Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The little girl ran ahead of her parents, who were completely immersed in the information board. She didn’t have time for information boards. She wanted the real thing.
The forest was deserted apart from the girl and her folks. It was late in the day, stormy and all other tourists had moved on to their hotels and pensions. Mom and dad had wanted to do the same thing, but their little adventurer had been persuasive. And rightfully so, she thought to herself. It wasn’t every day one got to see such a miracle of nature.
Thunder cracked across the sky as the girl entered the clearing, her eyes almost bursting with excitement. In front of her, majestic in its loneliness, stood the largest tree she had ever seen in her life. She had read that it was two thousand years old. She had read that it was as tall as a four story building. But nothing she read could possibly have prepared her for what she felt at that moment. The tree dwarfed her. She had to lean her head all the way back in order to see the top of it. As she did so, she lost track of all that happened around her. She didn’t hear the thunder crawling closer, didn’t feel the rain crashing down on her face, wasn’t moved by the wind jerking at every inch of her body. But she saw. She saw the tree.
The girl slowly moved towards the trunk, stepping over the fencing surrounding it, and placed her hand on it. It felt cool to the touch. Powerful. Wise. Full of experience. She added her other hand, then closed her eyes and listened. What she heard were the faint voices of times long past, the cries of animals, but mostly the slow and steady beat of a heart. The tree’s heart. It was wonderful. She leaned closer and placed her right ear against the trunk, then listened as this giant of the forest told her the story of his life.
He was not from this land. A massive storm had blown him across the vast oceans of the world, then laid him down gently in the fertile soil of this forest, where he had flourished. As the years passed, people of all colors had crossed his path, sometimes in peace, often in battle. Brave men had fallen at his feet, had been buried between his roots, sharing their own spirit and wisdom of the world. Brave men had fallen, and he had grown taller, stronger. Other trees used to accompany him, but as his roots expanded he drove them away, using up their minerals, slowly killing them. It had saddened him for decades, until the bitter loneliness and the passing time had placed a stone cold layer on his once warm bark. And so he had stood, reigning over the forest deck, learning the ways of the world from passing people who revered him. And so he still stood today.
The little spectator’s parents had entered the clearing as well, with a discretion that made the place seem like an ancient sanctuary. They were perfectly silent, standing hand in hand, watching their daughter as she whispered softly to the tree.
‘What is your name?’ she asked, eyes still firmly closed.
Flashing through her mind came hundreds of voices, in a multitude of languages, fighting to be heard. None of the names made any sense to the girl. Most of them were pompous, named after self-proclaimed heroes long forgotten, others tried in vain to capture the grandness of the tree, never understanding the true spirit of it. They were meaningless, empty. So the girl took a step back, took a deep breath, and voiced the two words that would settle the naming matter once and for all.
‘Big Tree!’ she said firmly.
It’s what he was. Mom and dad smiled as the girl rushed forward one more time to embrace her new friend.
The bark felt a bit warmer.