The Redwood, or A Tall Tale is now available in eBook or Paperback from Amazon.com. Set in the redwood forests of California, the story begins in the midst of a terrible drought. Plants are facing drier seasons, and if they don’t figure out something soon, their roots might wither up for good.
Follow the parallel stories of two trees lost in the woods. Virens who Leans is a brilliant mathematician who becomes embroiled in the world of finance. Odin Tall is a newly sprouted sapling who dreams of standing in the canopy.
The Redwood is a satirical tale of liberalism gone wrong, as well as a heartwarming story of friendship and forgiveness.
Below you’ll find the first chapter of The Redwood in its entirety. Enjoy, and thank you for reading.
The drought was hard going for the residents of Bretton Woods. Year after year the waterline fell, baring the smooth rocks of the riverbed. Trees had spread their runners to the edges of the bank, but it was clear that things were not going to get better anytime soon.
Eventually the creek was gone. Only a line in the sand. The Eel River itself had shrunk to nearly half its original size, forming sandy patches that would come to be known as the Bose Bar. The fog belt, too, so regular and necessary for the larger trees, grew thinner, burning up before midday. Things had gotten so bad that the residents of Bretton Woods at last felt the need to come together as never before. They would discuss the problem in an open forum, and hopefully come up with a solution to the vanishing water.
This was no small feat, as Bretton Woods was very large.
Located in the lesser known parts of Humboldt State Park, east of Highway 101, Bretton Woods was an old-growth forest, the kind that is lost to time. Their creek was Belford Creek, which ran perpendicular to the Eel River and divided the woods neatly in half. Or as neatly as a creek could.
The watery banks cradled the woods and kept them whole, while within it was divided into several distinct communities called groves. Yet with a drought this severe (worse than any the oldest trees could recmember) the situation was graver than any one grove could handle on its own. Indeed, it was a crisis. It would take the best and brightest trees from each grove working together to solve the problem.
Though it’s important to note that trees and other flora do not discuss things in quite the same ways as animals.
While they lack the necessary muscles and ligaments for walking, plants are no less constrained in their communication with one another than animals are by virtue of having to be “within earshot.” It might even be said that plants in general are better at communicating precisely because they do not have to move in order to be heard. They may stay in one place and be perfectly understood, even by a plant living down the hill or in another stand. A tree never shouts, the saying goes, though it may reek of something awful.
This is because speaking in the plant kingdom is a matter of reproducing one’s thoughts in the form of airy, invisible notions secreted through the vascular pores (be it of branch, stolon or petiole). From these appendages a plant’s scent is carried on the currents of the wind to its listener, inhaled through the stomata, where carbon dioxide is normally taken in. And they may reply by mixing that message with their own chemical concoction, wafting it back as if to say, “I’ve heard you, and here’s what I think about that.”
Plants, in essence, speak through scent. They express themselves by distilling their thoughts and feelings into a unique cologne, and learn of their neighbors by inhaling those same perfumes.
Of course, this form of speaking is not without its difficulties. The wind, while fairly regular over large areas, can sometimes switch directions without warning, stealing some poor tree’s loving odors and sending them upwind, to the surprise of some unknown and unprepared bush. And while there is always at least the smallest fluctuation in air pressure, there have been known to be, on extremely rare occasions, what is known as “dead air,” or an air in which everything seems to fall straight down or hang absolutely suspended. But, in truth, don’t similar problems plague animals and their own speeches, when one’s voice is supplanted by a crashing waterfall, or lost in the vastness of a field? The acoustics of sound and smell are alike enough, hopefully, that a speaker of one may tentatively grasp the mechanisms of the other.
To help their message along, a tree may employ a bird to carry its scent, for birds understand the language of trees better than most. In exchange for a ration of berries, cones or sap, a bird will perch on the branch of a tree and rub its feathers against the bark. Then, faster and more accurately than any wind, that bird will carry the message, lodged in its downy chest, to its proper recipient.
Likewise, when bees alight from bud to bud, they not only carry pollen on their backs, but also news, gossip, and anything else worth overhearing. Bees have, in fact, a long history as couriers of the understory, and take their occupation very seriously.
Normally birds and bees fly within the boundaries of their grove, but as the drought grew more and more dire, they were called upon to deliver messages across all of Bretton Woods. They accepted their task without complaint, for they understood how their homes, too, were threatened. Desperate times, they sang into the canopies, were desperate times for all.
And so the Bretton Woods Conference officially convened on the 9,758th Autumn since the Great Fog.
At first progress was slow. Plants circulated their opinons in wandering fumes, collecting the opinions of other plants along the way, until they arrived as a cloud of sweetsmelling, piney aroma in the next grove, to be discussed among plants there. These waves of scents undulated in the wind, sweeping to and fro, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Eventually each grove nominated an ambassador tree to speak on behalf of their grove.
From Riverside Grove, whose borders included the east bank of the river, the giant sequoia Alfred C. Hallock the Many-Awled spoke. To the east, in Wicksell Grove, the tanoak Kellogg spoke. Beyond Wicksell lay the Ohlindell, where M. Pay, a bigleaf maple, spoke. And south of Belford Creek was Myrdal Grove, where their ambassador, Semper Semper, spoke. Finally, to the north, were the Sierra lodgepoles of North Pine Grove, whose branches stood upright with needling greens. Their leader was Contorta Murrayana, a tall, narrow Sierra pine.
These were some of the best and brightest trees in all of Bretton Woods. Each tree had been personally chosen by the Mother Tree of their grove, which was thought to be a great honor among plants. Indeed, it was the Mother Trees who first decided the groves should talk together. And what was important to the Mother Trees was important to all.
In each grove there was one tree stouter and denser than all the rest, who dug its roots deepest into the earth, connecting all the plant life of the grove with its networks. This was the Mother Tree. She was the center of every grove, and into her woody body went large reserves of starch. Her branches were thick, and her greens were shiny. It was always through her roots that a grove either thrived, or was replaced in no short time.
After many clouds of talking between the ambassador trees, Kellogg the tanoak eventually proposed a solution to the drought that at first the Mother Trees seemed to like.
“We should build a dam upstream,” he said, “just north of the bend, beyond the hills of North Pine Grove. That way we can control the water level of Belford Creek, and each grove will be able to draw equally from the reservoir. We can also keep track of our water usage by measuring the waterline of the reservoir, and use it to plan for future droughts.”
The idea floated around the woods, and was generally thought to be a good idea. However, it was not without its problems, as Contorta Murrayana, the Sierra pine of North Pine Grove, pointed out.
“Such an undertaking,” she said, “would put even more stress on our roots. Can we afford to waste our energy in the middle of a drought like this? Do we even possess the resources to do such a thing, when times are so desperate?”
The trees agreed with her sentiment.
“It would require help from the entire animal population,” the bigleaf maple from the Ohlindell, M. Pay, added. “Of course birds would help. They benefit so much from us, living in our snags and feeding off our berries. But they would not be enough. We would also need beavers and woodchucks, too, and they live beyond the northern hill.”
“And bears and mountain lions,” Semper Semper added rather tartly. “Good luck with that! They care nothing for trees, except to sleep on our limbs and rub freely against our bark. They have no pacts with us. If the water is low, they simply travel elsewhere. How could we offer them anything of value?”
“The sheer effort it would take—” Contorta concluded. “We’d lose a whole year’s worth of flowering. We might not flourish at all come next season!”
This fearful idea shook the trees to their very heartwood.
The well-being of a grove depended on its annual flourishing. If plants did not flower and fruit yearly, if they did not brandish their inflorescence, rain their seeds and cones over the forest floor, shed their old greens, even for a single season, they risked poor soil next year. Animals would leave in search of more fruitful stands. Birds would no longer alight on their limbs. The roots of their grove would be cut off from the rest of the forest. If a plant did not flourish, it would lose its value as a plant. This was an awful fate. And if such a thing happened to enough plants, the grove itself was as good as dead.
The final objection to Kellogg’s plan for a reservoir in Bretton Woods was voiced by Alfred C. Hallock, the many-aweled giant sequoia from Riverside Grove.
Alfred was a relatively younger tree, about three hundred years old, but was very tall for his age, and very thoughtful in his speech. He was named Alfred for the many Alfred cakes that grew on his trunk, though plants called him A. C. for short. These unfortunate fungi, normally found on decaying trees, had found their way to clustering on A. C., giving him the appearance of a charcoal-black moustache across the apron of his trunk.
“I agree with the issues brought up by all these worthy trees. I believe their various complaints stem from a single, fundamental root. The real problem with building such a reservoir is that it would disrupt the natural processes of plant life. It would disrupt Nature itself, in point of fact.
“Listen, worthy trees: we are all a part of Nature, standing in harmony with every living and nonliving thing. To disrupt the delicate balance of Nature would be a terrible decision. Nature is perfect already. Nature organizes itself perfectly. Nature is the bend in the river, and the height of the mountains. Nature is the fabric pattern of plant roots and fungi mycelia. If every plant and fungus in Bretton Woods were suddenly uprooted and arranged in a neat column, or grid, we would certainly not call that Nature. To change the river into a reservoir would be to change the delicate structure of Nature. How could we be so bold? Simply put, in doing so, we would become something very different from Nature, something we could neither foresee nor guard against.”
These were wise thoughts that wafted under their greens. Nor was the giant sequoia finished with his speech.
“Here is what I propose instead. Soon it will be winter. If the drought persists, building a reservoir will be quite pointless if there’s no water to fill it. And if it’s a dry winter, groves will have even less resources to spare. That’s what we should be preparing for. We should make sure plants can get the resources they need when times are tough. What I propose is, instead of building a reservoir, let’s join our roots together, connecting them across our groves as intricately as we connect them within our borders. That way we can trade our sugar freely. Whatever resource one grove lacks, it may buy with sugar from another grove.
“Nature hasn’t given us a reservoir, but we do have our roots. All we need to do is reach them out a little further. I say let’s build a transgroval network, and bring all the groves of Bretton Woods together in commerce.”
In the end it was this idea that won the approval of all the Mother Trees. Even Kellogg the tanoak had to admit it was a brilliant plan, although he wasn’t entirely convinced by A. C.’s reasoning about Nature. Nevertheless, he realized that a reservoir was too much to ask for when water was so scarce.
Plants soon went to work drawing up rules for trading resources between groves, as this was something that had only ever been done on rare occasions. They made rules for the kinds of things one grove could buy from another grove, vital nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, and other items like humus, nectar, and gum resin. They decided how these things should be transported, and how much could be bought and sold at one time, so that a grove would not accidentally impoverish its own soil bed, selling all of its nitrogen by accident, for example. For several seasons they revised these rules until every grove was in agreement. The final draft of their rules was known as the Bretton Woods Accord on Transgroval Trade (BWATT). One of the most important issues they resolved in the Accord involved calculating the correct value for exchanging sugars.
Since each grove had different kinds of sugar, varying in viscosity and solubility and such things, plants needed to find some common value between them. Eventually it was decided that they should peg their sugars to the amount of water they contained. All the groves thought this was a good idea, not only because water was easy to measure within their xylem, but because it was also a way for trees to remember where their wealth came from. It reminded them of the vapor in the fog and the liquid in the river. It was water that kept them growing, both upwards and underneath.
Work on the root networks themselves began even before the rules were finalized.
Snags were felled by industrious elk to make nurse logs. It was on these woody roads fresh vegetation would be grown. Fungi sprouted, entangling their white, webbing hairs with the root hairs of trees, with the stolons of ferns, with the creeping roots of shallon, azaleas, huckleberries, and on and on like this, bringing the woods closer together than had ever been done before.
But the winter was hard going, with little rainfall and thinning fogs. There was less riverwash, which meant poorer soil, and plants could feel this in their roots as a physical pain. Pangs of malnourishment. Yet they persevered, scrounging sustenance into their roots, working every molecule into precious sugar. Work continued for many years, and sometimes the drought was better, and sometimes worse.
Yet despite A. C. Hallock’s injunction not to change the delicate structure of Nature, some things did indeed alter their behaviors.
Now more than ever before the continuous and almost constant need for trees of different groves to communicate, to coordinate and plan their netwoorks, meant that many birds were constantly ferrying messages far outside their normal flight paths. This caused a great deal of confusion, not only for the birds but also for trees who sometimes received an unintended message by some poor bird who’d gotten turned around.
The problem of organizing birds into an efficient delivery system fell to an intrepid marbled murrelet named Auk. This small, black and white bird was working for the courier service of Wicksell Grove when it started negotiations with birds from Riverside and Myrdal Grove. In no time at all Auk had managed to join three separate courier businesses into one. Suddenly, trees of all three groves were serviced by a single carrier, one with more efficient flight paths, faster delivery, and a rotating crew of thrushes, waxwings and flycatchers. Auk had created what would come to be known as the first successful transgroval business, a very profitable company called Commurrelet.