The sun had set on a bright August day. The family of trees that sat on the corner of Elm and Spruce streets didn’t eat a traditional dinner (you know, because of the whole photosynthesis thing), but they did come together nightly.
An oak, a sycamore, a fir, and a crabapple tree shared this corner and these evenings together for generations. And those were tree generations, not the brief 25-year human generations. During family dinner, the trees shared gossip, debated climate change, and always, ALWAYS traded stories on how they had messed with the humans that day.
There were the oft-repeated tales of roots tripping up frolicking children, leaves clogging up gutters, and all the times they stole kites.
Or maybe it’s the way that humans have completely disregarded the living, breathing, environment around them. But screwing with people was the favorite pastime for these trees. Together, they were all a real thorn in the sides of the people on Elm and Spruce Streets.
Recently, things had become increasingly competitive with each trying to one-up the others, and this dinner, like most, quickly settled into familiar patterns. Oak frequently gave play-by-play of its proudest moments, and while the others never actually witnessed them, they knew its prowess for bombarding the locals. Even on a windy day, Oak dropped acorns to maximize velocity and always keep the sharp end down.
“You guys shoulda seen it,” Oak bragged. “I hit Mrs. Santino and all four of her kids on the way to soccer practice. I was making it rain! She put the container of orange slices onto the roof of the car to rush those brats in, and then drove off before retrieving them!”
Fir laughed its wispy laugh while trying to figure out how to one-up Oak. “That’s great. I really gotta hand it to you,” Fir offered. “And speaking of hands, I absolutely coated those fifth graders’ hands with my stickiest sap. You know the ones who are obsessed with playing manhunt recently?” Fir explained that even though it didn’t evoke any tears, that the pièce de résistance was that he also glazed their pants and sleeves when they weren’t looking. “You just know they are home right now, gunking up and ruining their parents’ yuppy upholstered furniture.”
“When we see all those Pottery Barn trucks in a month, we’ll know why!” lauded Crabapple, between guffaws.
Crabapple pelted passersby with bigger and duller projectiles, but it didn’t have the strength or accuracy of Oak. But even when Crabapple missed, it still knew how to irritate humans, leaving dingy fruit strewn about the ground like sticky, rotting landmines. Stepping on them often resulted in rolled ankles or at least, gummy, disgusting residue in sneaker treads. “You guys may have won the day,” Crabapple conceded, “but it’s getting close to my busy season. I’m already planning to ruin the Rosens’ driveway after the leave for vacation. If it times out with a drought, like I think that it will, they’ll be scraping it off ’til next summer!”
Sycamore really appreciated the way Oak, Evergreen, and Crabapple used their talents in the most devious ways. But Sycamore didn’t have acorns, fruit, or sap to weaponize. It had always taken a more cerebral approach but recently its classic move, full shade—achieved by fanning out its leaves to block out the sun—was merely a benign annoyance.
In fact, Sycamore’s shade made it a favorite for neighborhood helicopter parents preoccupied with sunscreen and UV protected shirts. Sure, its roots had forever been tangling and disrupting underground pipes, mucking up the potable water sources, but long plays weren’t sexy.
Not just mentally, but perhaps the others could tell Sycamore was feeling its age, seeing it waver more in strong winds. But the others couldn’t possibly know that Sycamore’s insides were actually being eroded by a fungus, slowly hollowing its limbs and sucking its strength.
“Hey Syc,” Oak started in, “you shield anyone from a refreshing breeze today?”
Fir laughed its wispy laugh before getting in on the fun. “I bet Syc’s creakiness was a real irritation in disrupting conversations.”
And just to keep up, Crabapple added, “Guys, I don’t think Sycamore can do anything meaner than block a nice sunset these days.”
This afternoon Sycamore had several kids climbing all over it, but instead of resigning itself to friendly tree-fort status, Sycamore had an idea.
“You know that twerp Daniel, from down the block? The kid who is always snapping twigs off of us? Well he was showing off for some of his friends today, proving he could get higher into my branches then they could… So that chunker is getting pretty far up along a branch, and I went for it.”
“I gave it up. Let go of the entire limb and watched him fall all the way down. Even popped up a root for him to land on.”
What Sycamore didn’t tell them was that the kid was climbing one of its more parasitic limbs and all Syc did was lean into its weakness, sacrificing and shedding it to drop the child back down to terra firma, and reality.
Oh how the other trees hooted and hollered! “Brilliant! Revolutionary!” shouted Fir.
“TIMMBERRRR!” spoofed Oak, extending the syllables playfully. Crabapple bowed in awe.
The three others realized that no matter how many rings might be inside Sycamore’s trunk, it still had the vigor and pride of a much younger tree. Tomorrow was another day and the four trees were reminded that their best days could be both behind them and ahead.