He’d thought about it a long time. A very long time, standing there on the hillside, looking out over glen and moor. It made no sense to him, this scurrying and hurrying and milling about. He understood the cows and sheep. They had their place; they knew it; they filled it well, content to be cows and sheep. It was those other transient ones, the ones with two roots, that puzzled him.
Sometimes they came close by, and he listened carefully, not to their buzzing insect speech, a whine in his slow ears, but to their hearts within them. The sheer speed of those hearts amazed him; indeed for a time he could not relate it to his own slow, patient, pulsing heart, but finally understanding rose ponderously up his xylem and spread through his branches and he knew them for heartbeats.
They must burn up their sugars enormously fast, he thought, and perhaps that is why they run about so.
Another decade and the realization dawned that they weren’t just running about: they were striving. Always striving. This was very difficult for him to grasp, but finally after a very rare dry hot summer, he understood the concept of lack, of discontent. He had not suffered as the grasses had, for his roots were deep and wide and strong, but still he felt the lack of rain, the lack of covering from the sun, and wished for something else.
It was that, the wishing for something else, that opened his thoughts to understanding the two-legged itinerants. They, he realized, they wish for something else, too. But what? They have shelter from the sun. They have water, for they apply it to their fields in drought. What more do they need?
Their roots weren’t well-grounded, he had noted long ago, and perhaps this was what they lacked. He spent a year, or two, pondering what that would be like, to have his roots skimming the surface of Lover Earth, rather than penetrating deep within, caressing far and wide. Horrible. No wonder the poor creatures flit about. They have no anchor to the Lover.
He would help them, the piteous little things. Slowly — for what did he not do slowly? — he extended a larger root toward the surface, and then another and another, until they sat just on top. He carefully left their passageways unfilled and then set about getting a few of the unanchored things to come where his root-help lay. It wasn’t easy, since they were obviously used to the whining chitter of their own kind and not the slow deep resonance of his own. Finally, though, they heard him. They began arriving in small groups, with devices he paid no attention to. They were listening to him, he knew. He could hear it in their hearts. And so he explained it to them, his plan, his offer to help them.
It took a long time. The excited crowds had left years ago, and now the listeners were all that remained. And those odd ones that came and went wearing very different barks to the others, and waving fire and branches on Beltane and Samhain. The listeners and … those, who at least knew the proper days.
Finally, he had said it all. He waited for their reply, but to his astonishment, the crowds came once again for a time and the activity around him grew frenetic. So much so that he asked the Green Man to bring winter a little early so he could have some peace, for the crowds were never there in cold and rain and snow and sleet. They seemed not to like it. He shaped a branch into a reminder to himself to ponder the meaning of that come spring.
The Green Man heard and answered, and the crowds faded away. Only the listeners were left, and they were … sad, it seemed. No matter. He was ready, and soon they would be put right.
He had noted how the listeners scurried from spot to spot if one called to another, and so he acted in all his surface roots at once, opening the ground, snaring the roots of the transients, pulling them down into the ground to the level of what he assumed were their crowns, where the roots joined the trunks.
He’d planned well. The surrounding earth moved at the whim of his filaments and compacted around the listeners he was planting, for he knew they would need solid contact to form filaments of their own. The sounds they made changed, he noted. They must be rejoicing, thanking him for showing them the way to resolve this constant striving, to be at peace with who and what they were, not seeking always for more and more and more.
He gripped them kindly, tightly and encouraged them to sink deeper into his Lover, for the Earth is Lover of us all, he knew. They would begin to root soon, though they must not be very good at it, for they struggled constantly against remaining still. It occurred to him that they’d had no practice rooting, and he resolved to be very patient and to see that they received all the water and soil they needed, though how they would photosynthesize without leaves was a question he had not managed to answer yet.
The sudden increase in activity that day startled him. This was new. There were colors flashing and more people, shouting and trying to pull out his rootlings. These were not the listeners. They didn’t know. He would explain again.
What are they doing? They are … they are digging up my rootlings! No! He would not let his precious rootlings, his own offspring, be pulled away from the salvation he offered them.
He began to wave his branches wildly, though there was no wind. At first, that worked. The others ran, terrified, but returned in a brief span of time. He had to admit, they were dedicated. They were not going to give up, but neither was he.
He gripped his rootlings tighter, waved his branches more wildly, until some began to break and fly toward the others. He had to be careful, since his rootlings would be tender and delicate until their filaments and tap roots formed.
And as he waved and gripped, he began explaining again. His rootlings calmed down, attending to his words once more, and then seemed to be conveying to the others what was going on.
The activity changed again. Not quite as frantic, but just as dedicated and deliberate. They tried shovels. He held on tighter. His rootlings made their noises to the others and the shovels went away. They brought fire. He was scorched and blistered before the rootlings managed to convey that his grip was even tighter, that they were hurting him and he was writhing in agony. The fire went away.
He asked the Green Man for relief from his pain and the Green Man sent cooling rains. His rootlings shuddered in their holes until the others put … coverings … over them, to keep away the rain. Did they not know living beings need the rain, need to feel it wash over them? But perhaps these rootlings did not need much rain. Perhaps their tender new roots that they must surely be forming were drowning. The Green Man granted his request for a cessation of the downpour, and he offered his favorite branch in sacrifice to his god.
The others brought large yellow … things … that belched horrible smelling gases and rattled the earth as they moved. He’d seen them before, when the transients were building paths for the cruel metal cages that carried them away and brought them back on a whim. What had they done with them again? He hadn’t paid that much attention.
While he reached into his memory for that, his rootlings squirmed and wriggled, but this time, they seemed to be squirming and wriggling to speak to the others, pointing their branches at the yellow things and shouting.
There! He had the memory. Oh sweet Dagda, no! He shuddered convulsively. They dig with those. They scrape the Lover raw with those. They mean to scrape her here, and take my rootlings!
He turned his attention back to his rootlings, anxious to protect them, and noted that one was making slow deep noises in his direction. Could it be … speaking … to him? He paid careful attention and finally managed to speed his understanding up enough to catch the meaning of what his rootling said.
They had not realized he meant to plant them? But he had told him, explained patiently again and again, until even a seedling could understand.
Still, they had not realized. They would wither and die planted like this? But how could helping them root make them wither?
They cannot root? But how will they rectify having no connection with the Lover?
The answer to that shocked him to his heartwood. They would not? They did not want to? They did not need to? But if this is so … he must think about this long and hard again. He withdrew his roots from around them, hastily, shuddering a bit that he had been so intimately connected with beings that spurned the Lover.
The root— the listener who had spoken, spoke again, thanking him. Why thank me? For not helping you, not saving you from your hurry-scurry? He would consider that, too. They would return, he said, since they had come to an understanding. They would speak more, gain more knowledge from each other.
He wiggled his twigs in acquiescence, wanting only for them to leave so he could cleanse his mind of their touch and begin to consider what this all must mean.
He withdrew completely after that, speaking only to the Lover and the Green Man. Winter returned, and returned with a vengeance, since the Green Man looked kindly upon his plight, and wished to know the solution himself. The listeners came once or twice, but didn’t stay long. It wouldn’t have mattered. He would not speak with them again. Not until he knew what the answer was.
It was the eve of Imbolc when the answer came. He would prepare, he hoped they all would prepare, until Beltane and then set his plan in motion.
When the celebrations had died down and the bonfires’ embers no longer glowed, he began. It hurt far worse than he had imagined it would, especially because he knew it hurt the Lover, too. He began to quiver, to shake, from topmost limb to deepest root and everywhere in between. The grasses joined, and the oaks and the beeches and the holly and even the grain in the fields. The four legged creatures sat or lay or otherwise gave themselves over to comforting the Lover, even as she, too, joined in. They shook and quaked without ceasing until the cities broke, the roads crumbled, the factories slithered to the ground; the wires and cables whose posts were drilled into the Lover snapped and the world that the rootless uncaring ones had created was no more, and then they stopped.
He had no doubts they would try to rebuild: they’d persisted in their dealings with him, benign or otherwise. They would not succeed. They would learn to somehow root and connect with Lover or they would perish. He couldn’t say which he hoped for more.
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