworldly tones. As they echoed off each other, the world rewrote itself. It took off its glamour, and the beauty underneath wasn’t beautiful because it looked nice. It was beautiful because it was real. It was full of unknowns and questions. It was vulnerable, but transmuted fear into trust.

Through the music, the frayed ends of the desire to connect rewove themselves and connected.

I joined the dancers. They were wild and timeless, and they danced because they loved to dance. Their bodies told the stories of their lives. Their steps were real, and elemental. And they would dance their dance, just as the wind would howl on a blustery night.

I moved because I had a body, and it had a story to tell. I wove my story with the other dancers. We danced for each other. We danced our appreciation for the mysteries and the unknowns. We danced for trust.

I spun over to the wolf, who still sat at the edge of the circle, and thanked it. It lolled its tongue out. Between one blink and the next, I awoke to find that morning happened. The fire was cold charcoal. Puddle was politely snoring in a pile of leaves. By the time I finished making peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, he woke.

Onward.

~

Refractions

The waterfall was as tall as two and a half fully grown Oaks. Dragonflies the size of sparrows sunned themselves in the rainbow spray. Mud deposits built up on the rocks to form lumpy walls for overlapping pools. Moss covered the muddy rocks, and everything smelled of earth, cool and loamy, with a hint of limestone. Steps had been carved in the natural stone, and descended into the main pool. I put a toe in the gemstone quality clear water and pulled it back out, red as rubies.

“That’s far enough,” I told myself and Puddle. “Too cold.”

“We did not swim at all yesterday,” objected Puddle.

“Good point.”

We descended into the water. My body shook. I slowed my breath and calmed my mind. My body stilled as well. I stepped back out anyway. It was like shards of glass cutting cold into my legs

Puddle had no qualms. He looked back to wink like a sass cat, and somewhere in my brain I thought the vague indigo glow where he touched the water was strange, and that the surface reflected in such a way that I couldn’t see anything that had already stepped below.

He disappeared under the water, and did not resurface.

“Puddle!” I yelled, as if voices traveled into pools that were continuously splashed by massive waterfalls.

Why did it have to be so cold?

I ran in.

My body went numb as my head went under. My brain went numb when it realized my body was suddenly not feeling the temperature, and I flailed like a duck caught in a six-pack plastic ring.

My spluttering head surfaced. The water must have been the same temperature as my body because it felt like nothing at all. My limbs were extra buoyant, and my arms floated as I stood on the stones. Oxygen in the spring gathered on the floor, and bubbled up to tickle my back.

The tree that held up the ceiling was impossible. Trees didn’t grow in caverns, not like that.

“Puddle!” I yelped, and then giggled because of the bubbles. “You’re here.”

“Where are we?” he asked, covered in rainbows.

“I asked Caht to invite you here,” said a voice that sounded patient as the moon.

A woman, round and majestic as the moon that matched the voice, stood at the edge of our pool.

“Hello Birch. Hello Puddle. My name is Nimupara,” continued the voice. “Welcome to my grotto. Float a while and feel refreshed.”

We did. When we stepped out of the pool, we were dry as deserts and felt like opuntia flowers.

“Are you hungry?” Nimupara asked, and gestured toward a rock table, laden with fruits and little cakes.

I knew lore, and looked for pomegranates. “Will we get stuck in this Underworld if we eat your food?”

“You are my invited guests. I asked Caht to tell you the way. You are safe and can leave whenever you want.”

“I don’t want to be rude,” I began, “but this might be abrupt. Why did you invite us here?”

“You interest me because you have learned to waterjump without initiation. I also have business to discuss, partly because of your waterjumping abilities. That is not of the moment. Please, eat and rest first. I am glad you are here. I do not invite many guests into my home.”

“But when you do, you sure show hospitality. Thank you,” I said.

“You do us great honor. Thank you,” added Puddle.

A turtle entered through the pool from which Puddle and I had just stepped. It had a basket filled with our things in its beaky mouth.

“Thank you Beppu,” said Nimupara. “These are the saplings, Birch and Puddle. This is my dear friend, Beppu.”

“Hello,” said Puddle. “Thank you for bringing these.”

“No worries,” said Beppu with the voice of tumbling rocks.

“Hello and thank you,” I echoed. “Shall we dress to eat?”

“Feel comfortable to do so, or stay as you are,” said Nimupara. “Please eat. I’ll be right back.”

I was comfortable in my birthday suit, as was Puddle. The temperature was just as comfortable.

The bounty of various fruits was strange to me, and delicious. I’ve never known a little cake to disagree with my taste buds, either.

“Try the mud baths,” rumbled Beppu as we filled up on fruit. “They do wonders for skin.”

Beppu had the scaly, knobby skin of a turtle who spent most of its time sitting on half submerged logs.  It looked beautiful and healthy.

“I think Nimupara wanted to talk about something first,” I smiled. “But thank you.”

I offered her a grape.

“So, Beppu,” I started, “what do you love?”

“I love grapes. Thank you. I love walking along the bottoms of murky ponds. I love working with Nimupara. We have been friends for a long time. I repair her portal windows because I am not limited by the portals themselves. Many worlds began on the backs of turtles, and I am a descendent of World Turtles. That means I can swim through space, between worlds.”

“Doesn’t that take a long time?” I asked. “Like light years?”

“Only if you’re stuck in time.”

Nimupara returned with a coin in her hand. She handed it to me, and I immediately felt balanced in all ways. I handed it to Puddle.

“This is Picea,” she explained. “I use these to bring balance to places in need. They are created during certain meetings. Puddle, you have one of the makers of Picea. It is called Quercus.”

“This?” he asked as he took a similar coin from his bag.

“Yes. Birch, you have the other. It’s named Crataegus.”

My mind went to the bird box in my room on Earth. “Mhmm,” I agreed.

“They nearly met days ago. Their meeting was already late. I had hoped it would just happen, but sometimes we have to actually put the request in words. That is why I asked you here. I wanted to meet you both, and also request that you bring Quercus and Crataegus together.”

“We are glad to meet you,” said Puddle, while I nodded agreement. He turned to me, “Here, perhaps you should hang on to this. You know where the other one is.”

I put it in my pocket, and asked Nimupara, “How do we get back to Earth?”

“I have a particular pool in my grotto. It leads to the place where you need to go the most. There is a place deep in each of us that knows where we need to be. It nudges, then it knocks, then it gets extreme. Sometimes there is nowhere we need to be, and we are left to enjoy our time as we will. However, when we need to be somewhere, that internal alarm clock buzzes until we get there. This pool reads that spot, and opens that portal.”

“Thank you for the food,” I said.

“And the cakes,” added Puddle. He turned to me. “Are you ready?”

“You are both welcome to visit again, however, I cannot be disturbed abruptly,” she handed us what appeared to be pearls. “Take these. Place them in a pool. If they begin to glow, it means I have answered and the portal here will open to you.”

We thanked her with hugs, and turned back to the pool and her request of us. We stepped forward and onward.

~

Returns

Puddle’s fingers gripped rock as he pulled himself from the portal. The water was held in a basin in a room. The walls were familiar. The specific scent of the stone flooded him with memories. He was home, and had climbed from his family’s water alter.

His sister walked into the doorway. She screamed, while tears erupted and flowed behind her as she leaped toward her brother.

Other family members ran into the room to see what the screaming was all about, and added to it. Hugs and love flowed free as rain in a storm. Everyone gazed at each other, not uncomfortably, to see what changes had happened while Puddle was away.

But greetings last only so long.

After the love came the dissent.

Accusations began. You left us! You abandoned us!

I did not mean to.

Nobody leaves on accident!

I returned.

You were irresponsible!

I am sorry I left so abruptly. I know that was discourteous. I love you.

Silence.

His sister stepped forward.

We are sorry we pushed you to marry Amaryna. It made you leave.

How is she?

Silence.

~

I climbed from the puddle in the forest. It seemed to be the same one from which Puddle and I left.

He did not climb out with me.

He must have needed to go somewhere else.

My breath stopped.

I loved him. He was gone.

I shook my head. Of all the universes to wander to and from, we had found each other. I trusted we would find each other again. Something cosmic like that wouldn’t keep us apart forever.

I had a job to complete.

Still. I was angry, worried, and liked things on my timeline, so I screamed at the sky. It made me feel better, and I started the trek toward home through the grating sound of heavy machinery.

The news was on when I walked inside. Hunger. Pain. Fighting. Greed. Failed communication. Forget the consequences. Forget the big picture. Everything was meant to be consumed. What broadcast was this? Oi.

I turned off the television.

“Anyone home?”

No answer. Tension rose up my spine with prickles.

I walked to my room. I went to my bird box. The box was open, with the sage leaves spilling over the side.

No coin.

“Anyone home?! Who was in my room?!! Elsie! Kail! I told you!”

I stormed around, flipping, knocking over, searching. I filled with rage, and punched a good hole in the wall. Where was it? Where was anyone?

This was too much. I left this planet for reasons, and fumbled through too much healing to have returned. I ran the whole way back to the forest.

The machines kept up with their grating sounds. When I left the forest, my mind had been on the loss of Puddle, and seeing my family again. I saw the machines. They had been busy. They had been busy destroying my sanctuary. Acres had already been murdered. My friends. My tree friends were dead.

A sign said the land was going to be developed. It WAS developed. It had a forest.

“Stop building so much!” I yelled at the sign. “Renovate! We need these trees to live!”

The sign didn’t care.

I ran on until I reached the puddle, and then leapt.

~

Puddle’s guilt dripped behind him as he walked along the base of the plateau. Skeletons of dried out Juniper watched him with their wary limbs. Memories were placed along the trail he trudged. A stuffed toy lizard. A ceramic cup cracked by weather. Tarnished, broken jewelry.

He sat on a rock.

Evening approached. It shooed off the heat of the day.

She stepped out from behind a boulder, and hesitated.

He stood and went to her.

“I loved you,” she accused.

“I loved you,” he replied. “But I did not love you in the right way to get married.”

“You loved me,” she accused, slightly differently. “Is that not enough?”

“No,” he replied. “It would have hurt us both more, eventually.”

“You left. That hurt enough. That hurt too much. I hate you now. Or I did. Now, I do not feel much.”

“I still love you. I wanted the best for you. I also wanted the best for me. I am sorry.”

Her eyes turned indigo. “I wanted you. You were the best for me.”

“I wanted you to be happy.”

“I was going to be happy with you.”

“I wanted you to be happy, but without me. I am sorry.”

“I am sorry, too. I felt so helpless.”

Tears strolled down his cheeks. “This was the last thing I wanted.”

“This was the last thing I wanted.”

“You were so strong. You directed all our games as children. You were so vibrant. I never thought..”

“You never thought it would become too much pressure.”

“It was too much.”

“When it was too much, nobody noticed. I was alone. I could not hold myself up alone. Nobody noticed.”

“I am sorry. I love you still.”

She looked at him with forgiveness in her eyes, and regret. She stood and walked back to the boulder. A faint indigo aura surrounded her as she walked. Her form faded before it got to the boulder.

~

I float in this Lake of Oblivion. No future, no past. Just perfect now. Listen to the echoes of sounds long forgotten, lost in a time that never existed. Their purpose is meaningless because all that exists is in this moment. My body registers weightless gravity from all directions, but not the water. I am detached from my body. I fill the entire cavern. I am within the rock walls. Listen. It is here.

A plurality of forces keep the universe together. The same keeps all universes in their eternal cycles.

A force seeps into their center, all centers. It pushes outward, creating change. If these forces were any less graceful, they would destroy each other in a battle of power. They exist in perfect respect for each other, for the things that each cannot do. They complete each other, even as they compete in their elegant ways. Their complexity is such that we can only understand them in their echoes. They are everywhere.

I sink deeper into myself. My outer shell floats forgotten. My conscious self grows still. Quiet. Finally. True stillness.

See the inner core. It is a nebula. It is a black hole, inescapable, devouring everything that dares come near. It is empty and full, broken and fixed, silent with its immense knowledge. It does not care. It knows what it is, and understands its purpose. It can wait. All time and no time, these are meaningless. It is alone. It sneaks through the cracks, meddling. Searching. Learning. The more it learns, the more it wonders.

It has soul memory. It cares for every lifetime that has gathered information, filling every moment, and still empty as the beginning. Listen.

It is everything you don’t want to imagine, buried deep. It is everything you never faced. It is anxiety, a cosmic fear. You don’t face it, not because you don’t know how, but because getting near causes you to face your secrets, your memories. You’re okay with the ones you remember, even the awful ones. These. These. These, you know are there, but you convince yourself the other ones never happened. Simple. Safe.

Explore.

They tear you to pieces. Your limbs are ripped from your torso, bones crack, skin stretches and opens to show tendons that make a last valiant effort to hold you together. You would cry out, but you have no throat. You have no body. You exist in naked emptiness.

If there was a breeze, it would be cold. But there is nothing. Just you.

Alone.

Wait.

A distant spark of love flickers. It smells of true orange blossoms and hemlock. It is within you. Feel it. Your body pieces back together. That love. It burns. It grows, licking across your fingers, scorching your toes. Its epicenter is your navel, too bright to watch. It is pure power. It rises up your spine. You feel it crawling through your middle. It pours from your palms, and makes your cranium glow like a Samhain squash. It explodes from your every pore, cleansing the darkness as well. Pure. Love.

You grow dim.

The love remains, but the darkness returns. It is a darkness at peace with itself. It forgives and learns. It has more wisdom than for what it gets acknowledged. It protects. You see it is you, and you are safe within yourself.

The darkness is a blanket.

I open my eyes. I float in this Lake of Oblivion.

The echoes are comforting. They seem familiar now, and their babbling has meaning. A drip repeats itself. Its ripples growing.

Forget. Conscious. Float.

~

Puddle hugged his family goodnight. They had feasted, and laughed through the evening. But he had a task. He explained his task. They were not happy, but they understood.

He peered into the basin of his family’s water alter. It was the same water from which he had reentered his world. The water was clear. It lacked a reflection. If he asked just as clearly, perhaps the right reflection would answer.

“I need to go to Earth,” he implored. “I need to go to Birch’s house. Please.”

He stepped in with powerful intentions, and sunk.

He rose from the portal and found himself in the same area he and Birch had left Earth. Caht was waiting.

“She is not here,” Caht informed Puddle. “Beppu is searching for her.”

“Let us go to her house. We can explain everything to her family so they do not worry,” Puddle suggested.

Caht flicked an ear that said he knew that was a bad idea, but ok. Do what you want.

Elsie and Kail were throwing stones at a stump in front of the house. Mae watched them over a magazine. Her eyes turned to stare at Puddle as he walked up.

“Hello,” said Puddle. “I am a friend of Birch.”

“She never mentioned you before.”

“She never mentioned you either.”

“She ran away with you, didn’t she?”

“We have been on a journey. We have to arrange a meeting.”

Mae turned back to her magazine. Kail ran over.

“Angry!” he said.

“What is angry?” asked Puddle.

“Angry in garden. Rar rar rar rar,” he continued as he walked away.

Puddle followed Kail to the garden. Caht walked the other way.

The plants in the garden looked disarrayed, like they had entirely too much life and were choking each other out.

Kail sat down in the gazebo. Puddle sat too.

Kail swirled sand around and uncovered a coin.

He handed it to Puddle.

~

I am nudged roughly.

I splash and splutter as my body fails to stay afloat on its own.

“Beppu. What happened? I feel I was part of something significant. I must have thought of something interesting. I wish I could remember.”

“Your presence is requested in your garden,” rumbles Beppu. “However, you may float here for all of eternity. The choice is yours.”

“I had a task.”

“To fulfill that is also your choice.”

“It is nice here.”

“Yes.”

“What should I do?”

“That is not for me to answer. I only came to wake you up for a second. You may choose to go back to floating.”

“Beppu. The love. It’s everywhere.”

“There are a lot of things that are everywhere.”

“Hmm. Take me to the garden please. I have something to do.”

~

Elsie ran over with a couple of sticks.

“Let’s battle!” she challenged.

“Raaaaar!” answered Kail.

Puddle held Crataegus. It buzzed in his palm.

Birch’s siblings bashed at each other around the garden.

“Hey!” Puddle called to break their attention. “Check this out.”

He picked up three rocks from under the gazebo, and tossed them in the air. Elsie and Kail dropped their sticks.

“Can we do that?” asked Elsie.

“Let us practice,” answered Puddle. “Let us start by finding a rock about this size. Toss it straight up. Catch it. Get your muscles comfortable with that motion.”

“I like this rock,” said Kail.

“Me too,” said Elsie. “I want that rock.”

“Do you like any of the other rocks?” asked Puddle.

“No.”

“What about this one?”

“That one is ok. I guess.”

“Here. Try it out.”

~

Salix

“Hello Caht,” greeted Nimupara.

He flicked his tail.

“Are you ready to watch this?”

He flicked his tail.

“Beppu is going to join us as soon as she sends Birch back to Earth.”

He flicked his tail.

They peered into the pool. An image formed.

 

Birch rose from a puddle. Her feet felt Beppu’s shell until everything above her ankles was in the air. Then, she stood upon wet leaves. Her feet carried her past the demolition of the forest. They carried her past the powerlines full of grumbling electricity. They carried her past Mae, who did not look up from her magazine.

Birch walked to her garden. She heard the plants whisper. They spoke of a force that was building up with energy.

It will overflow, they cried. We are already exhausted!

Puddle exited the greenhouse. Elsie and Kail tossed a rock back and forth as they followed close behind.

Puddle looked at Birch. They had magnets in their eyes, and smiled sunbeams at each other. A leap later, their hug sent waves of love through the town. Their embrace hummed louder than the powerlines.

Puddle handed Crataegus to Birch.

She removed Quercus from her pocket.

She placed both coins on the floor in the center of her gazebo.

The Earth heaved. The ground rose like the moon reaching for coffee.

It drank her down. Puddle ran forward, but it was too late.

The hill began to stand.

Salix grew out of the garden. Its body kept rising as it sprouted tendrils of roots for legs.

The creature towered over the house. Pieces of dirt fell off as it tested its mobility.

Salix started walking down the road. Each step caused fruit trees and shrubs to sprout in its wake. Flowers spread from its path. If it paused too long, it had to tear its rooty legs from the ground because of all the plants.

Someone called the officials to control the creature. Sirens screamed like a sea of babies that couldn’t explain what they needed, and they needed it bad.

A cacophony of barking dogs rivaled the sirens.

The officials attempted to restrain whatever it was. The thing was destroying all that the city and its people had done to make society happen. It crushed cars and sidewalks. An upside down waterfall erupted when it hit a fire hydrant. Mailboxes, garbage cans, and bike racks were all susceptible to its steps.

Guns fired. Ropes were thrown. The neighbors ran out with chainsaws. The thing had to be stopped.

Salix sensed the fear. One of its eyes proposed a more dramatic rampage. The other eye proposed attempting calm conversation. It was a creature of balance, so it did both, and neither.

The ruptured fire hydrant was filling the street with puddles. Salix blinked its eyes off. Crataegus fell through one puddle. Quercus fell through another.

Salix took a nosedive to the ground, with the grace of a ballerina made of bricks. As it rolled, its body broke apart. Each chunk awoke the Earth, and caused more plants to sprout. Salix’s broken pieces woke up the voice of the Earth that development had silenced.

The thing about those who have had their voices silenced was that they tended to find even more powerful voices. Their voices knew the pain of neglect. Their voices remembered the disapproving stares that said over and over, you don’t belong. Sometimes, those voices found momentary power in causing more pain, but that just flipped the table of discontent. Other times, those voices took it upon themselves to trudge through the messy path of healing, and found their power through love, forgiveness, ancient roots, and connection. And when those voices sing, their song recreates a world of pure beauty, far more powerful than ever before.

The Earth began to sing. The planet of Earth was one of the most healing forces. It could be a wild place. Natural disasters did not think they were disasters, just natural. At the same time, the Earth loved. Its very nature transmuted pain to love.

The lyrics of the Earth were plants, mountains, canyons, seas, and deserts. It sang of fresh water and air for all to thrive. Sun, snow, rain, and sand. And love.

Puddle ran to the fallen Salix. He had lost Birch. He tossed about limbs, roots, and clods of fresh soil in his search. A pile of leaves sat in the place where Salix’s heart would have been. The pile coughed, then rustled.

Birch unburied herself from the pile of leaves, and wiped dirt from her face. Puddle stumbled over, and each engulfed the other in a hug.

Birch opened her fist to Puddle. Picea rested inside. They felt the song of balance coming from the coin, reverberating with the song of the Earth. They looked into each other’s eyes, and saw the power of those songs. They saw struggle turn to respect, turn to cooperation. Human environment and nature environment working together made a machine where all the cogs turned flawlessly. They saw the forest and the trees. They saw true love.

And they began to sing.

 

 

 

 

Thank you,

 

Reader. You are appreciated! I hope you enjoyed the journey.

 

Susan Steffel for your passion concerning education, literacy, and literature, and that you assigned the project that turned into this book.

Norma Bailey, Penny Lou Lew, and Elizabeth Brockman for creating beautiful changes in the lives of students and teachers.

Ari Berk and Kristen McDermot for your words, both in books and face-to-face. Your lives of lore disperse inspiration around the world.

Patti Travioli for listening to the plants, and being ahead of the game.

Project Guttenberg for listing Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s poem, Ode, and for having many other wonderful public domain books.

Everyone at Starwood Festival for creating a magical, creative, healing community.

Writers everywhere, and anyone who feeds hearts and minds through creative pursuits. Keep on.

Plants. Without you, we would all be dead.

Lucy Bozzi, my co-editor and co-seeker, and Michael Bozzi, who was a steady rock through it all.

James Bozzi, Catherine Reichenbach, and Rebecca Reichenbach for building time machines.

Katie Hammer(shark) for singing with me on the power-lines.

Jacky Young, and the rest of The Clan, for camping and instilling my love of trees early on.

Every person who has left footprints in my life, whether you realized it or not.

Christopher Ardagna, my Mook Fish, who left paradise in order to be supportive.

I love you.

 

 

 

About the Author

 

Elena Bozzi’s love of stories began, she imagines, before she was born. From an early age, she knew that stories were beautiful ways to connect with others. Eventually, after consuming copious amounts of written words, she decided it would be proper to give back to the book world. She hopes you will enjoy, are enjoying, or have enjoyed this book, her first novel. To write it, she listened deeply to many forests, and knows much of this story came directly from them.

 

Then, she stopped speaking in third person.

 

Hello, friend. By this point in a book, if I have loved it enough to read it all the way to the very end end, my reader self feels like friends with a number of the characters and is curious about the author. If you are similar, please come and peruse a corner of the internet starting at, say, puddlestory.weebly.com


Puddle: A Tale for the Curious

Join Birch and Puddle as they travel through the reflections upon tranquil water to other worlds, where trees dance around fire circles, and create woodland foraged feasts. They talk of science and magic, and meditations that include self-healing and self-compassion. Birch connects with her true self, and with others, in ways that celebrate individuality, community, love, and the nonjudgmental approach to life that is common among trees. However, a mysterious force is upon the land of Veorda. Nimupara, the Watcher of Worlds, attempts to get Birch and Puddle to help understand the invasive grassy Wreets. Something is bound to find its doom to restore balance.

  • Author: Elena Bozzi
  • Published: 2016-01-07 00:50:14
  • Words: 68584
Puddle: A Tale for the Curious Puddle: A Tale for the Curious