“Arborhood” Excerpt


Hey, so tomorrow is the halfway point of NaNoWriMo 2014, which is traditionally (not really) the day I post an excerpt. But tomorrow I’m hoping to hit 500 miles and thus I’ll be dedicating my blog to that.

So let’s break (non-)tradition and post an excerpt today!

So here’s the setup you need to understand the excerpt: I’m writing about TREES! Specifically, I’m writing about six giant redwoods in the Grove of Titans in California. The basic plot (so far) is this: Hesher is the oldest tree in the grove at 2,762 years old. Dooser, the tree growing next to him, is quite a bit younger but is the tallest tree in the grove. Since the two trees grow so close to one another, they are practically best friends.

One night, Hesher secretly tells Dooser that he is tired of living—he’s lived so long he feels like he’s seen everything and is tired of every day feeling the exact same. He doesn’t tell Dooser to kill him, but he tells him that it would be a great favor to him if ever an opportunity would arise for Dooser to somehow shorten his life.

(I know that sounds like the most morbid, emo plot ever, but Hesher is looking at death from an optimistic standpoint—he realizes that he’s been alive a very, very long time and feels in part like it’s time for the next step, which is to become part of the earth once more and be recycled back into nutrients for other trees).

Anyway. One night there’s a pretty bad wind storm that’s powerful enough to shake even the redwoods. After some thought, Dooser determines that this is one of those opportunities Hesher had been talking about, so during a particularly big gust of wind, Dooser lets one of his larger branches fall on Hesher. This causes the older tree to collapse (he was partially rotted through in the lower portion of his trunk) and he is mostly uprooted once he falls to the ground

The other trees, of course, are extremely upset by this, as they know that Hesher will now die a slow death on the forest floor. Some of them blame Dooser and claim that the “accident” was no real accident. Dooser, however, keeps quiet about this, as he knows that if he tells them about Hesher’s wishes, he’d be disrespecting him and his authority as the oldest tree.

Following this storm, there is an extremely hot and dry period with no rainfall and very little relief from an abnormally hot summer. Dooser starts been spending his nighttime talking to the fallen Hesher, keeping him company, but one night Hesher falls asleep as the sun sets while Dooser stays awake at night. However, he realizes that Arrodine, the tree across the grove, is awake and he starts talking to her. The two are about the same age and have been friends for a long time, but they had grown apart recently, partially due to the branch incident. This is their first one-on-one conversation in a long time.

(Note that this is unedited NaNoWriMo blathering, so apologies for the lack of quality.)

But one of those rare nights during which Hesher slept, during the midst of the drought when there was still no rain in sight, Dooser found that he was not alone in the dark. Around sunset, Hesher had fallen into a sleep that had started out restless but progressed rather rapidly into a deep, motionless sleep. It was rare for trees to be completely still, even when asleep, but Hesher was so completely exhausted that there was not even a flutter of his leaves, save for the bit of motion caused by the winds that managed to make it to the forest floor. Dooser didn’t know if Hesher’s stillness was due solely to exhaustion or to the death that was slowly taking over his body. He didn’t want to think about the latter option.

But as he stood towering into the night sky, unable to sleep as always and keeping a watchful eye over his fallen friend, he realized that Arrodine was awake across the grove. He couldn’t see her, of course, save for the dim glow of moonlight flickering against her leaves and coating the rough edges of her sheaths of bark in a velvet-like glow. But he could tell by the way she was moving that she wasn’t asleep like the others.

He ventured to speak to her, but as soon as he spoke her name he knew it had been too soft for her to hear. He was so used to speaking to Hesher, who was much closer and much quieter (Arrodine would have to hear him over the rustle of her great mass of leaves; Hesher wasn’t able to move his leaves like he used to) that his voice now naturally took a quieter, more gentle tone than it did during the day.

But to his surprise, the large tree answered from across the grove. “Dooser? Are you awake?”

He gave a rustle of his branches in confirmation. “Can’t sleep?” he asked her, relieved to find that he wasn’t going to have to spend the night alone in silence.

“I can’t,” she replied. There was a hesitation before she spoke again. “I…I’m thirsty.” Though there was an undertone of shame in her admittance to this fact—she never liked to admit discomfort—there was also a great sense of relief in her voice. Dooser suspected she would probably never admit such a grievance to any other tree in the Grove.

“I’m thirsty, too,” Dooser said, hoping to validate her complaint by stating that he felt the same way. “I wish it would rain. We all need it so badly.”

“I hate this drought,” Arrodine said. “I hate not having enough water. I hate being so dry. It makes it easier for the bugs—” She paused, giving her massive trunk a quick torque—one that was enough of a twist to disrupt the dozens of bark beetles that had chewed their way through her dry, brittle bark and had made a passage to her inner trunk. They scuttled out and over her rough surface, their shells glittering in the moonlight, and disappeared into the forest floor from whence they came.

Arrodine resumed her sentence. “—it makes it easier for the bugs to latch on and chew on my bark. They’re trying to get to my heartwood. I’m surprised they haven’t yet in this dryness.”

Dooser looked across at her. She was no more illuminated than she had been when they first started speaking, but the twist of her trunk left her leaves in motion and they glimmered like twinkling stars against the dark night. The great presence that was her trunk groaned and creaked as it settled back into place. For a brief moment, Dooser’s attention turned to Hesher, whom he could see slightly better owing to the tree’s supine position on the forest floor. Hesher was clearly illuminated by the moon, and Dooser could tell that he was still in a deep sleep. He was in such a sleep, in fact, that a conversation with Arrodine wouldn’t wake him.

So Dooser spoke again. “I’m sorry about your beetles,” he said earnestly. Arrodine had been plagued on and off by the bark beetles and similar other pests for as long as she had been growing opposite of him. What made her more of a frequent target than any of the other trees around her, Dooser didn’t know. Perhaps it was because the sheer size of her trunk made it almost impossible for her to monitor every inch of it every second of the day. Dooser himself had a hard enough time doing that, and he was probably a fourth of her size, volume wise. He tried to change the subject to something a little bit more optimistic, though he found himself unable to talk about anything but water. “I can’t wait ‘till it rains.”

“Neither can I,” she replied. “I almost forgot what it’s like to drink from saturated soil. My roots are as deep as they can get and they’re starting to run out of moisture. If only there was a way to get closer to the ground in order to dig deeper and—” She let her sentence trial off. Dooser felt her glance toward Hesher, who lay as close to the ground as any redwood could possibly get. He realized that she didn’t find it appropriate to talk about such a thing when their oldest member lay dying on the forest floor.

“Do you think Hesher will make it ‘till it rains?” He asked, thinking about the fallen tree.

“Dooser! It’s not right to talk about such a thing. Of course he’ll make it to the rain.”

“You don’t know that,” Dooser countered. “I don’t know that. I don’t think even Hesher knows that. It depends on a lot of things.”

She spoke after a bit of hesitation. “Like how many roots he has still functioning,” she eventually said, as if to rationalize what factors were needed in order for the old tree to live until the drought had ceased.

“Yes.”

“And how deep they are.”

“Yes.”
“And whether or not there’s a fire.”

“Don’t talk about fire,” Dooser was quick to comment, shuddering at the thought of flames ripping through the dehydrated forest. “It’s too dry for there to even be clouds. No chance of them, so no chance of lightning.”

They were quiet for a moment or two.

“I’m starting to think that half the forest won’t even make it until the rain,” Arrodine said finally. “It’s so dry. We’re so thirsty. When the sun comes up in the morning, I think to myself, ‘this is it, it’s going to start turning around today, it can’t be this dry forever.’ But then I see those firs behind you—there’s five of them—who sit in a sunny patch all day long—I see the dread that overcomes them as the sun’s rays hit the very tops of their branches and then slowly descend down their entire trunks. They’re suffering, Dooser. They’re brittle and they look almost ready to collapse. And as the day goes on I see no relief in the dryness, and the sun just keeps shining on those firs. They’re so relieved when the sun goes down. So am I. I’m starting to like the night more and more.”

Dooser didn’t quite know what to say to this. “It will rain,” was his weak, unconvincing response. “It always rains. I’ve been through bad droughts before. It always rains.” He stopped. Arrodine said nothing in response, so he said, “I like the nights, too.”

“I hear you talk with Hesher,” she said softly, almost gently, as if she were forbidden from doing so. “Every so often I wake up for a few minutes or so; you’re always talking when I wake up like that. Do you talk to him a lot?”

“Every night,” Dooser replied with a bit of caution. He didn’t want to accidentally make her feel guilty for not speaking to the old redwood as much as she had when he’d been standing, but he also didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that it was one of his branches that had downed Hesher in the first place—a fact about which he was sure the other trees thought he should feel guilty. He added, “does that bother your sleep?”

“No,” she answered. “Not at all. I like the sound of it, of the two of you talking. It’s almost—” She paused, thinking, and Dooser suspected she was going to say that it was almost like old times—like when Hesher had still been standing.

But instead she said, “It’s calming. I like hearing conversation when I wake up. It makes the nights not as lonely, especially now that I’m starting to prefer them to the day.”

They were silent for a moment, with nothing but the dry sound of their branches swaying in the hot wind. Even at night they couldn’t escape the heat in its entirety.

Dooser said, “I miss talking to you, Arrodine. Remember how we used to talk at night so often?”

“I do,” she replied. “I miss it too.”

In the silence that followed, a memory was shared between the two trees: a memory of their younger selves staying up well past sunset until the others of the Grove went to sleep, and then, in hushed tones, discussing anything and everything they could think of. Apart from Hesher, Dooser’s relationship with Arrodine had been the closest relationship he’d ever had to another being. The fact that they had been slowly drifting apart in the sense that their nightly conversations had grown more and more infrequent—not to mention shorter and shorter—was a fact that he hadn’t wanted to face up until this point. But here it was, staring straight at him.

Across the Grove, he heard Arrodine shift her branches restlessly. Was it the silence getting to her? Or the memories? Or possibly just the heat?

“We should start talking like that again,” he said to break the uncomfortable silence.

“I’d like that,” she said.

“It will be just like it was, back when we were younger. And shorter,” he laughed, referencing himself.

She laughed, too. “And smaller.” She creaked her trunk for emphasis.

“We should talk again soon,” he said, excited about the prospect of revitalizing his relationship with the large tree across the Grove.

“Yes; soon.”

“After—” It was Dooser’s turn to stop himself. After what? He couldn’t help his gaze from traveling down to Hesher. The fallen tree lay still in his deep sleep. For now, he was oblivious to the heat still hovering in the air, making the other trees and plants and creatures uneasy and uncomfortable. He was oblivious to the extreme lack of water plaguing the forest, this by virtue of the majority of his roots either being ripped from their anchoring or simply snapped as he had fallen. He was oblivious to the passing of time that would once again bring a new day and would bring him, thus, one day closer to his death.

And he was oblivious to the fact that this inevitable death of his was now being used as a marker in the future—a point at which Dooser could resume his nightly talks with Arrodine. He felt shame at even hinting at such a thing wash over his body, but Arrodine was quick to attempt to repair his blunder.

“After the rain?” She suggested.

Dooser heaved a sigh of relief, though he was sure that she was just being kind and had realized that he had unconsciously been referring to Hesher’s death.

“After the rain.” He ruffled his leaves as she did, trying in vain to relieve himself of some of the heat. He peered up into the night sky, its color a deep, velvety blue-black dotted intermittently with the pinpoints of stars. Even in the vast expanse toward which he reached, into which he towered further than any other living thing as far as he could see, Dooser could not escape from the heat. He could not escape from the here and now.

He let his branches come to a shuddering standstill, listening as the dry, browning leaves crackled against one another until they all became silent, not to speak again until he wanted them to, like a million dying creatures waiting for an excuse to voice their last thoughts.

He sensed Arrodine looking across at him and he looked back at her, the massive tree swaying her branches and creating the slightest breeze. Her leaves, like his, crackled like death.

“I hate this drought,” he said.

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One response

  1. […] way back to NaNoWriMo last year when I wrote that godawful story Arborhood? I was (loosely) basing the Redwoods in my story on the Redwoods in what is known as the Grove of […]

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