From a Poem, A Flash Fiction Story
Earlier this week on Twitter, I came across this sweet little poem/saying. I remarked to the person who tweeted it that it felt like a story was stirring in me because of these words:
What if our religion was each other,
If our practice was our life,
If prayer, our words.
What if the temple was the earth,
If forests were our church,
If holy water, the rivers, lakes, and oceans….
If love was the center of our being.
~ Ganga White
He challenged me to a flash fiction story. I usually write flash fiction on the second Monday of the month, anyhow. But I immediately felt the words of a thousand voices singing a song to my heart, invoking my imagination.
The story that follows references the above poem, but in a subtle way. I let my friend on Twitter know that I didn’t know what would emerge from this poem. I had no idea of the story that would take shape, only that there would be words that would have to be told.
The story that follows could have been a non-fiction essay on how “we need to take care of the earth” and preserve our natural habitats, instead of mining, pillaging, deforesting, hunting, clearing, burning, logging, digging, bulldozing, selling, developing, polluting, or otherwise exploiting our natural resources. But I feel like storytelling “packs a more powerful punch,” if you will.
I have always believed that our Native brothers and sisters were some of the most progressive among us: just as with any group of people, they had things they could improve upon. But overall, they learned to respect and live harmoniously with Mother Earth. They were in tune with the rhythms of the planet and had a certain intuitive voice that could communicate with other realms that the rest of us have yet to understand.
One day we will honor our Native brethren as progressive Seers who held a deep and mysterious knowledge with the universe. And that is where my story will take you…
The Tree People
KirPook smiled down at the wise man. The candles glowed around them as KirPook kept vigil over Taplok – the one who had been able to unite all the tribes. Not only the tribes but also the Animal People, the Rock People, the Tree People and even the Cloud People.
Taplok reached over to KirPook. His gnarled, shaky hand had seen so many sunrises, friendships, births, deaths, wars with other tribes, and he had signed so many treaties. “Tell me the stories about the Tree People again,” Taplok mumbled to KirPook.
“But you already know these stories, Dear One. You were the one who lived them.”
“It does not matter.” An imaginary adventure into the wild forests of the nearby jagged mountains made his eyes dance.
KirPook looked down at him and smiled. He thought about how Taplok was a warrior who was standing at the precipice of a new realm. Soon he would end the saga of his human existence, ready for what was to come.
“Very well.” KirPook’s mind buzzed as visions of the story flashed through his mind.
There once was a silver-haired man who had spent many moons alone in the forest. He learned to understand every movement of the trees, every sound in the woods, and the omens of a red sunrise. He lived in silence.
One day, as he collected sap from a piñon pine tree, he felt something wrap around him. It was the lowest pine branch, and it squeezed his arms and chest. Taplok’s back went rigid as he tried to interpret what was happening. He struggled to wrestle free.
“Taplok.” It was a powerful voice, booming and hollow like the wind. He did not answer, but instead just listened. He looked around for the source.
“Do not be afraid. We have been watching you.” Taplok looked up. The bark of the pine tree seemed to have formed a face. It spoke again. “There. You see? You have nothing to fear.”
Taplok felt a warmth from the branch. A sense of calm came over him. He no longer had to listen with his ears. The voice now came through his heart and mind.
“You have walked in peace for many seasons. We know your heart. Though the humans have not respected the tree people, you have shown that not all are the same. You bring peace…and love in your footsteps. Let us unite.”
Taplok smiled. He felt the singing voices of the other tree people in the forest and their collective presence, though not one tree had so much as moved a needle. The pine tree relaxed its grip on Taplok. Peace with the Tree People, at last, came across his mind.
“I am honored at this partnership. I offer you tobacco in gratitude for the sap you give, the branches you sacrifice for fire, and the pine needles I use for bedding. How can I repay you for your kindness?”
“Our cousins from over the mountain tell us that some people are coming. They do not respect the forest and do not walk in unity with us. We need your voice. We need you to help protect the Tree People.”
“But how? I am but one human. They will come with their machines. They will come in large numbers,” Taplok said.
“Our cousins have communicated to us through the ground. They have given us the information necessary to ensure our survival. Alas, for them, they figured it out too late. You must trust us. If you can do this, then you will be able to coexist with us for decades, even centuries to come.”
Taplok nodded. “So it shall be.”
The machines came on a cloudy day. The Cloud People had seen them coming and warned the Tree People.
“Are you ready?” Taplok asked them.
“We are,” he heard their collective voice.
A plump man drove up to Taplok. He wore an ill-fitting gray suit and drove a large truck. Its tires kicked up dust in the dirt road.
“We have orders to log these trees,” he told Taplok. Taplok hadn’t approached him, but instead stood at a distance at the edge of the forest. “You can see the permit here.” Taplok couldn’t recognize the man’s accent, but knew he was definitely not from the area.
Taplok smiled. “Is that so?”
“You must clear out within the hour. Anyone with you must clear out, as well.”
“Is that so?”
The man furrowed his brow and wiped his forehead with a cloth. “We begin bulldozing whether you’re still here or not. Fair warning.”
Taplok went back to sit on a tree stump to wait for the appointed time. It seemed like only minutes had gone by when he saw the first bulldozer coming down the road. He closed his eyes. “Here we go,” he thought.
Taplok stood up with his arms crossed. The Cloud People retreated, leaving a bright blue sky. Taplok looked back at his fellow trees and smiled. He stepped aside as the first bulldozer drove past him by about 20 feet. As it was about to begin digging at tree roots, its engine went dead. Taplok watched as the driver emerged, scratching his head. Another bulldozer went for another spot. The same thing happened.
Frustrated, the man in a suit drove up with his truck. It, too, quit. One after another, two trucks, four bulldozers, and one lumber truck all went dead at the entrance to the forest, as if they had created their own metal graveyard.
Taplok retreated into the forest. He left handfuls of lumberjacks standing around wondering how they were going to get out of this predicament. It was miles to any sort of service station.
Taplok’s footsteps in his soft shoes made no sounds as he walked and smiled at the trees. All around him, he could hear the rejoicing of many voices celebrating and chanting. Victory.