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July 04, 2022

Trees

By Frederick Foote

Me, Aston Martin, our mom, Bella, our dad, Duncan, and my ten-year-old sister, Ada, were eating breakfast on a mellow Monday in May.

Ada and I were amused at our parents smiling at each other, holding hands, and sharing a quick kiss.

I said, "Hey, Mom, Dad, this is a PG-13 breakfast. You two need to cool it."

Ada added, "If you two want to kiss and stuff, Aston and I can go eat in the dining room."

Dad actually blushed, and Mom waved her finger at us and said, "Don't be little smart asses. These are normal PDAs."

Ada replied, "Normal on Wednesdays and Saturdays."

Mom and dad look surprised that we knew their schedule.

We all burst into laughter. I thought that this was going to be a really good day.

But as usual, Ada spoiled it for us.

In her most serious voice, Ada switched gears and said, "Do you know that we're living on stolen land?"

Mom replied, "Are you saying we stole this land?"

Dad added, "Hey, we have a deed and a mortgage. I don't think we're land thieves."

I ask, "Are you talking about when the settlers and government stole this land from the Native Americans?"

Ada shakes her curly head in frustration.

"No, I'm not talking about the Indians or your deed and stuff. We stole the land from the trees, and they want it back."

Mom, Dad, and I exchanged looks.

Dad asks, "Did you say the 'trees' want their land back?"

Mom looks amused. "They can buy us out, but not in acorns or cryptocurrency."

I snarl, "Ada, don't be silly. How do you know what trees want? Are you a tree whisperer now?"

Ada takes a deep breath, glares at us, and snaps. "Come on, guys. This is for real. The trees are serious."

I shout, "Bullshit!"

Mom gives me a warning look.

Dad gets serious. "Okay, honey. Explain it to us, okay."

Ada turns to me, "Aston, you're just a 13-year-old stupid boy. You get stupider every year."

I'm about to respond, but Dad grabs my arm and talks to Ada.

"Ada, we're listening. Please talk to us."

Ada turns to Dad, "Trees feel the climate change. They're part of a solution if they can take back their land."

Mom says, "Yes, trees are essential in controlling carbon dioxide. Our little five acres won't help much."

Ada pleas, "Mom, it's all of the homes out here. You add them all up. It's a lot."

I can't stand it anymore. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean the trees are after us. That's just crazy talk."

Ada is so mad she's crying and turning red-faced.

"Aston, trees talk. They talk all the time to each other and you if you listen. You are so damn stupid."

Ada storms out of the room, muttering about, "... ignorant, stupid-ass boys."

Ada is like that. She's strange, fierce, fearless, relentless. Sometimes she scares me. I think she scares us all.

Mom, Dad, and I sit there wondering who should check on her. Dad is the best choice. She has more in common with Dad than with Mom and me: Dad and Ada like the same science fiction movies, books, and chess.

But I go. I feel stupid for not giving her a chance to explain. In lots of ways, my weird little sister is the best person I know. I wish I had her passion and commitment.

I knock on her bedroom door. She opens it instantly, grabs my hand, and leads me out the back door to the 400-year-old oak down by the barn.

"Aston, sit with your back against the tree."

I obey.

"Ada, I'm sorry --"

"Shut up. Touch your head against the tree. Close your eyes. Go to sleep. Dream about trees."

"Ada, I --"

"Please, Aston. Please."

She sits beside me, holds my hand.

A current, feeble, barely feel it, danger, threat, everywhere --

I jerk awake. Leap away from the tree, pulling Ada with me.

"Shit! Ada! Ada did you, did you feel that? Did you feel it? What the fuck was that?"

I'm still holding my sister's hand. I'm shaking.

Ada is smiling. "You can feel it. Wow! I thought you were too old. It takes time to understand. You got to do it every day, okay?"

"Nokay! What was that? Ada, how do you know that was a tree we felt? It could have been a, a -- I, I don't know. How do you know for sure?"

Ada is excited and dancing around me.

"Now we both can talk to Mom and Dad. We can convince them to move, and maybe we can help other people too."

"Ada, you're not listening to me. I did feel something for sure, but I don't know what it was. I'm not sure I want to find out either. Shit! I mean, how could trees hurt us? They can't like, chase us down, you know."

"Aston, it is the trees. I know it. You just have to be patient and listen. And the trees are all around us. You can't get away from them."

"Hey, are you two okay?" It's Dad yelling as he and Mom move towards us.

Before we can respond, there is a horn honking as Brandon Yee and his wife, Canada, and their Daughters Yana and Noelle pull into our driveway.

The Yees jump out of their truck, grab shovels from the truck bed, and race towards us.

Mom and Dad meet Brandon and Canada as their kids race to Ada and me.

The Yees are our best friends and the only other people of color in Pine Valley. Yana is 14 and so, so hot. Her sister is 11 and battles Ada for the two-family chess championship.

Yana's eyes are wide open, and her face is sweaty.

Noelle's lips are tight and thin. She's breathing hard.

Yana grabs my hand. "Aston, we have to follow your sewer line to your septic tank."

"Why?"

"Come on. You'll see why."

Ada shouts, "It's the trees! Right? It's the trees."

Noelle grabs Ada's shoulders. "You already knew. How did you know?"

Yana adds. "Why didn't you guys tell us?"

Ada answers, "I didn't know what the trees were going to do. But I knew they were going to try to get their land back."

I ask, "What happened to you guys? Why do you have shovels?"

Yana pulls me toward our septic tank. The four of us follow the sewer line from the tank to our house. We all see the bright green grass patch about ten feet from the house.

"Oh, shit!" I say as I grab the shovel from Noelle. Yana and I dig down in the soft soil until the smell hits us.

We expose the plastic pipe and the roots that have riddled it.

We look up as Dad shouts from the west side of our house, "Over here! The roots are attacking the foundation. For God's sake, why?"

We find another attack on the foundation on the south side of our house.

We have a war council in our kitchen.

Brandon says we can replace the sewer lines, chop the roots back from the foundation, and make repairs. But if these attacks keep happening, our property will be worthless.

Mom says we can't call on our insurance companies because they will raise our already sky-high rates.

Canada suggests we rent porta potties while we make repairs.

Noelle asks, "What about the water lines?"

And that's when it hits us that we need to check the line from our well.

We rush out and pick up our shovels.

We find three roots inches away from our water line.

We chop them back and mark their locations.

Back in the kitchen, we are kinda stunned and scared.

I sit next to Yana. We hold hands.

Our landline rings, and we all jump.

Mom answers it. The conversation is brief and terse.

Mom announces that the Petersons about a half-mile north of us have root problems too. They want to come down and join us.

Five minutes later, we get another call from the Petersons. A tree limb has crushed their truck in the driveway, and they can't get their car out of the garage. They have called AAA and notified the sheriff.

Dad's the cook in our family. He starts pulling together a meal for us with Mom and Canada's help.

Mr. Yee is talking to Ada about how she knew the trees were going to attack.

"Mr. Yee, trees talk to each other through roots. All the trees near each other talk to each other."

"Ada, how long have you known about the trees talking?"

Ada shrugs, "I don't know, Mr. Yee. Maybe always, but lately, like the last three or four months, the talk has gotten really loud. That's when I started trying to listen in."

Noelle asks, "How did the trees sound before they got loud?"

"Like, like, a real low hum that you can barely hear."

We're all sitting there staring at Ada.

We all jump as the landline rings again. I answer it because I'm closer than our parents.

Alonzo Peterson tells me to tell my parents that the sheriff and AAA can't get through to their house. There are fallen trees blocking the road.

Yana asks Ada, "Can you ask the trees to stop?"

"No. It doesn't work like that. The trees don't speak English. It's like I get an impression like an emotion. Anger, fear, hate, and stuff like that. I can listen, but I don't know how to talk to them."

Mr. Yee chuckles. "So, the trees don't speak English. That's a good one. Do you have any suggestions on how we deal with the trees?"

"We give them back their land. That's all they want."

Mr. Yee sighs, "Easier said than done. Abandoning our home will bankrupt us. And where would we go?"

Noelle speaks emphatically, "To the city or the desert where there are no damn trees."

Yana replies, "It's not that simple, Sis. Cities get their electrical power from power lines that run through, guess what? The forest. Falling trees could shut down cities, like, in a minute."

I add, "And trees can knock out cell towers and telephone lines."

All five of us immediately check our cell phones. No one has any bars.

We just sit there for a second, looking at each other. I check the landline. There's no dial tone.

I'm shivering.

Ada speaks softly, "We have to leave now. The trees are not after us, but we have to leave now. Right now."

I ask, "Why? What else can they do to us?"

Ada yells, "Mom, Dad, we have to leave right now!"

The lights go out.

The eight of us are out of the house in three minutes flat. We are walking down Pine Tree Lane to town. But none of us know what we're going to find in town and where we're going to go from there.

Mom and Dad hug Ada and me, and they embrace and kiss each other.

That makes me feel a little better as we help each other over the fallen trees.

I think we're going to be all right if we stick together.

At least, I hope so as I trip over a root pushing up through the blacktop.






Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-02-28
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