We Stand Here

We stand here on our hill, bordered by two rivers
one to the east and a smaller one to the west.
Below us, they eventually join, but here
they are only two meandering stretches
of water. Where they originate we cannot say,
for we have never been north of this hill.
Our roots are here, deep and strong.

Storms threaten us at times; a few
scattered stumps bear witness to winds that
scarred our hill. Our elders cast shadows
where the young grow strong and tall,
slowly taking the place of those lost to age.
This is how it should be, how it has always been.
We live, we die. Others take our place.

Strangers come to our hill; some stay a night,
some a week, driven by needs that are as varied
as the colors of their skins; all eventually leave.
They look for something that they either find
or do not find; it is not our place to understand.
Perhaps they are transient, not sedentary;
perhaps they do not understand the importance
of roots that nurture in direct proportion
to depth and breadth.
Our roots are here. Our roots are deep.

Far below, the river feeds a quiet valley
and an odd little house, not built quite so much
as added to by subsequent residents. Sometimes
smoke rises from the stones, other times
the wind whistles across the chimney.
We prefer the whistling.

Once the valley itself burned, a careless spark or
a random bolt of lightning, we never knew.
The smoke rose, thick and black. Driven by the wind,
scaling the slope towards us. Fearful, unsure
if a spark or flame hid somewhere in that darkness.
Would we be consumed, victims of a hungry
and indifferent flame?

In the early dawn, the wind turned and a sweet rain fell,
cleansing the air, wrapping us in a damp embrace.
We are safe again. Our roots are here. Our roots are deep.

Years pass as we grow, fruitful, multiplying,
watching our young replace elders whose
time had come to an end. Sometimes, though, the young
fall to disease. Those are the hardest losses.

Now spring brings no rains, only dry winds.
Summer gives a little respite, but even that
moisture soon evaporates. Fall and winter – still no rains.
Our weak suffer, our young do not thrive.
A second spring, barely enough rainfall to collect
in brittle leaves on the ground.

The small river is now dry, immobile, silent stones
remain where musical water once flowed.
A third year of drought and we all suffer; we are weak,
our health failing, but we cannot leave.
Our roots are here. Our roots are deep.

And then, a storm comes at last to our hill,
full of all the water denied us for so long. The first drops fall
to quench parched earth; lightening strikes
We stand, rooted, watching liquid salvation
come while a red and black death advances.

Fire moves with a beauty that the dying cannot appreciate.
We do not appreciate the destructive dance slipping
toward us. Flames dart above the thick, acrid smoke
enveloping us.

The wild ones are gone, having run or flown safety.
We do not, cannot, leave this hill. Those who came
before us stood on this land. And when the flames
die out, the hill is barren. We are gone,
transformed to ash and cinder, all except our roots.
Our roots are here. Our roots are strong.

Our deep, strong roots will send up new life; a new forest
will stand here on this hill, bordered by two rivers.

By Tammie Rice

young boy hugs an oak tree

Tammie, a long-term tree hugger, explores trees in a first person plural writing exercise while contemplating the destruction and rebirth inherent in forest fires. Pursuit of an MFA in creative writing at her alma mater serves as self-directed grief therapy after the death of her son.

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