WEEVIL AND THE MAPLE



Early one bright sunny morning, Weevil, who had read about marathon runners, decided to run all the way from the house to the cabin. Having set out down the road, across the bridge, into the forest, running at a steady pace so that he would not develop a pain in his side, he gradually lengthened his stride and widened the swing of his elbows as he caught his second wind. It was still so early that some of the wild inhabitants of the bush were quite startled by his relentless approach, but they quickly settled down again to their own particular affairs, after pausing briefly to watch his movements with some curiosity and cautious concern. Weevil arrived without undue incident at the cabin site and quite breathlessly dropped down exhausted to lean his back against a large maple tree at the edge of the clearing.



Here he sat for some minutes while his fast breathing gradually subsided and he looked at the tree tops and the sky across the clearing.



He found himself tilting his head a little to look upwards towards the top of the great tree at the base of which he sat, and marvelled at how strong and tall it was, with huge up-stretched limbs reaching from the trunk. As he did this he thought he heard a faint sound, muffled at first, and then growing louder and more insistent. It seemed to come from behind his head and perhaps two feet lower down, quite close to the ground. Gradually, the beat became more insistent, a pumping sound, and it was for all the world as though he were listening to the rhythm of a mighty heart, There was no wind at all, and above him as he looked up, the tree stood motionless among the others, without the slightest movement of its branches. The sun was beating down quite strongly now, and the buds seemed to be poised as though ready to burst open at any moment. Somehow Weevil felt very safe and secure wedged up against this towering tree and hearing its powerful sound. He reached out his arms behind him on each side of the trunk but could not even span half-way around its girth. Then he looked down at the trunk of the tree to his right as if to penetrate it, searching for the source of the sound.

"It sounds almost like a heart-beat," he said to himself out loud.

"It is a heart-beat," said a Voice, "my heart-beat."

Weevil was quite astonished. "Trees can't talk." he said to himself, still speaking out loud.

"Why certainly they can." said the Voice, "it's just that so few people have the time to stop and listen. Now I have been rooted here on this spot for about a hundred years, and yet you are the first person who has had the time to stop and talk to me."

"Has that made you lonely?" asked Weevil, always full of questions.

"Not really," said the tree. "There are many trees around me as you can see, young and old. We talk to one another quite frequently. But we do not talk in this way; we can convey our thoughts between ourselves by quieter means."

"Why are you talking from the ground?" asked Weevil. "I would have thought your head would have been up at the tree top."

"No," said the tree. "This is where I live and breathe most. From here my roots reach out like your hair and they spread as far away to hold me firm and steady as my trunk and limbs do, growing upward from my head."

"But that must mean," said Weevil, "you are upside-down."

"Not at all," said the tree. "It is you who are upside-down, always looking at your feet and the ground beneath you. As for me, I look down on the sky, and the birds and the wind and the rain. That is where all the beauty and the glory is. The sky has many moods; the clouds are almost always riding past with different colours and different shapes. I watch and admire them all."

"But don't you get tired," asked Weevil, "of just being in this one place and looking up all the time with this one view?"

"I think people." said the tree, "spend too much time moving around. They never stop to think or feel deeply enough about the nature of things. Here, I have lots of time to think out solutions to my problems."

"What kind of problems can you have," said Weevil, "when you stay in one place? I always find my problems come from moving around so much."

"When you're young," said the tree, "the first problem is water. You have to think fairly quickly where the best supply is and send out feelers and then grow roots to reach and drink it. My heart pumps with liquid just the same as yours. In fact sometimes trees are drilled with holes by men in the bush and the sap is drained off. Then you can see for yourself how from big trees with mighty hearts the sap will flow as though in spurts. And when the men have gone away there is the problem of healing up the wound just as you have to heal up when you have cut yourself."

"Do you have any problems right now?" asked Weevil.

"Yes," said the tree,"as a matter of fact I do have a rather serious problem, facing me at this very time. If you look over to your right, you will see an old maple tree, a dear friend of mine, whose crown is dying, and there is hard fungus growth biting into its inner strength on one side. Although neither of us would wish it, probably when it falls it will be across my bough on the right side from where you sit. If that happens the fungus will probably transfer its grip to me and may very well hasten my own end."

"Why did the fungus grow up that particular line on its trunk?" asked Weevil.

"If you were here in the middle of January," the tree said, "when the temperature is 30 or 40 degrees below zero, sometimes it is a sad thing to stand and hear suddenly the trunk of a dear friend crack in the cold with a sound like a rifle shot.

Our fibre becomes more brittle in extreme cold, and sometimes the trunk will split for many feet. You can see right behind you this happened to me many years ago. When the warm weather returns the fungus spores carried on the breeze will often settle in such cracks or be lodged there by birds chasing grubs, and the growing fungus takes hold, biting deep to poison the vital fluids in our bodies."

"Since you can't move," said Weevil, how terrible. What can you do to protect yourself?"

"There is a great deal we can do," said the tree, because we are not hindered by having to keep moving. We can think slowly through the most difficult problems, until we come upon an idea to protect ourselves. With my friend over there we have been reasoning that if he can shed one or two boughs on his left side from where we see him, then he will probably be able to arrange his fall a little to my right. I cannot help him, but he can help me, and I in my turn seek to help others around me."



"Do birds bother you much?" asked Weevil. "What about woodpeckers?"

"We're left pretty much alone," said the tree, "unlike birches, we're not attacked by sapsuckers. Our bark and wood is quite tough, and this also discourages birds like woodpeckers from attacking us. The softwoods, like white pine, are much more attractive to them. One problem, as you grow taller, is lightning. You can see my friend the red oak across the clearing was hit about six years ago, but now he has recovered more than 50% of his leaf power. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are good, though. They tap our bark and stir up insects which annoy us, and then pick them off and eat them."

"What about the holes they drill?" asked Weevil.

"They only do it when that part of us has become old and weak in fibre and soft enough for grubs to enter deeply. It's the grubs the woodpeckers are after, they're not attacking us. On the whole, it's a good enough life."

"There's something else," said Weevil. "What about forest fires?"

"Ah," said the tree, "that's another matter. It partly depends on what company you keep. It's best not to be near many spruce and white pine, for they're the dangerous ones; if there's a dry lightning strike they go up in a second. But, you see, we have a very select neighbourhood here and the pines are well away from us."

"Just being all this time in one place, I don't expect you've had any exciting adventures," said Weevil.

"Everything comes to one who waits," said the tree. "I believe you humans use that phrase, but it was thought of by a tree."

"Will you tell me one of your adventures, then?" asked Weevil hopefully.

"Of course I will," said the tree. "It began this way, about 90 years ago. We can tell from our tree rings, as you can from your memory, everything that happens to us. I was just a little stripling at the time and my parent tree was over there a short way to your right. All you can see now is a hump stretching a long way along the ground where it fell eventually, and the broad stump of its base all rotted away and covered with moss. It was a big tree, even wider than I am."

"Yes I can see that." said Weevil.,"but tell me what happened."

"As I was saying, this was just under 90 years ago. It was a beautiful late fall evening. All the leaves were down. The sun had almost dropped below the horizon. There were long thin shadows of trees cris-crossing the ground and I was half asleep, thinking about the winter to come, looking at the sky, when suddenly there came a most tremendous rending sound in the earth. It felt as though someone was shaking it like a rug, so that the ground moved up and down in great waves. You can imagine that if you have your head in the ground, the sound and the sensation of moving is overwhelming and deafening. I was in a terrible panic. But being a tree I couldn't go anywhere or do anything but patiently stand and wait, bracing myself for what might happen next. What did happen was that at the far end of the clearing, where, as you can see there is a great outcrop of rock..."



"I see," said Weevil, "it must be about 40 feet high and a few hundred feet long."

"Yes. that's it," said the tree, "but what happened on that strange day was that as the light began to fade with the tremendous uproar going on in the ground..."

"That must have been an earthquake," interrupted Weevil, "I've heard about those."

"Possibly it was," said the tree, "then part of the rock split open and light came out from the inside. Shortly afterwards some strange people began coming out of the cleft in the rock. They seemed to carry some sort of light around with them, although they didn't have any lamps or flashlights. Where they went the light was. They looked very beautiful and serene. They had gold and white and blue clothing and very clear bluish skin. There were about 12 of them, and they sat or stood near my parent tree in the clearing. They did not talk in a language but seemed to communicate by direct thought much as you and I are talking now, but without speech."

"Did you understand them? What did they talk about?" asked Weevil.

"You're always in such a rush," said the tree. "You wouldn't be that way if you had stood still for a century and let things come to you. But as I was saying, there they were, standing or sitting and talking: it was a beautiful sight, but it was hard for me to fathom what was going on. My head was still ringing from the tremendous clap of sound that had nearly shaken me to pieces just a short while earlier. They did seem to be talking about the state of things in the world and whether it was time to do something about it, but after a while some of them walked about the clearing, others went to the top of the rock and looked towards the sunset or up into the sky; others stood in groups of two or three, talking or disputing earnestly about whatever was the problem before them. This went on until it was almost quite dark, but that made no difference to them because as I said, they seemed to have light within or around them. After this there seemed to be some agreement between the different small groups, and gathering more together, they went back again through the cleft in the rock from which the light still shone.

I was standing there looking at the faint light of the stars beginning to shine and thinking what a remarkable group of beings these were when suddenly there seemed to be a second wave of an earthquake, or aftershock, if that is what it was, and I was nearly shaken out of the ground again and almost deafened with the shattering sound ringing in me. By the time I had recovered my senses enough to look around, the light had gone and I could not see the cleft in the rock."

"That's very strange," said Weevil, "I think I'll go and look myself."

"But remember," called the tree after him as he rose to investigate, "this was almost 90 years ago."

Weevil picked his way beyond the clearing up to the rock face where the tree had indicated. He searched the front of the rock hill very carefully. He saw a number of lines and markings which could have been frost lines or other striations caused by natural events. Weevil traced some of them most carefully, noting the lichen and moss growing here and there on them, but could see no positive evidence of a particular clear-cut line in the rock to fit the tree's description. Then, after abandoning his search, he walked back to the tree, and standing next to it he said "I've looked most carefully but I cannot see where the crack in the rock was." He stood waiting for some reply from the tree, but there was no answer. "Can you hear me?" Weevil asked the tree. There was no answer. Suddenly Weevil felt quite alone again amongst all the trees around the clearing and near the rock face, and realized that his friend the tree had gone back into its silence and would speak no more.

Weevil began walking slowly back to the cabin, and as he took his first few steps across the clearing, noticed that the sky had become dark and menacing. A few heavy drops of rain fell on his head and shoulders. Suddenly, not far away there was a tremendous flash of lighting and a great crack of thunder close afterwards, which, as he knew, meant that it was not far away. He ran as quickly as he could towards the cabin, and had barely got himself beneath the roof overhang before another flash and crack of thunder, although the raindrops had ceased to fall. But, by the time he had opened the cabin door and gone inside where his father was busy stapling insulation into place in the walls, the rain had started again and came down really fast. Weevil had been so busy talking with the Maple that he had not noticed the sky clouding over, and the weather changing. Now he realized that his conversation probably took much longer than he had imagined. Perhaps it was at a very slow pace, although he had not noticed this at the time. But now the sound of hail hammering down on the shingles of the cabin roof was almost deafening. Rain cascaded beyond the sides of the cabin in what looked like solid sheets of water with white hail stones. Another brilliant flash and another thunderclap came which seemed to shake the cabin floor beneath their feet. Weevil looked at his father for comfort because he was quite frightened with the ferocity of the fast moving storm, and the intensity of sound that seemed to be attacking the cabin from above and threatening to wash it away in a river of water.

Suddenly there was a powerful hiss and a blinding flash followed by a deafening riving sound from a mighty thunderclap which seemed to be just in front of them as they watched hand in hand through the window facing the clearing. The ground and the cabin shook all around them, Weevil to his disbelief saw the mighty maple shudder as a stream of light flashed down it and lifted a furrow of dark earth at its very roots as it went.

"The tree, the tree'" cried Weevil, "the beautiful maple. It's been hit." He turned his head to his father's side, for how could he bear to look any more at what had just happened. John put his arm gently around Weevil's shoulder. Neither said a word for a few moments, as the storm raged and battered at the world outside. The hail, after a while, began to turn to rain again, the hammering sounds on the roof went as quickly as they had come, there was a brief stirring of branches as gusts of wind rushed past, then suddenly all was silent again. With the merest rumblings the storm receded into the far distance. Weevil sat down on the floor, his head in his hands, and would not be comforted.

In a little while the sun began to reappear, and steam began rising from the hot ground as the clear sunlight burned down upon it. Weevil emerged from the cabin into the brightness and ran quickly across the clearing to the Maple. He looked up and saw how one tall bough had been wrenched away and was hanging, the white wood glistening in the sunlight where it had been split apart. All down the trunk he could see a great dark line where the lightning had travelled, and the churned up earth on the ground. Impulsively he flung his arms as far as he could reach around the trunk.

"Dear Maple" he cried, "what a terrible, terrible thing to have happened to you," and there were tears in his eyes as he spoke.

But then he heard a very, very weak, faint voice which answered him.

"I'm still alive," the Maple whispered, "but only just. It will take me many years to recover, but I think I can do it."

"Oh I do hope you can, I wish so much you can" said Weevil, and he patted the tree gently with both his hands on its huge rough trunk.

They said no more, the tree and the boy, for what more was there to say? From that time on, whenever Weevil was near that end off the clearing, he would go and spend a few moments by his favourite maple or patting its great trunk, to let it know that it had his very best wishes for survival and that he never would forget their memories of that fateful thunderstorm.



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