Let me tell you about a person who changed the way I saw life forever and how she became the most important symbol of how we only have one earth and one chance.
It was a very warm Friday afternoon when I met Her. I was on my way home from work at the old country store down the road and on that day, I decided to take a shortcut through the woods. I neglected the "Construction" signs and stepped over them without even giving them a glance. I suppose I was too young then to care. I remember the smells of the forest, so fresh and crisp that it burned my nose and tasted sweet in my mouth. It had been a good summer day and the business was booming but it was still nice to engulf myself in the calming silence of the high trees. Halfway home, I stopped to see this humongous oak tree. The branches were high, the bark looked sleek and it was so big around, I bet ten men couldn’t wrap their arms around the circumference of it. I patted the smooth wood and strangely it felt as if the tree quivered under my fingertips. I thought it was hallucination of the senses and shrugged it off before sitting on one of the immense trunks of the oak. Gazing around and taking in the beauty of the woods, I whistled the tune of "Danny Boy," an old song my mom used to sing to me with I was just a kid. The melody echoed back at me and it sounded sweeter than what I sang. I know this true, because I had a horrible singing voice. I stopped and took off my Harley cap and listened as the lyrics drifted in the air like a scent carried through the wind. The voice grew clearer and I could feel it on the back of my neck. I stood slowly and turned my eyes to the wood and saw a woman there in the tree. Enraptured by the tune and by the beauty of the woman, I stepped closer to see that she was smiling. I can still remember her smile, it felt like a summer day when the sun was shining on your back like a friendly backrub.
I extended my hand towards her and brushed my fingertips against her skin which felt just as soon as the tree’s bark.
"Are you real?" I asked in a voice no louder than a whisper.
She nodded, eyes smiling. "What are you?" I inquired.
When I asked her this, she frowned and didn’t answer. I realized then that she didn’t want to be referred to as an object but as a someone.
"Who are you? I’m Daniel. " I asked instead.
"My name is Eik." She said, her voice smooth as her own bark.
Ever since that moment, I took every chance I could to come back to her. We didn’t do much except just talk. Eik was shy at first, and didn’t say much. So the first couple of conversations we had were filled with gaps of silences usually broken by a bird’s call or critter’s skittering. Then after a while, she opened up and began to narrate to me about the trees and the flowers. The burrs always complained about the dogs marking their territory with their bodily fluids and the pines loved to drop their pinecones on the squirrels and other creatures when they tried to chip off some of their bark. The cypress trees were kind as long as they had an adamant amount of water and loved when the pale green duckweed tickled around their trunks. The partridge pea flowers loved to bask in the sunlight with all the other flowers but even though it was quite small, it loved to show off its tiny yellow blooms. When I asked her about the common dandelions, she frowned and told me that they aren’t so very common in their forest and that they tended to be overwhelmed by native species. This made me sad because those were my mother’s favorite flowers. They were wildflowers and they were just like my mom.
Another thing that Eik had discerned to me was that the forest sang.
"But I don’t hear anything," I had said, "Besides the normal forest sounds but definitely no songs."
Again, she had smiled that sunny smile of hers and shook her head like she had done in a lot of our conversations before replying,
"If you listen closely and open yourself to the actual forest, then you can hear them. Each plant, tree, flower, plate of grass, has it’s own sound."
But every time I tried to hear those forest sounds, I found that I couldn’t catch their songs and then left the matter alone.
When me and Eik had talked our days away, I told her about how my mother had died from cancer when I was a just graduating from middle school, three years ago.
"What is cancer?" She asked that day.
The question caught me off guard and it was very hard to explain, so I basically said, "I don’t really know what it is, except that we found out too late and she died from it."
Eik had simply replied, "Oh." Before another one of those silences fell upon us like a thick coat of fog. By the time the silence was broken, I could taste the salty tears in my mouth and feel myself shuddering from the memories.
"The doctor had said that she had a brain tumor but we thought it was just a big bump on her head…" I wailed, "A damn bump! How messed up is that?"
My tree friend just frowned sadly and extended her large branches to rest over me in a sort of hug but at the moment, I didn’t care that my best friend was a tree. I needed someone to say, it’s ok and she did.
"I’m sorry for your loss, Daniel. It’s okay to cry. I’m right here."
I had never really cried since my mother died and I poured three years worth of crying in a single hour.
After that moment in time, our friendship blossomed to the point where we confided and poured everything we thought about into our conversations. At some times, Eik and I shared similar opinions on certain topics which frequently ended up in a fit of giggles and jokes that kept us laughing for days. But like all friendships, we had a fair amount of quarrels and heated discussions. It was only a matter of time before Eik told me about her concerns about how humanity was handling the environment.
"Daniel, they are tearing down tress and crushing flowers with their machines and filling our sky with thick coats of fog that make the air hot and perfuse." She pleaded to me. "And its even to the point where I can’t smell the blooms anymore."
I could tell that she was concerned for the things around her but at that moment; I didn’t know how to respond to her correctly.
"Well, the nature of man kind is to take and destroy, isn’t it?" I had retorted.
Her wooden brows furrowed and a hard frown replaced the smile that normally placates her features.
"Yes, that is true but isn’t it the nature of all to create and give and rekindle as well?"
She was right and I knew that but I didn’t admit it.
"So, what?" I replied.
"Then you should, as you sometimes say –step up to the plate- and try to fix what you are about to ruin."
I could feel the heat rushing through my cheeks as I began to become overheated by the conversation and the topic. Eik acknowledged this before she changed her tone to a softer manner.
"We only have one earth, Daniel."
Although, that didn’t help the matter at all.
"Why are you saying this to me, huh? Do you think I can do anything about this? I’m just one person! Not to mention, I’m not of legal age either." I had shouted at her, raising my arms and acting like a five-year-old.
I hated the way Eik treated me like a child and it aggravated me further because of the fact that she was beginning to sound like my mom.
"Daniel..." She began but she didn’t get far until I interrupted her.
"You know what? I don’t care. I don’t care about this forest. I don’t care about these flowers or these plants." As I said these cruel things, I went to each one of them and kicked it down with my foot before I pointed to Eik and cried out,
"And I don’t care about you!"
I stopped then, disgusted by my own words and looked at her. My mouth tasted vile then and my tongue went dry from my attitude. She frowned at me but didn’t say anything.
"I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it." I told her quickly.
But all Eik said was, "I know." And that was it.
So I went home.
Months went by and I didn’t return to the forest until school had started back again. Over that period of time, I thought about what she had said and realized that she was right. Man had to know his limitations before they destroyed what was generously given to him but I had been blinded my childishness and my pride to notice it. I decided that I would go back to the forest and tell Eik this. Maybe then, I remember pondering, I could do something about the destruction.
But when I got to the forest, it was gone. The only thing left of the forest was a bunch of burnt trees, gritty dirt and filthy tractors. Humanity had destroyed my forest and left me bereft. I dug my hands into the ground where Eik used to be and saw that there was a single dandelion in her place. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I see the "Construction" signs placed at the entrance to the forest? I did see them; I just didn’t care and now it was too late. My friends was gone and I wept for all that I had lost and all that mankind had lost.
When I stopped, looked around me and wiped my face with my soiled hands. It was then that I heard it. I heard it loud and clear. At first it was a low hum and then it grew louder until it began to practically boom in my ears. The forest or rather what remained of the forest began to sing and I could feel the music surrounding me its melodic cover of sounds. I knelt down to the small dandelion and I could hear it’s own sound, resonating sweetly. After a couple of moment, I recognized the tunes to the song and realized that they were chanting "Danny Boy." It was the most beautiful sounds, I had ever heard and will hear ever in all my life. I stood there listening to the music of the damaged forest and wanted to stay like that forever but I knew I had a job to do: a calling I had to answer.
We all have that calling because as Eik had told me, we only have one earth; one chance.