I hope you enjoy this story! I wrote it for our most recent Uxbridge Writers' Circle meeting - it was my word challenge piece. The words I had to incorporate are in italics.
Talking of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle, we are thrilled that Ted Barris will be joining us for our meeting on the afternoon of April 4 and you're invited! There's more information below.
Wise Old Oak
The gnarly English oak must have been over two hundred years old. The thick knobby branches extended into the field and looked too heavy to remain attached to the trunk.
Rodney attempted to conjure up images of what the majestic oak could have witnessed during its long life. He touched the rough bark but yanked his hand away as if it had been burned. Goosebumps made the hair on his arms stand erect. He’d felt the tree tremble. It must have been an earth tremor—although he’d not experienced one before.
Rodney took two deep breaths, using his stomach muscles as his therapist had taught him, and regained his composure. He looked around and couldn’t see anything to confirm whether or not the earth had moved. It was a conundrum. But, after a minute or two Rodney shook his head and turned his gaze back to the tree. It captivated him. It was as if the oak was a magnet pulling him closer.
He walked around its trunk—it wasn’t a short stroll. The bare soil was scattered with acorn cups. Not much light or moisture managed to penetrate the leaves and branches overhead.
Rodney tripped over something and stumbled, taking two quick steps to stop himself from falling. He turned around to check what had caused his misstep just as an arched, bulbous root disappeared into the ground leaving a small mound in the hardened earth. Rodney was quivering and there was definitely no earth tremor this time. He must be having a full-blown mental breakdown, not the usual cluster headaches or migraines. He was used to those. His brain was playing tricks on him.
He sat down at the base of the tree and lent against the trunk, but it was as if it wasn’t there and he tumbled backwards. He sat up. He was trapped in the centre of the tree. Whatever opening had caused him to topple backwards wasn’t there anymore. His heart was thumping so much that it rocked his body and resounded in his ears.
He shut his eyes. Obviously, he’d lost his mind. His therapist talked of triggers. What had happened that morning to cause his meltdown? He’d suffered the usual diatribe from his father about his lack of interest in the family estate, relegation of his duty to the family, contempt for aristocratic living, and desire to be a published poet. But this attack was one of many that had occurred during the past two years since he dropped out of Cambridge.
Rodney detested shooting parties, fox hunting, dinners with boring people, and charity galas. But he hadn’t left his comfortable life on the estate. He wasn’t willing to take the risk of venturing out on his own.
His eyes opened abruptly. Someone was talking to him but he couldn’t see them. His behind was cold and damp, but his palms were sweaty. He was still in the heart of the tree and it was hard to see anything until a cloud of fireflies, or something like it, flickered their lights around him.
The voice continued to talk but he had to concentrate in order to make out the words it was uttering. He wanted to stand up but his legs wouldn’t obey the messages from his brain. Rodney concluded that he must be completely off his rocker, as his father would say, but rather than succumb to his stress, he relaxed and breathed. The voice grew louder and more effusive.
He listened. Was it the voice in his own head? They say you can hear voices if you’re disturbed. It didn’t seem like that though.
Now he could decipher some of the words. Whoever it was, was speaking to him and knew his name. The voice admonished him for merely existing rather than living a fulfilling life. It sounded a bit like his father, and for a moment he wondered if it was an elaborate trap made by him to threaten Rodney, so he’d comply with his father’s wishes.
There was a sudden flash of light as if a movie was about to be shown on the inside wall of the hollow trunk. He watched two. The first was of him on his current path in life—if you could call it that—sitting in his room, writing poems, and playing video games. This movie seemed to last forever and was repetitive. There was no suggestion that his poems were ever published. He grew old sitting in the same chair staring out at the same lawn and terraces. The second movie showed him returning to university, graduating, and pursuing a career, but he couldn’t grasp what his profession was—pictures of the oak tree flitted onto the screen, confusing him. A family photo appeared for an instant and he wasn’t sure what he saw, but he thought there was a wife with him and two smiling children, all standing under the oak.
The voice concluded that Rodney had the choice between a spurious life as a poet—noting his poems were second rate at best—or a life that would make a difference. Rodney was at a fork in the road. The voice implored him to make his own life, a real one, not one based on what someone else wanted, or one based on false hopes simply to rebel against his father.
Rodney felt a hard, rough surface push against his back and gazed around him. He was shaded from the strong sun by the oak tree’s enormous canopy. It must have been an incredible dream but it felt so real. So real, in fact, that it had shaken him up. Why had he dropped out of Cambridge? Why did he stare at blank computer screens (when he wasn’t playing video games) waiting for the elusive words to come? Why did he hide in his rooms? What did he want to do?
He stood up and stared at the oak tree. It was old and wise whereas he was young and foolish. The oak tree was so grand, so majestic, so significant.
Rodney says that’s when the idea struck him. He’d train to be a psychologist. After all he’d seen plenty of them at work over the years, but he wanted to be effective like this tree and truly make a difference.
He surmounted several academic challenges and, for inspiration he’d recall the lights that danced around him when he was inside the tree. He chose to think of them as glimmers of hope for the future.
In honour of the wise old oak tree, his research focused on biophilia which loosely interpreted means peoples’ need to have a connection with other living beings, including nature and plants, as well as animals. Rodney became an expert on applied biophilia, his research results having shown how nature, including trees, can ease mental health issues and other problems.
Rodney’s sure that the wise old oak agrees.
He smiles for the camera as his wife and two children stand with him under the oak’s protective canopy.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2023
Note: Biophilia is a thing! In an earlier post, I talk about the Youth and Animal Pilot Project. This was an exciting program that linked shelter dogs with young offenders. The premise was that training the shelter dogs, so they would be suitable for adoption, would help the youth with anger management issues and other challenges. The program's most amazing and heart-warming aspect for me was the relationships that grew between the dogs and the youth.
It was biophilia at work! This is the link to the post: https://www.vickyearle.com/post/and-now-for-something-completely-different-yapp
Ted Barris is coming!
Ted Barris was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in December last year for 'advancing our understanding of Canadian military history as an acclaimed author, journalist and broadcaster.'
This is Ted's most recent book. He has written many non-fiction books featuring Canadians' contributions and sacrifices during wartime.
I have read several of them, including Battle of the Atlantic.
The Uxbridge Writers' Circle is delighted that Ted is joining us for our meeting on the afternoon of April 4. You are invited! Please email me email@example.com to reserve your spot and to receive more information!
For more information on Ted and his wonderful books, go to https://tedbarris.com/