Siegfried the Tree
This is a story called Siegfried the Tree, so called because it’s about a tree called Siegfried.
For centuries, trees have been standing in the park watching people walking. If you watch people walk for long enough, you start to get curious.
Siegfried was curious like the cat. Curious like Alice. Like Newton. If that tale about the apple is to be believed, Newton didn’t really discover gravity. The tree told him.
As I say, Siegfried had been watching people walking for some time, and as I say, he was curious. Idly, over time, he began reshaping his roots until they were no longer the standard tangled mass, but two distinct points – roots curled around roots.
He prepared them for months, stretching and flexing amidst rock and soil.
Before commencing with his plan, Siegfried consulted the Wise Old Tree – so called because he was old, and because he was wise, and because he was a tree.
The Wise Old Tree said, “Don’t do it, I beg of you my boy. They won’t be able to handle it, these humans. They’ll destroy you like King Kong. Like the Elephant Man. Like the rainforest. These creatures may look pretty, but you don’t want to get involved.”
“You can’t tell me what I want,” said Siegfried. “I’m getting up and walking on Thursday night. I’ve got it all planned.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said the Wise Old Tree.
“OK, I won’t,” said Siegfried.
“You’ll end up chained up in a museum somewhere.”
“Fine by me. It’s better than being chained up here by my own roots – a prison of my own devising.”
Thursday night rolled around, as Thursday nights do. It was almost pitch black when Siegfried bent his wooden knees, lifted his wooden feet, and scrambled for the ground that had once consumed his lower half.
The trees stood watching, whispering among themselves, but Siegfried wasn’t listening. He stood with his head several branches above his siblings.
“Just be careful,” called the Wise Old Tree.
“I will be,” said Siegfried.
“Just one piece of advice,” said the Wise Old Tree. “And this time, you must listen to me.”
“What is it?” said Siegfried.
“Watch out for low bridges.”
Siegfried did as he was told, watching out for bridges as he wandered along the little road, weaving his way gently between stationary cars and trucks. He shook hands with street lamps. He peered into the windows of buildings, but all the humans were sleeping. They slept by the side of the road. They slept in the stationary cars and trucks. Some of them slept in the river.
Siegfried didn’t want to disturb them. Sleeping was a curious human habit. He supposed it was all that moving around they had to do. Perhaps now he could move around, he would also have to start sleeping, to conserve his energy. It was a complicated business.
Soon Siegfried’s legs got tired, so he sat on a roundabout beside a pair of sleeping humans. Morning came, but the humans beside him didn’t wake. Neither did the humans in the cars, or the ones by the side of the road. Even when the sun was high in the sky and people would usually take a walk in the park, they just lay there, peacefully.
Siegfried stood up, and returned to the park, his new legs creaking and groaning under his weight, but gradually growing used to the movement.
“What’s happening?” he said.
“I tried to warn you,” said Wise Old Tree. “I didn’t want to upset you by telling you the truth. I know how fond you are of the humans.”
“What’s happened to them?” said Siegfried.
“Don’t you see?” said the Wise Old Tree. “That great cloud of gas? The sky isn’t supposed to be that colour. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, my boy, but the age of the humans is over. It is time, once again, for the age of the trees.”
“You aren’t sorry at all,” said Siegfried.
“I suppose not,” said the Wise Old Tree. “I remember a time when all of this was trees. This was all one big forest until the people arrived.”
“What’s so good about that?” said Siegfried. “What’s so good about just trees, trees, trees?”
“It’s not good or bad, my boy,” said the Wise Old Tree. “We live by whatever nature dictates.”
“Tell me something,” said Siegfried. “This great cloud of gas that’s coloured the sky and made all the humans sleep. Do you think that’s the reason I’ve ended up like this? Thinking strange thoughts, walking on two legs, shaking hands with lampposts?”
“I must admit,” said the Wise Old Tree carefully, “it’s rather peculiar behaviour for a tree. Come, my boy, place your roots back in the ground. Join your brothers and sisters.”
“No,” said Siegfried.
“Then what are you going to do? Make friends with the humans? They’re all dead, my boy. All of them. Don’t you see?”
“Then I’ll go, and I’ll find something else.”
“There’s nothing for you out there, my boy.”
“How would you know? You’ve never left the park. You were born on the same spot you’ll die on. They call you the Wise Old Tree, but you don’t know any better than me. You probably couldn’t walk if you tried.”
Siegfried turned on his muddy heels, and left the park behind.
“Just watch out,” called the Wise Old Tree.
“I will, don’t worry. I promise I’ll watch out for low bridges.”
“Thank you,” said Siegfried. “Thank you.”
© Frank Burton