The Tree

Posted by on August 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm.

(written in 2002, before I could even grow a beard)



Can you imagine a tree that wants to be cut down?  Well, that was me.  I didn’t always want to be cut down, you see, it was only towards the end, when I finally realized it was the only way to solve my own murder.  Don’t worry, everyone is confused when I start it this way.  This way is my favorite.

First, you see, I am afflicted with an overabundance of memory.  Not only do I remember everything (and I mean everything) in life, I remember everything in past lives too.  Some people have visions or dreams or déjà vu or maybe they just like fish, not remembering they’ve been one.  Me, I remember all of it.

Some of it wasn’t so bad.  House cats, for instance, really do have it pretty easy.  So do alligators and lice and mayflies.  One time I was a cicada, and I slept for 17 years then boom!  Time to mate!  Not bad.

Some really weren’t too enjoyable.  I didn’t like being a slug.  Actually, most of my bad experiences were as a human.  Sort of that like old saying, “The higher you climb, the farther you fall,”   Being human you can be really happy but you can also be really miserable.  For instance, as a termite I was never murdered by my wife’s lover.  But, I never went on a Ferris wheel either.  It’s give and take.

One of my memories is of eating an orange.  Juice ran down my chin as I stepped through the door to my house.  I was coming home early from work with fresh flowers and produce to surprise my wife.  She had been so happy lately.

As I stepped through the door, I could hear her sounds, the sounds I had thought were reserved for me.  In shock, I dropped what I had been carrying.  Oranges bounced noisily in my hallway, and the sounds abruptly ceased.  Compelled, I went upstairs, and as I entered our room, I was hit on the back of the head.


In the woods behind our neighborhood, the day I came home to my wife’s sounds, I recognized the face of our gardener as I regained consciousness.  He was cutting at my neck with his pruning saw.  I jerked, trying to stop him, but my hands and legs were bound.  Would you believe what he said?  He said, “Old man, we think its time you took a vacation.”

Usually, I die and get born somewhere else, sometimes years later.  But this time I was born right next to myself.  As I emptied my bowels in death, an orange seed in them was awakening.  And thus, I was born again next to my own grave.


Let me tell you: you might think twice about having a baby.  You don’t know where that soul has been.


I grew tall and fast for my kind, fed by my own decaying body.  My roots grew in and around my old body, pushing the bones in to new poses.  Frozen in place, feeding, the word injustice is inadequate.

When I grew over the tops of other trees, fertilized as I was, I could see that I was only a little distance from my old home.  If I had legs, if only I had legs this time, I could be there in three minutes!  But my roots held fast, and I watched my children grow up without me.  I watched them play with new children, children not of mine but of my wife and my murderer.

Trees can be angry, and I was a very angry tree.  Birds, after a while, wouldn’t nest in me.  I would shake their nests off, sometimes after playing nice and letting them lay eggs.  Later, when I began to feel lonely, when I felt like I would live 200 years and feed on the evidence of my own murder until it was gone, when I felt like nobody cared enough to even check the woods once, I began to want birds again.  I grew forks and flat spots, asking for them to come back.  They did not.

Then came the day I watched one of my wife’s children, not of my own, meandering through the woods.  I knew the children must not be allowed back here, because I had never seen them come this close.  He looked up, big brown eyes and overalls, at my oranges.  I willed him, oh I prayed and tried to lean just a little closer to him, to show him the sweet oranges that were just a little out of reach.  Maybe you should climb, I thought.  I strained and creaked, as if I could still speak: Climb, little one, climb.


The last time I had tried to talk, long ago, I felt my own blood run down into my lungs.  My gardener had sawed through the delicate tubes in my neck, and I was drowning in my own lifeblood.  I could only look at him, and at the sunlight streaming through the leaves above me.  And let me tell you, every time you die it’s the same.  “This can’t be it.  This is too stupid.  This can’t be it, can it?”   I thought that as a wolf, as a crocodile, as a sea cucumber.  You’ll think it, too.

I also remember when I first wanted to be cut down.  It was after my wife’s son had climbed me and I broke the branch beneath him, after I broke his leg, after an ambulance came and the medical technicians came and there was a little world beneath my boughs.   After I rejoiced, knowing the time was near when my murdered corpse would be discovered.  After I dropped oranges, leaves, after I swayed when there was no wind.  After the boy was on a stretcher-board, after his little leg was in a splint, after my ex-gardener and my ex-wife walked home, after the ambulance crew left, and I was alone again, this is when I wanted to be cut down.

How could they not know?  I had dropped oranges!  I had swayed!  I had creaked!  I had told them!  When my rage subsided, I began to see myself as others saw me.  A tree.  I was a tree, among many other trees, in a forest among many other forests.  I may sway, I may drop my fruits, I may rage and I may die a thousand times when people pass me by, but I am still just a tree.


For many years, I watched the seasons come and go.  I had gotten a bacterial infection from my open wound, where the branch had broken beneath the little boy.  My leaves were folded and half closed, covered in spots, my oranges sparse and tough and brown.  I watched my old house every day, watching the boy get better, and run and play soccer and grow older and taller and like all the others, eventually leave.

I was dying again.  I could still see over the tops of other trees and fences, the house where I used to feel I was happy.  The house where now, my wife and gardener long since gone, a new family lived in blissful forgetfulness.  I could still hear the same sounds I heard as a man, still feel the same air and still I remembered.  It was in one of my final days, as I lingered in ever deepening twilight, that at last a bird alighted upon me again.  As I had not stirred but for wind and rain in years, she soon came back with a twig.  I died as she made her nest in my topmost branches.

This can’t be it, can it?


        *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

I could not think in the first moments, but to realize I was alive and know I had to get out.  I pushed, I struggled, and at last I was free.  I collapsed from the effort.

Awake again.  I felt cold, tired, weak, and I could not see.  Worst of all, I could remember.  My tiny, half-formed body echoed with the knowledge of thousands of years, with the pain of memories that should have long been forgotten.

        *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Later, when I could open my eyes, I knew what kind of bird I was.  I was a robin.  Not one I had been before.  I peeped and gaped and my mother and father returned often with open mouths.  I fed greedily and hungrily, driven by some force other than memory.

I grew, and as baby birds do I grew fast.  Soon I had feathers and the feeding trips from my parents were less and less frequent.  They chittered and chattered about how we needed to fly soon, because the nest was in trouble.  At night, beneath the soft, protecting down of my mother, I shivered and chirruped as thoughts of the past two lives haunted me.  Lives, like so many others, I increasingly thought of as in vain.

The day came when I was to leave the nest and learn to fly.  My sister, as she had with many things, took to the edge of the nest first.  She tumbled out of sight, falling to the ground, and seconds later soared to a fast landing on a tree across from me.  My mother cooed as she pushed me out of the nest.

I did not spread my wings.  Memories of my lives flashed in my head, as the trees and the ground and the sun tumbled around me.  I remembered my wolf-mother, my wives, my husbands, my hives, my termite colonies, other flights as other birds, times when I breathed water, other births and hunger and pain and countless ages and lives lived.  I fell.

As my memory played out its infinite reel, I saw the tree that had supported our nest passing upward.  Dead branches, grey limbs, parched fruits.  Tough, dehydrated fruits.

Oranges!  I was looking at my old tree-body from the outside for the first time!  My bird heart pounded with terror and elation, and I opened my wings.  Swooping low and fast, I grazed the ground where my lifeless tree roots lay entangled with my murdered body.


Later, I would know why we had to learn to fly that day.  The tree, my tree, had been spray-painted with a large circle upon its trunk.  Soon, men came with machines and gloves and cigarettes and they cut it down.  They attached their chains and with their machines they pulled the stump out.  As they lifted the stump clear of the hole, the skull of my murdered body dangled like a bowling ball, held by the fingers of my roots.


And in the air above them, a robin was singing its first song.