It takes some guts for a birch to grow its first branch. So too for Benny. While our little seedling pulls all his courage from the ground, scents travel back and forth through the forest. Seraph the Oak, on the open space a bit ahead, has a message.
“Fellow trees from the forest, the tree awards are about the take place once again. It promises to become a match like no other: the winter was strong and spring has brought us a fair balance of rain and sun. The conditions were perfect for growth and development, so the quality of the top trees will be very high this year.”
Of course, the old oak himself did not benefit that much from the favourable weather. With his years, his growth is slow and constant. He does not compete in the tree awards: he won all awards there are to win hundreds of years ago. As the forests oldest, he now only prepares and presents the contest.
The trees of the forest are exited every year when Seraph spreads the competitor’s scent. Who will be chosen this year? Will the most beautiful tree be Margaret the Magnolia again? Some spread Wilbert the Willow stands a chance for his pose near the pond when sun sets. The most robust tree will go to one of the older oaks, but will it be William or Abraham?
Benny does not mind who wins what. He is growing his branch. Young though he is, he already found a spot on the south east where he receives a lot of sun. His parents are proud and constantly show off to the trees around. “When he’s older, he’ll win the prize of the most adapted tree” says his mom. “Yes, and that will help him grow better, and he will win the broadest tree prize”. Birches usually don’t go for the price for the most robust tree. They stand little chance against oaks and the exceptional baobab winner.
Slowly but steadily Benny pushes the top of his branch out of his trunk. At first, it hurts a little to his thin young bark but his inner urge persists and he keeps pushing. The branch wants to go down: it has no support. But Benny the Birch would like it to grow upwards. He turns it a little. And back. And up. It’s like a game with a pull to the ground. Not aware of the big events that are about to take place.
The Tree Awards have become the most important social event of the year. They take place from dawn till dusk when the day is longest in the open space in the middle of the forest. Trees can’t walk there of course, so they send chemical signs, which are received by Seraph the Oak, who then signals back the decision of the forest community. None of the trees in the forest know exactly how it works but it yields outcomes every year and trees don’t really care about objectivity.
Nor does Benny as he carefully gives his first branch shape. He has no concept of an eye catching branch, he does as he feels fit. Grow a little. A branch. Left and right and back again. Into the sky he reaches. Happily stretching out his cells. Yes. He likes it. It is fun to grow.
“It is important that we grow” echo the scents through the air. “We should all be as close to the sky as we can. This is why we originally sowed the Tree Awards.” Over time, of course, they added some categories so that more trees would feel they could be part of the game, but the greatest tree award is without a doubt the most prestigious award in the forest. Some say that without these awards, trees soon forget to grow. There needs to be stimulation, or the forest might get lazy, which cannot be the Intention. Tree Awards are the summit of forest society. Its ultimate expression. The pride of our age. And be honest: where would we be without it?
Benny is about to grow a leaf on his branch. Leafs are quite different and they take a different effort to grow. Benny knows how. He’s done it before. You start with a little packed ball. In it, you grow little nerves, connecting all the parts of the ball. Main nerves and side nerves. It’s important that you grow them such that they don’t stick together. Once you feel secure about the nerves, you connect them with green tissue. Then, all that’s left to do is that you push. You pump fluids into the nerves and they’ll unroll into a leaf and you enjoy the light. Keep pushing and it’ll grow bigger. Benny likes to grow leafs. They make him feel good. He grows a few more.
Leafs are important in the Tree Awards. They show the quality of the tree that holds them. It is common knowledge among trees that leafs are vital for growth. With dark green leafs, more sugars are made and more energy can flow. But dark leafs get hotter than light leafs and they burn more easily. So there’s a risk involved, which makes the whole story even more exciting, particularly for adolescent trees. It wouldn’t be the first time that an audacious young one takes that little step too far and ends up with fiery leafburns.
That’s not Benny’s concern. His tiny leafs are always lighter than those of his older brothers and sisters. His parents are proud of anything he grows. If a leaf would grow too dark, his parents quickly grow a branch above, just to make sure he is ok. Benny doesn’t realize that.
Winners of the concourse receive a fair amount of nutrients. Other trees will transport it in their direction through their roots or drop some leafs when the wind blows towards them. Being winners, it is trusted that they’ll use them wisely.
Benny takes his joy in growing another root. Roots are funny because the ground is full of bugs who tickle from below. To grow a root, Benny has to pierce the soil and dig between their homes. The bugs don’t seem to mind that much, they simply move aside. Benny is happy about that because he likes bugs. When he’s big, he’d like to house some ants.
Dawn arrives. “Fellow trees of the forest,” Seraph’s scents set off a chain reaction among every Birch and Beech around. The hedges listen silently. Their competition does not take place till fall. “The Tree Awards have started. Please prepare yourself for the first vote”. Except repetition and amplification of Seraph’s words, the forest remains silent as can be. These words are always deeply respected; no tree dares to bring in anything now. Except Benny. He just hurt himself on a thistle’s thorn and now he’s crying for his mom. Mom strokes Benny with her branch. But she is not as soft and caring as usual. Never mind. She pushed the thistle away and Benny is free to play again.
To interpret the voices of the forest is a skill that requires hundreds of years to master. There are very few who can. You can imagine the great awareness needed to listen to all the trees in the forest at once. Those who have that awareness have great responsibility. Seraph is one of them. He has developed a sensitivity few can imagine. It’s as if a part of him is present at all spots at once. All trees of the forest feel him. That is why he is assigned this important task. Of course, he is not alone. Seraph relies on a network of older trees present all through the forest. Together, they quickly digest the messages of their surroundings and pulse the results back into the air.
Even at his age, Benny adds to this networking cloud of consciousness. Few take note of his infantile, unstructured expressions. His parents and grandparents perhaps, but barely, during the year’s most important event. Benny does not mind, especially now that a butterfly landed on his new branch. Benny is not that fond of butterflies. Flappy creatures he finds them. He doesn’t know yet how destructive their larvae can be. For the moment, this butterfly has no interest in Benny. He just flaps around, leaving Benny dizzy at the spot.
“We will start today,” Seraphs clear and strong chemicals spread “with the golden bark award. Please place your vote about who you think deserves the award of creator of the most remarkable bark of the forest”. The award for the most respectable bark was introduced not so long ago by a community of cork trees, just down the hill. Cork trees adore the bark like no other and they would do anything to do part of it for the forest’s assembly of respected items. Soon after this introduction it turned out, unfortunately, that their view of the most respectable bark differed somewhat from the forest’s public opinion. No Cork tree ever won the award. “Trees and Treeesses, the vote was expressed”. Even if this is not the most important award these words raise the tension enormously. The trees of the forest know that the awards have begun. “And this year’s winner of the golden bark is…” this is the most decisive moment of the awards for the Corks. “Quinten the Plane”. A small cheer from a corner of the forest. “This years bark prize was based on Quintens exceptionally beautiful pattern”. Admitted, he’d been working hard to make his mosaic smooth as he could. Just down the hill, the cork community cries injustice. They voted for several trees in their community, none receives the prize. It’s not fair.
Till now, Benny the Birch had little a bark at all. Lately he had the idea of becoming a bit more woodier, so he did thicken somewhat around the edges. But his is far from the impressive white bark which his brother Jim the Birch brags about all the time. Jim secretly hoped for this prize. Benny had no clue, he enjoys growing one more leaf. That bark will come.
On the open spot, Seraph the Oak continues his careful process of interpreting. Wally the Walnut-tree goes nuts when he wins the golden nut. The golden flower goes to Maggie the Magnolia, with Edward the Elderblossom as a close second. Fanatic cheers and shouts alternate each other in a wavy sea of scents.
For the first time in his centuries old existence, Seraph grants the greatest tree award with a fundamental doubt. “Are these awards a good thing? Aren’t we needlessly benefitting the strong? Shouldn’t we be fertilizing the weak instead”. These thoughts usually occur to a queer tree in a dark corner of the forest. But Seraph has this thought and when a tree has a thought it cannot withhold it. So it is expressed.
The cheering ends abruptly, making space for a vast silence in the woods, interrupted only by some disrespectful birds. Noisy creatures they are.
This never happened before. Not from a tree of this status. Questioning our forests pride.
When he has to speech, Abraham Oak, winner of the golden tree, does not know what to say. Nor does any other tree of the forest. It remains silent.
Benny is about to grow his second branch. It will take guts.
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