For hundreds of years I have lived on this land, watching civilization rise up around me. When I first took root here, for miles around me there was only land – Vast expanses of prairie, as far as the eye could see. Sure, there were people and animals here and there, occasionally an owl or a bat would make a home in my branches as they should, but mostly it was the land and myself.
I remember the day I saw a man beginning to put up a fence across the road. He worked and worked until he had sectioned off a large amount of space that he soon put cattle in. I loved to watch the cows in the field – flicking their tales and chewing their cud. They fascinated me. With the fenced in field came a farm and with a farm a house and a family. I watched as other trees were removed to build the family’s house, but they never came close to me, so I never worried. These people seemed to like me, to accept me. They would take breaks in my shade as a release from the hot sun. The children would climb in my branches and they could collect my pinecones at Christmas. I loved these people, and they loved me.
There was a little girl in the farmer’s family who loved to spend her time near me. She would play in my branches, hiding from her brother or avoiding schoolwork. She would read books in my shade and she planted flowers around my base. We spent many afternoons together this way. But as she grew older she came less and less eventually stopping altogether. I missed the little girl dearly, for she made me feel loved and in her I found great purpose and pleasure in this simple life I lead.
Years went on and the family grew older. I awoke one morning to the sound of loud noises. Hammering and the splitting of earth deafened the stillness. They seemed to be building something, but how could that be? The farmer needed this land for his cattle! Whatever they were building was flat and long. It cut a deep path through the field as far as I could see to the east and west. They worked and they worked for months on end, chewing away at the ground for what seemed like years. Eventually it came to a rest. The men working wiped their hands on their pants, looked at their work and they left. I was left to stare at what they had done, a fresh wound in the ground.
The next day, I was astounded to see some type of bizarre machine coming through the field. It had wheels, but it wasn’t pulled by a horse, as the farmer used to do. Instead it traveled on its own. In it were four people, laughing gaily and looking ahead. Still I remained, watching as more and more of these contraptions came down the road. They released an awful smell and it came fighting down the path grunting and spitting all the way, but I stood there, watching as they came, more and more every day.
A day came when I was in my 150th year of life and people were suddenly everywhere. They were marking the land around me, looking at me suspiciously and talking excitedly. This carried on for several days, until one morning I woke up with a large orange tape wrapped around my trunk. I did not know exactly what this meant, but knowing what happened to the ground the last time a large group of people were here, I knew it was not a good thing. There was nothing I could do. I was voiceless in a sea of voices, destined to succumb to the will of those who could speak.
I wore the orange tape like a badge of courage for many days. It was on the fifth day of wearing it, that the little girl I once knew from the farm came to see me. She was much older now, in her fifties, but she remembered me and she climbed on some of my lower branches and stood in my shade. She looked at my orange tape and placed it between two of her fingers and shed a tear. She knew my fate, just as I did. She stayed in my shade for a long time that afternoon, sitting and thinking, crying and pacing. At dusk, she left, looking back at me as she walked away.
Several days passed and I was still wearing the orange tape around my middle. With every passing day, I lost hope that it would ever be removed and I began to accept my fate. I thought about my life and the family, and the road and the cars – all the things and changes I had seen in my years. I didn’t want to leave this spot, it was my home, but I knew I did not have a choice. I had given up hope and resigned myself to my destiny. I rested that night, knowing what was coming tomorrow. The men in the vests and hats had been working close to me for many days now, and yesterday, motioning to me, had sealed my fate.
In the morning, I was sure I would wake to see a large crew of men driving large vehicles and wielding axes. But when I woke up, that’s not what I saw. Instead, I saw the girl. She was by herself and she was standing in my shade once again. Reaching up to me, with a tear in her eye, she tore the orange tape from me with a smile on her face as wide as I had ever seen. She stood in my presence for a minute longer, ran her hand across the bark on my trunk and walked away.
The men did come that day, but they left me alone. I don’t know why or what happened for these people to choose to give my life, but they did. The land around me was not left alone. They worked and worked for several years building something as large as I had ever seen. Its brick and concrete facade stared at me every day as I provided it with shade and as the men worked without ceasing to bring it to completion. And then one day, they were done. They wiped their hands on their pants, looked up at their work and the left.
Soon, people started to arrive at the building. They brought in desks and tables, chalkboards and chairs. The building was filling up, but I remained, standing proud next to the building, knowing where I would be if it weren’t for the girl.
On a Monday morning, children began to come in droves to this building. They arrived in new clothes, with neatly combed hair, with bags full of pencils and paper. They walked up the steps and into the building, some looking nervous, others excited and still others sour. They came and they came, with the last few running up the steps before a bell rang. At the end of the day, all the children left, some flying out the door into the welcoming arms of parents, others walking slowly, thinking about the content of their day and still others, looking as sour as they did when they walked in the door.
I did not know how I would fit into this new environment. The children stayed inside and the adults barely glanced in my direction, but I stood there day after day, watching as life carried on inside this building. But the children gave me so much joy to watch day in and day out. I was happy for the ones who ran and played and smiled, and I grieved for those who cried and looked worried to go home.
It was one of the sad children that first took notice of me. She was the last one left after the bell had rung and she looked lonely. She approached me and stood next to me while she waited. After a longer while, she climbed into my branches. She ran her hands across my bark and looked at my height with awe. It was in this moment that I knew that I had a purpose. This little girl needed a friend and even though I may not speak, and I don’t move, I was going to be the support that little girl needed, now and for generations to come.