The Solemn Sequoia

by Alex Schweich

The storms it weathered. Standing tall and strong in silent solidarity with its sisters, tinted reddish-brown from ceaselessly bearing witness to the setting sun. Reinforcing its foundations layer by layer over hundreds of years, the ramparts sheltered its vulnerable veins from the barrage of heat, cold, rain, snow. Stretching towards the heavens, the lattice of branches, each as wide as a man is tall, rustled by the whistling wind. An occasional creak or moan, some solemn secret whispered in a language known only to the forest. Steadfast, resolute, a monument driven into the granitic soil of the Sierra Nevada range.

Or so it once was. The branches now were dry, parched, withering despite their hefty size. A flock of birds ceased their singing, disrupted by an indiscernible tremor coursing through the gnarled limbs. Leaves released their delicate hold, slowly fluttering to the ground. At times, the aged Sequoia seemed to sway, succumbing to a spell of vertigo reserved only for creatures who could think and speak. The vibrant hum of the natural world was proof of that consciousness, an esoteric awareness that linked its being to the subtle breath of the planet. The Sequoia could flourish or wilt, shed a teardrop of sticky sap or lift its branches into the curve of a smile. The Sequoia could speak in these ways, but no one bothered to listen, so the wizened tree appeared to them silent.

An airy melody floated up on the breeze. It came from a boy waltzing far below through the undergrowth, a lighthearted hum that resonated in the Sequoia’s bones. Something that captured the visual awe—that pastel blend of luscious colors—with the sounds of seclusion and peace, those ephemeral moments when a bird sang or a footstep crunched on a fallen leaf—the kinds of melodies usually found only in the heart of this range-bound woodland. The gentle murmur was a beautiful thing to behold, but the boy kept it to himself under the volume of a whisper. Little did he know that a lonely tree was listening, wishing that its own refrain could be heard in turn.

The evening was growing tired, the sun slipping past the peaks on the horizon. Close behind the boy followed a father, a mother, and their daughter. With their arrival in the clearing, the boy stopped singing, much to the Sequoia’s dismay. It was more than that; the others brought a clamor, a strangled cacophony of garbled inflections mixed with aimless movements and meaningless chatter. There was no grace in the way they talked, filling a void with dialogue just so there wouldn’t be silence. The Sequoia longed to show them the beauty of a single moment of serenity, at least before its time was done. Something wondrous could be found in the stillness of its song.

After setting up their own shelter in the middle of the clearing, the parents pitched a tent for the children, searching for a protective awning that could guard them from the chill of the incoming twilight air. They found such solace under a thick, foliaged arm extending from the massive trunk of the Sequoia, fingers dressed in leaves reaching towards a distant companion. The wiry limbs of the ancient tree groaned an almost harmonious tune—yet haunting, as if to scream, “Get away,” in a language foreign to the family. Its leaves rustled violently, begging for just a few feet to the left, but the outburst was disregarded.

After settling into his sleeping bag below the tree’s fearful gaze, the boy began humming quietly once more. The Sequoia tried to squeeze out whatever moisture it had left—just enough for a single precious drop to slide down its face.

*

The night was bare and devoid of sound, save for a creaking like that of a rusted hinge and a distant melody whispered far below. A yawning and moaning, the strain of supporting a burden three thousand years old. The sorrowful Sequoia mourned the hazy hum of the boy’s musical arrangement seeping through the porous fabric of the tent, wafting upwards until it brushed the edge of the canopy, waiting to evaporate.

It almost seemed like the boy’s song could mend the frail limbs, but the weight of time’s end was too much to bear. As the dry rot severed the last few fibers clinging to its trunk, the exhausted branch plummeted with a merciless whoosh and a deafening crash, followed by absolute silence that even the parents’ agonized screams couldn’t break.

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