I was as perplexed as she seemed to be. I did not understand the question at all. You, of course, have known all along what was going on, with the dreams, with the whispering leaves, the babbling stream, but at that point I did not. I had never put any stock in the mythologies of my own world, and it had been years since I had thought of tall tales at all. My own childhood had admitted no space for such tales. She made no other move but stood gently swaying before me. She did not speak again but simply looked intently at me, expecting an answer to her questions: "What have I done to anger you? Why will you cut me down?"

Finally, after what seemed a long time, I replied. "I intend you no harm," I said. "I only intend to cut this tree. I need to build for myself a shelter, a place to live."

In a quiet voice she said, "But that is my tree, the tree and I are one. If you cut the tree you murder me. Do you need shelter so badly that you will do murder to have it? The dwarfs do not do so. The red dwarfs, the builders of buildings and makers of wooden thing do not cut the Holy Trees for their craft. The black dwarfs, the miners and diggers do not cut us down, not even to fire their smithies. And you are tall, too tall to be a dwarf. And dwarfs do not have golden hair. What are you then?"

"You are the tree?" I asked. I was beginning to suspect a hoax or to wonder if the women in front of me had escaped from some asylum. You must remember that I did not, at this point, know exactly where I was, nor did I know what had happened to me. I had apparently fallen asleep in one place and time, and awakened in quite another. But the concept of a completely different world was not one that had as yet entered my thinking. I had read none of the books in my youth that would have informed me in this matter, and as an adult admitted into my life nothing beyond what I could clearly and plainly understand. Perhaps, I thought, this was one of those extremist environmentalists that believed that man had no right even to be in the world. There was something strange about the woman, that was sure, but I did not believe for a moment that she was the tree. "Show me," I said. "Show me how you and the tree are the same."

She hesitated a moment, then walked past me to the tree, her arms outspread as if to embrace the tree. I guess that is what I expected she would do. But as she got closer to the tree it seems that she also, somehow, became translucent, then transparent, and then as she fully embraced the tree, she disappeared into it. I had never seen anything like it! The hair on the back of my neck was standing straight out. If it was a hoax, it was the best I had ever seen. I went around the tree, twice, to assure myself that she had not somehow created an illusion and merely hidden behind it. She was nowhere to be seen. I stepped back into the clearing a couple paces and looked up at the tree.

"Do you believe me now?" the voice said. I looked up. The tree was gently swaying, though there was very little breeze, much as the woman had swayed when we first met. "Do you still intend to murder me?"

"Where are you?" I asked.

"Right in front of you," she said. As I continued to look at the tree I began to see the resemblance between the tree and the lady of the wood. At a place on the trunk, just below the first of the leaves, there seemed to be a face, and as I watched I was almost sure I saw the lips moving to the words, "Can you still not see me?"

I told her that I could, although I was still not entirely sure of it myself. What a person can see depends a great deal on what they believe, and I was not sure I wanted to believe this. To believe this would mean that I was someplace completely foreign to me, completely outside the system of reason I had grown up with. If this were true, if trees had spirits and could talk, what else might be true? But I told her I could, and I tried to believe I could. And because we usually see what we believe, I soon could see her better, and the more we talked, the better I could see.

As best I could, I tried to explain my situation. I told her how I got there, and my concerns for shelter and food, and for the coming of winter. We had talked for some time, and I really was seeing her then, still beautiful, as beautiful as the lady I had first seen, but still a tree of the forest, stately and strong.

"We will help you." The voice was deep and strong, not her voice at all, and not from her tree. I turned suddenly and discovered that I was no longer in a clearing at all, but was now surrounded by trees. "We will indeed help you." It was the voice of an old and wizen oak, sound and strong, but with gnarly face and mossy hair. My heart was in my mouth! One beautiful tree lady was unusual, charming, exciting. An entire grove that could not only talk to you, but could move at will and surround you was quite alarming. There were now many trees around me, all nodding and swaying and murmuring agreement with the oak. I wondered if all of the trees of the forest were alive like that. And if they were, how would I ever build a shelter for the winter.

Copyrightę2001, John Nelson



Copyright © 2001 John Nelson, Hermit of Lantern Waste.
Created - March 25, 2001 ~ Revised April 21, 2001