By C. R. Peraino
Olivia towers beside the path through Jones Park. She is one of the tallest oaks in Jonestown. The acorn she grew from fell off a white oak that was the victim of a lightning strike hundreds of years ago. Her grooved trunk stretched high into the sky and her branches reach in every direction searching for sunlight.
Squirrels scamper up and down her bark looking for food and building nests in her branches. They’re the friends of oak trees. It’s true that squirrels eat acorns, the oak’s seeds, but they bury some to give them something to eat during the winter months. If the furry creatures forget where they buried an acorn, the little nut can grow into mighty oak trees. So, you see, Olivia and many of the other oaks in the park are alive because of forgetful squirrels.
Other plants surround Olivia too. Neighbors Billy Beech and Susan Shagbark Hickory trees grow close-by in the park. They are younger and smaller than Olivia. Hattie Huckleberry and Henrietta Hazelnut as well as other bushes also live beneath Olivia’s long zigzagging arms. It’s a happy community of greenery, each one doing their part to feed and protect the animals.
Late one March, snow clung to Olivia’s branches and hugged one side of her trunk, wedged in the large grooves of her bark.
“This has been a long winter,” Betty Beech said shaking her branches and gazing up at Olivia.
“You’re too young to remember the winter of ’08,” said Olivia barely moving a twig. “The snow was halfway up my trunk by the end of February. Of course I was only a hundred years old then and much smaller.”
Susan Shagbark shook her trunk in disbelief. “Only a hundred? How old are you now?”
Betty Beech shook her longest branch so that the snow on it landed on Susan Shagbark’s trunk. “Don’t you know to never ask a lady her age?”
“That’s okay,” said Olivia calmly, “I don’t mind. I’m two hundred and fifty years old and still growin’. You young’uns will be glad to know that my roots say the warm seasons are coming.
“That’s good to hear,” said Susan.
Three weeks later a warm wind came whistling through the park, just as Olivia predicted. It blew the snow from Olivia’s branches. As the wind blew harder Olivia’s branches swayed back and forth. She sighed as she felt stirrings of life flow up through her tall trunk into her branches.
“Ahhhhh, it never gets old, feelin’ new life when spring arrives!”
The ends of her branches formed brown buds.
Olivia pumped fluids into the tender new growth at the end of her stems and the buds began to expand. The edges of the brown buds began to turn red and green.
Soon red sprouts burst from the bud. They reminded Olivia of the fiery rays of the sun as it rose each the morning.
Betty Birch leaned toward Olivia and remarked, “Those are beautiful!”
Olivia smiled and lifted her branches a little higher so everyone in the park could see. “Thank you. My babies are always beautiful.”
Gradually a green and red shape with rounded edges began to fill out. Olivia named the new leaf Lester.
Lester was not alone. As other leaves filled out Olivia’s branches and she named each one. Nearby there were Larry, Linda, Lynn, Lou-Ann and so on. Those were only the ones close to Lester on his little branch. Lester looked around at all the branches each with hundreds of leaves and wondered how his mother could think of so many names beginning with L.
Olivia loved all her leaves. She sent water and minerals up to them through her trunk, and held them up to the sunlight. They loved her right back by making food for her with their chlorophyll. Lester had fun soaking up the sun and waving in the breezes that blew through the forest that summer. He and his branch mates watched all the people and animals pass below them on the path and sometimes they clapped together when they saw something really special. One time a Robby Rabbit scampered away from Freddy Fox just in time. Lester and his brothers and sisters almost wore themselves out applauding the occasion.
When Lester and his brother and sister leaves got bored with basking in the sun and making food, they picked on the leaves of the plants below. They told the leaves on the Huckleberry
that they should be ashamed about being close to the ground. Olivia scolded her leaves for picking on the other leaves, but they continued. They even mocked the plants with small pointy leaves and branches that sagged down that grew nearby, calling them “droopies” and “thinnies”.
Olivia told them they shouldn’t make fun of the plants closer to the ground because some day they would be at the same level as the other leaves.
“The Creator God made those plants too, and their leaves are as important and valuable to the park as you are,” she said. “It’s all part of His plan.
But they didn’t believe her. “How could that be?” they would ask. “We’re up here above them all.”
In September and early October the nights got longer and cooler winds blew. One morning a strange white covering chilled Lester. He turned to Olivia and asked, “What is this stuff?”
“It’s called frost,” she said. “It’s frozen water and the first sign that the cold season is almost here.”
As October continued, Lester and his branch mates began to turn more and more reddish in color. Lester looked around at the other trees and bushes and noticed that their colors were changing too. That is, all but the trees with the tiny needle like leaves; they stayed green.
Lester again asked Olivia about the meaning of this change. “The days are gettin’ shorter,” she said, “so you don’t need the green chlorophyll to make food for me anymore ‘cause I’ve stored up ‘nough food for the winter. Thank you. Now your true color’s comin’ out. Until now, it has been hidden by chlorophyll’s green color.”
Full of pride because of their bright new color, Lester and his branch mates mocked any leaf that was not a deep rusty red. “Look at us, everyone. Our red color is more beautiful than your yellow and orange.”
Olivia shook them. “Stop that bragging,” she said. “Your color is beautiful, but, mixed together with their colors, the forest is more beautiful.”
As October continued and the days shortened, Lester noticed less flow of fluids between him and Olivia. One mid October afternoon he saw his branch mate Larry drift past him.
“Larry,” he called. “Where are you going?”
A fading voice reached him from below. “I have a sinking feeling,” he said.
Later that week Linda and Lynn floated by. Lester started to shake on his stem as he looked at the empty branches that surrounded him. Using what little connection he had with Olivia, Lester asked why this was happening.
“Don’t you love us anymore?” he asked
“Of course I do,” she said, “but trees like me that have stiff up-reaching branches have to lose their leaves so that when it snows the weight of the snow on top of the leaves would not break my branches. Also, during the winter, there is less rain and the snow won’t melt into the ground until spring. If I kept you and your brothers and sisters, I would lose all my moisture and die.”
“What happens to me?” asked Lester.
“You will fall off my branch onto the ground along with the other leaves from the trees and bushes,” replied Olivia.
Lester lowered his eyes “You mean I’ll be down there with ‘them’?’”
“Yes, you’ll all be together, except the ‘thinnies’ as you called them. They will stay on their trees. They’ve been designed by The Creator to allow the snow to slide off their sagging branches so they won’t break. Also, their ‘leaves’ have a waxy material that allows them to keep their moisture during the dryer winter time.”
“You’ll see.” Those were the last words Lester heard from Olivia.
Lester was confused by the answer. “Who’s this Creator and what is His plan for me?”
Shortly after, Lester felt the connection between him and the tree he had known all his life start to loosen and, when a strong cold wind arose, he floated to the ground.
“Yuk,” he said as the wind blew him into one of the huckleberry bushes.
“Well, look who’s here.”
Lester turned over and looked at a leaf that had just fallen off the bush. “Welcome to the world of the ‘ground dwellers’. You’re not so high and mighty now, I see.”
“I don’t want to be down here with you, but my parent tree says this is all part of a ‘Plan’. Do you know what she means?”
“Yes. You see we would freeze when the weather gets colder and our plants can’t protect us. So The Creator allows our trees to only keep buds, stems, and twigs through the winter because they can survive. When we’re on the ground we can protect the roots of our parents from the extreme temperatures. What’s even better, after a couple of seasons on the ground, the stuff we are made of will return to the soil and be used by our parents to make new branches and leaves. So you see, we are all equally valuable.”
“You mean that someday I will live again? That’s great!”
“Its all part of The Creator’s plan,” he said as another gust of wind lifted the Hackberry leaf out of sight.
Now Lester knew what Olivia had been talking about and felt good about being with the other leaves. He snuggled up to the rest of the leaves around him.