E. S. Oliver

The Difference of Trees and Humans

The light had a cloying weight about it as it beamed through my bedroom window. It was 6 am and my phone rang—I knew what awaited upon answering. He’s dead. My challenging and beloved father was no longer of this world, almost exactly one year after suffering a brutal stroke at the brainstem. The tears rolled down my cheeks, leaving trails like emotional slugs fleeing the salt mines contained within this complicated skull of mine.

I melted into the couch, staring out of my enormous living room windows, contemplating the spirits of trees as they watch their family slowly devoured by pine beetles. Did they realize they too were in danger, or did they think it was only the tree that stood beside them for decades who was under siege? Did they feel the life-energy draining from their fellow forest-mate as their roots kissed in the subterranean housing that collectively held them upright? Or was it only in the moment when fate yelled, “Timber!” that the full breadth of death was grasped? Did they mourn by shaking loose the spent needles from their boughs, or did they accept death as an inevitable part of the cycle—happily consuming the nutrients the fallen flora provided, aided by time and decay?

We homo sapiens are so different from trees. Physically trapped in one place their entire lives, trees are unable to change their circumstances and find themselves at the complete mercy of nature and humans. In juxtaposition, our species is able to change our circumstances on a whim. Wholly able to uproot our worlds and shape ourselves into whatever coiffed topiary we desire, the vast majority of us don’t. Most of us trap ourselves in the mental and physical forests we were introduced into as saplings. 

My father was the antithesis of human stagnancy—eternally refusing to accept his circumstances.  The master of reinvention, he was a jack-of-all-trades and master of quite a few. Always striving for something greater, his insatiable hunger led to a chronic internal void and a deep longing for fulfillment that never materialized. Being ripped from the soil invigorated him—a quality I didn’t inherit and often resented as I was reluctantly bounced from school district to school district as a child.

However, my resentment for the damage his emotional and circumstantial flightiness inflicted was entirely absent on the day of his departure. The only feelings that flooded my pained heart were ones of love and sympathy for what he’d endured over the last 365 days of his existence. My father, who hitched a ride on every airstream available to him, had been confined to a cage created by his body at the hands of fate. 

My eyes drifted from the anthropomorphized forest canopy to the heavens, where clouds began to morph themselves into faces of men and women who felt oddly familial, albeit unrecognizable. Blinking a few times and pondering if grief-hallucinating was in the DSM, I decided to simply observe rather than analyze, for the very first time in my 34-year-long life.

Eyes locked on the slideshow of familiar strangers—a man who bore payot appeared, followed by several more men who looked eerily like my father, his father, and his brothers—a realization illuminated like the light of a full moon on the darkest of landscapes:  I was witnessing my own ancestral forest in the sky. The fallen branches of my family tree greeted my father, who had wandered far from the woodlands in which he’d felt so stifled. My father, try as he might to escape, had been returned to the root system from whence he came.

As it turns out, we are not so different from trees after all.

E.S Oliver lives in the Colorado mountains with a gaggle of rescue dogs, alpacas and extremely loud ducks. Oliver’s work has appeared in the Las Vegas Sun and Beyond Words Literary Magazine.