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Home  >  Peer Work
Atop a Hill
By Daniel Tantanella
Genre: Fiction Level: Adult
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

Tree lived atop a hill. It had been twelve winters since Tree first sprouted as the only sapling on that hill and twelve generous summers that helped him to grow strong and confident enough to call the hill his own.

It was neither the tallest nor the shortest hill, but it was a sturdy hill that afforded Tree good light for his leaves and enough rain to keep his roots satiated. But most of all, being the only sprout atop the hill other than the tiny grasses, there was a great sense of silence and it was this silence that Tree cherished as peace. At the foot of the hill was a meadow that produced much in chitchat amongst the various sprouts, but Tree wanted nothing to do with it. He loved his silence as he loved rubbing his leaves against the first rays of the warm morning sun.

            In the thirteenth spring, in the midst of the first rains of the year, a young raven perched in Tree's branches. He worried that the bird was searching for a place to build a nest and, just as spring follows summer, Tree knew that nests led to eggs and eggs led to noise. He gave a quick shake of his branches.

The clumsy and freighted raven dropped a small seed as it flew off. Tree tried to call to the raven, but the black bird paid no mind, already occupied with another black winged friend in the thralls of spring.

Tree looked down on the seed, considered its small size and precarious situation, hidden under the shade of Tree's full canopy. If trees could frown, or scowl, or even smile in contempt, it was not done on this day. The rains continued to fall, followed by the warmth of the generous sun, and Tree paid no more attention to the little seed then he did to the tiny grasses tickling at his roots or the whispering caterpillars slinking up his bark.

The days passed and Tree's leaves turned from bright to dark green. Tree rubbed his leaves in and out of the rays of the sun as he had done every year, scratching that most essential feeling he felt deep in his trunk. His roots reached down into the soil, dipping into the cool reserves of his hill. This, he believed, was the only way to be, with the entire world open to his needs. And, as trees breath, Tree let out a long and satisfied sigh.

It was in this moment of apparent self-epiphany that Tree noticed a sudden shift in the wind and heard a small voice.

"Who are you?"

Tree looked around and saw nothing. He checked his branches for another raven because he knew they liked to play such tricks, especially after being shooed. When he glanced down he saw, in the spot the seed had been forgotten, a small sprout of life looking back up at him.

"Who are you?" the sprout repeated.

Caught quite by surprise with nothing else to say, Tree responded with the first thing to come to him. "I am Tree."

The sprout looked away briefly to consider this response, then, looking back up at Tree asked, "Who am I?"

At this, Tree felt a chuckle escape him that rattled his leaves. The little sprout watched the bits of green shimmer above her and the rustle of it all made her give a giggle. If trees could smile, Tree would have grinned. He worked to shake his leaves again and watched as the little sprout's yellow face glowed with a giddy joy. She turned her head from side to side, trying to take in the immense scene of wonder above her in its entirety. Tree watched this dance, as the little white pedals surrounding her face trailed her smile. It was as if the breezes of spring had grown proud and now worked meticulously to manifest the beauty of their motion within the delicate nature of the sprout.

Tree stopped the rustling and said, "I know who you are."

"Do you?" Two leaves sticking out of either side of the sprout's stem clapped together in anticipation under her yellow face. "Please say."

"You are Daisy."

Daisy sighed, as little daisies often will, and stared in wonder as if picturing the label before her very eyes. "Yes," she said. "I am Daisy."

The sun moved higher and higher in the sky and between every rise and set Daisy managed to fit in enough questions about the world around her to make the numbered stars jealous. She asked about the different kinds of trees on the other hills and at the edges of the meadow, what was the difference between a tree and a flower, and where do clouds grow. She wanted to know if the birds in Tree's branches tickled and if she would ever be as tall as Tree.

Tree took many of the questions in stride, but often ended in a huff. He declared many of her questions to be silly and even scolded her at times for thinking such ridiculous thoughts. He found himself often talking to Daisy about what silence was and what a cherished state it had been on his hill during the years before. Daisy attempted to enter into this state of silence Tree spoke of, but she was not very good at it. Tree groaned often, as trees are able to do.

Daisy's favorite topic, though, and the one she managed to touch upon nearly every day was the sun. She asked if the sun was a plant or an animal, or maybe some sort of flying rock, to which tree would often scoff. It was, of course, a plant. She wanted to know how it planted itself over there at night but then grew way over there, on the other side, in the morning.

This made even Tree pause.

And where were its roots?

Tree was able to dismiss many of these, but the question she asked the most had to do with their reliance on the sun, and she liked to ask it just before she closed up her petals for the night.

"What if the sun does not grow tomorrow?"

It was in this question where Tree found true patience with Daisy because he knew where the question came from. This was the exact question he had once asked himself. Only, as a young sapling alone on the hill, there was no one there to answer it for him.

"Of course the sun will grow tomorrow. We need to live and we need the sun for us to continue to live, and so it will always be there tomorrow."

"But how do you know?" Daisy asked.

"No more questions tonight. If you close your pedals now I promise I'll part my leaves for you first thing in the morning and the warmth will let you know that the sun is growing a new day."

And so it did. The sun continued to climb higher in the sky with each passing day until it reached its highest and hottest, and it was around this time that Tree noticed the first bee to arrive on the hill. Daisy noticed it as well. It buzzed around Tree's trunk and landed on his bark briefly before buzzing off into the meadow at the foot of the hill now dotted with a variety of lively flowers.

"Tree, what was that?" Daisy pointed after the little black and yellow dot disappearing into the tall grasses.

If trees could blush one might have thought a forest fire had begun to blaze on Tree. "That was a bee."

"What does a bee do?"

Tree took a deep breath and began. It was the first year he wished to have had a nest with tiny birds to help as an example to the natural drifts of life.

He then explained to her about wasps that were quite aggressive and would take everything until it was gone and then move on. He talked about honeybees that would tend to bring sweet pollen to share with flowers but would also place much of their own weight on the flowers, as if they could not carry it themselves. And then Tree spoke of the butterflies, how they had been through much and understood growth because they had earned their wings and took pride in them.

The next day a wasp flew to the top of their hill. It droned a couple aimless circles in the breeze until it took notice of Daisy and set course for her. Daisy turned away to ignore the wasp, but she could hear it move closer and closer.

The wasp almost upon her, close enough that she could feel the buzz beating down on her back, Daisy committed herself not to waver in her stance. Suddenly, she heard a swift rustle of leaves cut though the air behind her. A slight breeze fell upon her back and as she listened she noticed the buzzing was gone.

She turned and looked up at Tree. He was staring out at the passing clouds with what could be called the smile of a tree.

"You don't need to protect me," Daisy said.

"Oh, I know," said Tree. "That one was for me."

The sun began to descend in the sky and the days grew shorter and slowly became cooler.

Tree noticed a difference in Daisy as well. She asked fewer questions and much of their days together were spent in silence. Several times Tree turned to her spot in the grass expecting to see her face looking up at him only to find her staring out at the meadow.

Tree began to ask Daisy more and more questions. He wanted to know what she was thinking about or if she was comfortable with the sun. Was she getting enough water from the hill or did she see that blue jay the other day in his branches? Her answers were brief and Tree felt that his questions weighed upon her in some way he could not understand, but still he continued to ask them until he found himself asking the same question over and over.

"Is something wrong, Daisy?"

"No."

"You are so quiet lately."

"Everything is fine. Stop worrying about me."

But Tree could not. When he tried to part his leaves to give Daisy extra sun she only asked him to close them.

One day when the wind was especially still Daisy called for Tree's attention.

"Why am I not down in the meadow with the other flowers?"

Tree explained to her the story of the clumsy raven, as he had done many times before, and how he had not expected much to come of it. This time, though, Daisy interrupted just as Tree started in on her unexpected strength.

"But you must have known that I did not belong up here."

"I hadn't thought of that," said Tree. "There was no way for me to tell what would come from that tiny seed. Your strength in such a situation surprised me just a much as it has surprised you."

"You ignored what you should have been paying attention to," Daisy spoke with a steady distress. "You could have swiped at me. Sent me down there amongst the others. In the meadow I might be twice as tall as I am here in your shade, and I would be where I belong."

"That's not fair, Daisy. The wind might have just as well blown you down to the meadow or any number of places. And it was the raven that dropped you, not me. But you do not blame either of them, do you?"

"I blame you for not looking after your hill as all other trees would have."

This challenge cut into the grain of the tree. It was true he had acted against his nature on that day, but it did not frighten him then and he told himself that the little flower standing next to him atop his hill did not frighten him now, but the latter was a lie.

"Look, you little thing," Tree said. "You were not the first seed to land on this hill and you surely will not be the last. But I have established my position here and am happy with the depths of my roots. Truth be told, I was quite satisfied with my existence before having to worry about parting my branches for a little sprout like you."

"No one asked you to part your branches in the first place."

Tree looked out at the clouds as the cold wind that smells of winter blew against his bark and stiffened his branches, and he said, "Then I will not bother with it anymore."

The following days supplied much for distraction between the two and the thriving silence between them. The winds picked up considerably and thrashed at the top of the hill. The clouds moved swiftly across the sky, bringing scattered showers and intermittently blocking the sun. Tree occasionally turned to see Daisy straining her stem to reach for a spot of sun leaking though his leaves only to have it disappear into a shadow of cloud cover. He said nothing, though, and moved not a branch.

Tree's leaves began to change color, at first falling only in the wind. But as the oranges and reds began to set in all around him their fragile connection began to let go freely. It was a familiar release for Tree as the weight of his branches lightened and he took the opportunity one day to rustle his canopy.

At that, he heard a giggle. Turning, he saw Daisy looking up at him.

"Do that again," she smiled.

Tree shook again and a layer of yellow and orange twirled and trickled to the grass at his roots, catching the sun as they fell.

Daisy's giggle turned to a guffaw. "Look at all of them! The trees at the edge of the meadow aren't losing their leaves."

Tree jerked on his trunk away from the little flower, saying, "I'm not one of those trees."

"Looks like I won't have to work so hard to get to the sun from now on."

If trees could scowl, Tree would have had more wrinkles in his face than grooves in his bark. "You want the sun?" he growled. "Here."

With that, Tree began to shake his branches with a violence that startled even the wind. His branches thrashed back and forth through the air as the leaves rained down on the earth around him.

When he was done, the top of the hill was covered in a thin sheet of his weight. Tree turned to the spot of the little sprout expecting to see her surprise, but when he looked down he saw only leaves.

"Daisy?" He looked to the other side of him thinking maybe his thrashing had thrown off his bearings, but all around him there were only leaves. "Daisy, where are you?"

Then, peaking out from under a small pile of yellow, tree saw a small ray of white. It was bent and laid limp.

Tree swiped his branches at the pile, trying to make a breeze to move the leaves away, but nothing happened. He swung again, this time harder, but still nothing. Without his leaves, the thin limbs could cut through the air but did nothing to move it.

A slight wind surfaced over the top of the hill, moving enough leaves to show the yellow center of Daisy's face. Tree crooked his thick trunk towards her, trying to get as close as he could, and found himself asking the question he had asked so many times before.

"Daisy," he said. "Daisy, are you ok?"

"I'm ok," Daisy replied.

"Can you get up?"

The little flower struggled against the weight of the pile but quickly relented. "These short days have been tough on me."

"What, the sun?" Tree asked. "You haven't been getting enough sun." Tree parted his branches as wide as they could go, but it made little difference. The sun was setting for the day and the rays that did reach the hill were weak in their warmth.

"Don't worry," Daisy said. "The sun will grow back tomorrow."

"No," said Tree, and he reached one of his branches into the air and wrapped it around one of the sun's rays. It was slippery and thin in his grasp, but he could feel it anchored stiff all the way to the sun. He began to pull.

"What are you doing?" Daisy asked.

But Tree paid no attention. He reached with a second branch, and then a third. Wrapping them tightly around the rays, he heaved from the core of his trunk, tugging and pulling at the yellow orb in the sky.

The sun inched further down on it course, unmoved by the strain at its rays, but Tree did not concede. He reached for a fourth, a fifth, and a then sixth ray. Tugging hard at the inflexible streaks of light that threatened with every jerk to slip away. His roots clung to the bowels of the hill, reaching deeper than he ever had into the cool earth.

The sun inched further down and Tree felt the soil of the hill loose and settle below him. "What was that?" Daisy asked, feeling the shift of the ground below her. The sun drifted further, the soil shifted below the two, but Tree refused let go.

Wrapping his final bare limb around a seventh ray, Tree took a deep breath and pulled with everything his thick trunk could afford him. The ground below him trembled under the strain that traveled up under his bark and worked its way into a single hidden crease in his grain.

A loud crack echoed down from the hill and out across the meadow.

"What happened?" Daisy asked. "Tree, are you ok?" She listened for a long while as darkness filled the sky above her.

Finally, Tree said, "I'm fine," but that was a lie. The wind began to pick up again. He tried to look down at her but could see nothing through the dark. "Are you ok?" he asked, but the growing wind though his limbs shut out and possibility of hearing what he feared might not be there at all.

All night the wind howled across the hill, taking all of the leaves with it and scattering them far away. The first rays of the morning sun revealed Tree standing crooked with a split running half-way down his trunk. And next to the broken tree lie a still silent Daisy.

If trees could cry, Tree would have wept.

The days continued to whip through Tree's branches. The sun continued on its slow and inflexible decent into winter and before Tree had noticed the hill was covered with a soft white snow. Flakes gathered in the split of Tree's trunk, which was soft and tender for quite some time, and the chill of them froze his exposed core until he grew completely stiff. When the temperatures dipped low enough, hoarfrost clung to his limbs. He slouched into the added weight on his branches, hoping his tilt would turn to a full fall, but the frozen hill refused to yield its grip on his deep roots.

The clinging cold, though, was only of minor concern to Tree. Every night, Tree felt the cold creep slowly and quietly into him, promising peace, but every morning at dawn the subtle warmth of the winter sun landed on his bark like a blaze on a dry leaf in a drought, promising another long and quiet day. The winter world held him motionless in the cold and every pass of the sun warmed him just enough to allow him to listen to every moment of passing silence.

When finally the snows began to melt a new fear entered into Tree. He knew that when the snow had receded the spot where the little sprout had stood for so long would be empty. And so, as soon as the spring air had softened his trunk and the frost had lessened its grip, Tree rolled as best he could against the ache of his split away from that spot. He fixed his thoughts on the half of the world before him and let the meadow, the spot, and everything behind him melt away.

The spring rains came and Tree managed to open his bark enough to welcome them in. The leaves returned to his branches, though his canopy did not look like it was going to be as full as previous years. The split in his trunk was still tender and taking its toll, but it was also mending. Patches were already covered and harder than before. He had lost flexibility, but appeared to be gaining strength.

And then, one day, after a light storm, Tree heard a voice. He looked around, but saw nothing. Thinking it might be a bird in his branches trying to play a trick on him, Tree gave one quick shake. Under the rustle of his leaves he heard three small giggles.

Turning around slowly, careful of the remaining ache, he looked down and saw three sprouts.

"Do that again," said the first. So Tree did and the three giggled again, clapping their leaves together in delight.

"Who are you?" asked the second one.

"I am Tree," said Tree. "And you all are Daisies."

"Daisies," said the first and the three looked at each other in a shared awe.

"That's right," said Tree. "And together we are going to be a meadow."

 

The End

 


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