Fern curtains sweep the floor, embracing the ground as their own.
Perhaps she is a little misguided - perhaps she, too, should be reaching for a sky that she will never touch, weaving a thousand different routes to a collective goal.
But patience is a virtue that her branches do not have. So she does not claim a new cloud each day, does not hold her comrades' spindly limbs and chant empty promises.
Her leaves grow thin, light enough to let gravity bend her towards a tangible end. The wind tickles (the others are resolute on up, and would not know this).
She comes to peace with the fact that she will succumb to time, and does not try to be what she cannot. Instead, she watches lovers stargaze. She guards tombstones. She offers shade to the hiding boy (hiding from what, he has never told her). She accommodates treehouses, and when they are long abandoned she accepts them as part of her. She gives back to the soil from which she grows.
And sometimes, when weeks pass and even the moon will not keep her company,
day 2: know
The ash tree dances to a music no one else can hear.
His movements span centuries, but he has plenty of time for inspiration.
A squirrel builds a home in him, and he observes the way her whiskers twitch, the way she circles and circles her nest as if she is creating a magical barrier around her young. But magic wears off.
The first two are picked off by hawks (he watches as they squirm in its grasp, clawing for mama) and the last learns, briefly, to fly like his brothers’ captors. He takes the body into his roots, embedding the squirrel’s suicide march into his branches, growing faster.
Then, he befriends the rain. Never before has it arrived in such force. Pitpatpitpatpitpitpatter. It envelops every surface, seeping into his roots and demanding to be let in. He complies, and tastes the jovial swoons and leaps of faraway lands. Experimentally, he loops a twig in a way reminiscent of hotter air and redder leaves. It only takes months.
He is too eager to learn about the emerald insect when it chooses him for refuge, burrowing in his bark, on the run, here and back. He memorizes how its delicate feet roam his skin, analyzes every crevice touched by its feelers.
Hospitality is not free. They - it became they, he is not sure when this happened - are eating him, boring through his essence until he must focus every ounce of energy on survival. Even that is not enough. Too many holes.
His time is dwindling, so he sings, from deep where roving pincers cannot reach. The deer in the vicinity twitch their ears. The river quiets its gurgle to listen. The sun swathes him in spotlight. For one glorious moment, he is the centre of the world. And then he falls silent.
The ash forest shares a music no one else can hear. A music of squirrels, of rain, of emerald borers and trees growing to their own rhythm.
day 3: survive
There is no time for whimsy.
He sports a businesslike attitude towards life. A suit and tie would complete the look, but professionalism is not essential towards survival. No one is here to admire it, anyway.
The deciduous preen in the warmer climate. If he ever wished for the ability to pull his roots out and move, it would be because of them. They spend the days spreading their branches, bathing in sunlight that never seems to quite reach the peak (sometimes it seems everything is united against him, trying to complicate his life). But they do not know difficulty. They have the luxury of beauty, while he must adhere to the cone shape that is written in his consciousness. A straying branch, a pinecone out of place, and he risks being taken by the weight of winter.
How dare they be so carefree while he struggles. And what does he get for it? A loathing that grows with him, a resentful understanding that there is no such thing as deserving.
Then, the cold comes like it has never before. The glaciers inch down the mountain. The snow falls in sheets, and for a while all he knows is whipping white, wailing wind trying and barely failing to rip him from his home. Amid the chaos, he discovers that he does not want to go. He is the product of years of resilience. He forged a future against the odds, and he will not let a bit of fast air take that away. Still, he is frozen to the core...
And then it's over. The snow is gone, replaced by a trickling stream.
His branches thaw. He shifts his roots so they are more firmly planted in scant soil. He untips himself, surveying the damage. The forest is decimated, the deciduous trees flattened - a massacre, paired with hesitant birdsong.
Back to business.
Although he stands up a little straighter, this time.
A little prouder.
day 4: loathe
Paradise is subjective.
Yellow and blue - these are the colours you associate with vacation. This is the haze you happily drown in because you paid thousands of dollars to.
I stare, serene, swaying. Omniscient.
Stay here too long - I've been here decades - and you start to see the cracks in the facade. A young worker shovels as much uneaten food into his pockets as he can, muttering prayers. A stick of a woman sits on a stoop accompanied by three screaming toddlers, waiting for the father to come out of the bar. A stray chooses the wrong trash can, and makes friends with the business end of a broomstick.
It is the way of humans to see only what you want. I am not angry - but sometimes, I wish I was human.
I don't blame you. You are here to get away, as the commericals put it, so you turn a blind eye. You're laughing, leading your children to the waves. Maybe little Tommy will be the one to drown this year; we all know the lifeguards are sleeping.
I am vegetation, decoration, in your peripheral vision as affirmation of a relinquishing of responsibility. And I do my job well, for the most part. I do not judge. My fronds complement the seafoam, my coconuts are swollen and sweet. Still, I know too much.
And I am not angry at your ignorance. I am not angry that you've folded the ugly parts of the narrative under. Once upon a time, my ancestors held peaceful dominion over this island, and I'm not angry that you took it from them with fire and steel.
Because I am smart enough to know that anger in the powerless is flint on air.
I don't blame you.
Just know that if I could, I'd burn you to the ground.
And I wouldn't look away.
day 5: be
We are one.
We are here.
We are connected from root to leaf, woven in a catch-all that spans acres and centuries. The world is sunlight, waterfalls, crickets - the world is green eternity. We exist in cycles - life and death, day and night, warm and cold.
We take only what we need and we give what we can. Like this there is harmony. Where each breath is accounted for, because we breathe together. The jungle is alive, a pulsing heart older than time.
We have no eyes to open, but when we hear the buzzing we open them nonetheless. Time manifests. Eternity stands still. We reach out to feel, but we cannot. They are not part of us. They move too quickly, their actions disrupting the give and take that keeps us balanced. Their skin whispers an echo of recognition - yes, they were us, once - but it is covered in layers of foreign. No longer can we soothe them, remind them of balance, of eternity. The buzzing is too loud for them to hear.
Then, we discover pain. Its touch is achingly familiar - an echo, like they are; iron's brother, rubber's cousin - deformed in body and spirit into a weapon. A collective heartbeat races, but we cannot fight. We cannot take more than we give.
Roots are ripped, branches broken. We must conserve what we have.
So it is no longer we.
It is you and I,
he and she,
holding each other close (never close enough) until one of us falls.
It is better this way.
Should the beginning of time find the end, at least I will have something left to rebuild.
i might have strayed from the challenge a little. a lottle. but here we are, regardless.