An early Halloween story, inspired by Oliver Rackham’s “Woodlands”

tree magic

© Nevit Dilmen. CC BY-SA 3.0

As some of you know, I have been working my way through Grad Bernart’s research notes, preparing them for publication in a new, critical edition. A few weeks ago, I told you about (and stupidly tried) one of the grad’s experiments in communicating with trees. Here is a follow up on the results of Grad Bernart’s original experiment. Consider it an early Halloween treat.

from Bernart’s notes:

Never again shall I mourn the loss of a tree. Never again shall I regret the felling of an ancient oak or cedar. Let the peasants grub out entire forests; I shall not curse them for the deed.

For trees are evil creatures. They are the lords of slow war, the implacable engines of a beauteous and sublime death. I tremble to write what I have discovered about them, for I fear what humanity may learn.

It is now five years since I first invited the trees into my garden. Initially, I was almost overwhelmed by the response, by the sheer number of seedlings and suckers that appeared. But, rather than thin them out, I decided to wait and see what happened. What followed was a slaughter on a scale I never could have imagined.

The presence of death did not, in itself, surprise me. Any gardener or forester would have expected the majority of new seedlings to fail, especially as they were so close together. And to be honest, as I deciphered all of the signs and signals the trees sent out, I was truly astonished, excited even. I saw how the trees hoarded water and light for themselves, how they poisoned the nearby ground, and how they manipulated ants, beetles, birds and even fungi, coaxing wave after wave of slaves and surrogates to attack and destroy every other tree in the vicinity.

At first, I even admired them for it. At first, I thought, “How clever they are, these trees! They have no eyes, no arms, no legs, no brains, and yet they are aware of their world and interact with it in such fine detail!”

But as I decoded the signals from the trees, there were always extraneous signs which resisted translation. There were odd squeakings and scratchings that didn’t seem to correlate with specific actions or stimuli. It took almost a year to decipher them and, gods, how I wish I’d never succeeded.

It was laughter. The damned trees were laughing. When the roots of the victors first tasted the dead nutrients of a rival, when their leaves detected the vapours that told them a competitor was under attack by ants, when they caught the putrid scent of fungus in the fruit of an enemy or when any catastrophe befell any of their foes, the trees laughed. They delighted in the slaughter.

And what is more frightening is that, knowing this, still I help the murderers. I can read their signs; with flowers, scent and sap, I know they are manipulating me. And still I cut and burn away some while giving food and water to others. The garden is more beautiful than ever, now, but I cannot bear to visit it.

Think of that, the next time you hear a branch creak in the wind or leaves rustle in the breeze.


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4 thoughts on “An early Halloween story, inspired by Oliver Rackham’s “Woodlands”

  1. My commiserations on your loss! I do actually quite like most trees (with the exception of the occasional, bad-tempered hawthorn). I found it a little odd to write a story in which they are the villains.


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