The Man Who Lived Like a Tree
The Man Who Lived Like A Tree
by Dan Powell
The man who lived like a tree did so at first without realising. Growing tall and broad, he married his childhood sweetheart and started a family, sinking his roots deep into the earth. For each of those early years, a ring grew inside him, thick with love. That is, until his wife began to age when he did not; then brittle, leaf thin rings began to widen the space between his heart and skin in fragile increments.
‘Look at you, still so handsome,’ his wife would say.
‘And you, still so beautiful,’ he would reply, each time lifting her hand, light boned as a bird’s wing, in his hand, sturdy as an oak branch, kissing it and wishing that she could stay with him or he move on with her but that was not the life nature planned for them. Instead, the man who lived like a tree spent days stood beside the bed where she lay dying, his sunken heart throbbing in his trunk, his large frame throwing a canopy of cooling shade across her like a soft blanket as the sound of their grandchildren at play burst through the window hand in hand with the bright summer sun.
For years after her death he did little but play with his grandchildren, spending hours in the garden chasing and being chased.
‘Granddad, why do you not grow older like Mummy or Daddy?’ Eleanor, his most beloved grandchild, asked one day as they sat on the grass together.
‘I don’t know,’ said the man who lived like a tree.
‘Will you still be young when I am old?’
He swept the girl into the carved muscles of his arms, swung her up to the bough of his shoulders, her laughter ringing with echoes of her grandmother.
‘I sincerely hope not,’ he said.
Decades passed and the man who lived like a tree watched Eleanor lowered into the earth just as he had watched his wife and too many children, too many grandchildren before her. He tried to recall whose child it was, fresh faced and full of spring, that took his arm and led him back to the funeral car, tried to remember what branch connected them across the span of years but generations had added too many fruits to his family to count and his thoughts were slower now, more gradual in their motion, and he could no more grasp the answer than leaves can touch the wind.
Often now he wept and wished for the day when his roots, no longer nourished by the fast moving world, would shrivel and shrink in the earth, the weight of his years toppling him, finally, to the ground.
‘I am so very old,’ he said to his family of strangers but they were too young and fast and busy to really hear.
And so it was, until some years later, stood in the garden he so loved, face turned to the sun, the toes of his bare feet splayed in the grass, and with a final sorrowful ring wrapping itself around the core of him, he finally, happily felt his roots fail. The family laid him to rest at the bottom of the garden just as the auburn rush of autumn filled the trees.
The following spring a sapling thrust from the soil under which he lay. Years passed and the sapling grew, adding ring after ring of cambium beneath its crust of bark. By the time it was firmly established there was no-one left who remembered the man who had lived like a tree.
A young girl, so many generations removed from him yet directly related all the same, spent hours climbing amongst the mature branches. One bright spring morning, clambering amongst new leaves freshly broken from their buds, she called down to her parents to come and see.
‘There are names on the leaves,’ she told her mother and father, who fetched a ladder to look.
Written in the impossible venations of each leaf was a name, each one different as each leaf is different; every one a son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter of the long forgotten man, generation after generation after generation unfolding and branching and budding in fresh leaves as the family continued to grow up and out and into the sky.
- refers from the line “He’s rooted here” in Madeline Mora-Summonte’s story Rooted in the Past