The Roots and The Stag

In the Earth there lies the roots of a giant plant. Maybe it is an aspen forest waiting to break the surface and sing the song of leaves in the wind. Maybe it is the first shoot in a mighty grove of redwoods so strong that they bring a soft twilight to the ferns at their feet for a thousand years. Maybe it is a thicket of coyote bush that will clothe the hills of ancient stone and bring green to the red chert that was once the bones of billions of tiny creatures so long ago at the bottom of the sea. The roots that are already deep in the earth could be any of these things, or many more. The bud of a great yew tree that will still be here to inspire our descendants after two thousand years have passed. The beginning of an oak that will feed our children’s children if they know what they are looking at when the acorns fall to the ground. The first green sprout of a massive cattail swamp where the red-wings will gather to sing their songs of war and of love. All of these things are possible and none of them have come to pass. The roots in the earth alone know which of them are going to make the leap from what could be to what will be.

Above in the clearing a gentle meadow of grasses and herbs spreads itself outwards in the warmth of the sun. A few of the season’s first flowers wave their heads in a light breeze. The air is full of a golden softness and heavy with the scent of potential. The sprouts in the earth at the center of the meadow sleep in the slowly warming ground.

At the edge of the meadow small bushes become larger shrubs like Elder and Hawthorne. Behind them, small trees form the advance guard for the giants that stand behind them. Trunks thicker than the height of a very tall man rise into the air. They support leafy crowns whose edges blend together to form a canopy that catches the sun and brings a cooling hush to the ground at their feet. This space is suffused with the mysterious odor of savory dampness rising up from centuries of leaves slowly turning to earth at the hands of the forest’s smallest inhabitants. Worms and beetles, fungi and mosses, bacteria and larva all consume and transform different portions of what falls from the trees. Even on the hottest days, it is far cooler in here than in the meadow. There are stories relaxing in the deep of the shadows and hidden knowledge floating behind the branches, just out of reach. The casual traveler avoids this forest because it reminds him that he is alone, and that he will always be alone in a very powerful and tangible way if he dares to look closely. To most people, this knowledge is terrifying, so they turn away and join the crowds somewhere else.

A voice whispers to anyone who does take a few steps into the shade beneath the arms of the great guardians and carefully steps over the edges of their massive roots and onto the carpet of leaves that instantly snuffs out all sounds made by the footfalls of man. The voice reminds the traveler of all the things he does not know and won’t have time to learn unless he walks forwards in a slightly different way. “Leave that line you are following. Let your left foot fall here and your right foot fall over there. Then stop and place your hand here, on the bark of the tree whose name you do not know. There is so much to talk about if you take the time to listen. We are happy to share your company if you will share ours.” The voice is singular and plural at the same time. No part of it is anything like a human voice, but it is also so clear it is the easiest thing to understand once it is heard.

Most travelers run away, back to the safety of the sunshine, or begin to purposefully clap, break sticks or otherwise make noise before they hear the last line. Some of them even slash marks into the trees or try to cut them down with whatever they have in their pockets or bags. Anything to drown out or forget the power of their sudden introduction to being truly alone and not alone. Some of them leave in a hurry to get more powerful tools to make sure they can fell the great trees and silence the voice. All of the people who want to fell the giants and silence the voice find that, after a while, they are no longer looking into the depths of the shade beneath the trees. Where each man or woman ends up depends on many things, but all of them are no longer here at the edge of the trees that guard so many possibilities, including the clearing where the roots are sleeping. Sometimes there is a memory in their minds of this place and sometimes there isn’t. The one thing they all experience in common is that they are unable to ever return here. Instead of slashing the trees to the ground, they have hacked loose their ability to see and hear this place. They have cut off their own trunks and roots instead of those of the trees. The forest will always be there, but they will not be in it any longer.

Other travelers stop to listen. They are very few, but they almost always smile when they hear the last line. The conversations are always different, depending on the particular human who listens and the individuals they connect with here in the dim light. But that is not so important as that the conversations do in fact take place. Words are exchanged and collaborations take place that benefit everyone concerned.

Out of this place of shadows where the deep, low hum of ancient things growing permeates even into the farthest corners of the mind, an enormous stag steps forth. He lifts his head and tosses his antlers as his shoulders break the cover of the shrubs at the edge of the forest. He steps slowly and purposefully out across the herbs and grasses of the meadow and into the clearing. He moves directly to the center and does not hesitate. His head lowers slowly until his nose is almost to the earth. He stops and breathes in the scent of living earth warmed by the sun. Then he touches the soil directly in the exact spots where the most powerful roots are waiting to break through and become sprouts. With each touch, leaves lift themselves up and drop their cowls of dust to begin their time of becoming. When he is finished, the roots below and the life above have joined together to bring new growth in the meadow. With the passing of a few more seasons, it will become clear which of the possibilities held within the roots is in the process of being realized.

As the stag begins to gaze at the side of the clearing where the grasses and herbs are thickest, a loud crack of old wood giving way to time rings out from deep in the forest. As the stag lifts his head quickly to look across the meadow in the direction of the sound, it is followed by the unmistakable crashing of a heavy trunk breaking through living branches on its way to the ground. After flicking his ears twice, the stag lowers his head to take a final mouthful, then walks into the woods on the west side of the clearing away from the crash and into the darkness beneath the trees. A few steps in, he disappears and anyone who was watching would be completely unable to say for sure if he was even there in the first place. The sprouts grow towards the light and a gentle wind ruffles the grasses as the animals of the forest floor begin the long, slow work of changing the fallen tree into the beginnings of a rich, dark soil.


1 Comment

  1. ‘Instead of slashing the trees to the ground, they have hacked loose their ability to see and hear this place. They have cut off their own trunks and roots instead of those of the trees. The forest will always be there, but they will not be in it any longer.’ – This sums up our modern way of being perfectly!

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