Dit is een kort verhaal dat ik schreef voor Canadese vrienden, Peter en Lisa, die me een prachtig notitieboekje opstuurden. Een boekje met berken op de omslag en een quote uit Anne of Green Gables, de klassieker die zich afspeelt op het eiland waar mijn vrienden wonen.

Een klein notitieboekje, nog kleiner dan A6, met in zwarte inkt een berkenbos erop gedrukt. Onderaan, met oranje-rode inktvegen erover de tekst ‘But the Birch Path is one of the prettiest places in the World, Manilla’. Het is een zin het het boek Anne of Green Gables.

Het boekje hebben mijn vrienden Peter en Lisa zelf ontworpen en gemaakt. Aangezien het maar een beperkt aantal pagina’s had, vond ik het zonde om het te gebruiken er zomaar wat notities in te zetten. Daarom bedacht ik dat ik er een verhaaltje in wilde schrijven en weer terug ging geven aan Peter en Lisa en hun kinderen. Ik nam de berk als hoofdfiguur en schreef onderstaand verhaal, met een lengte die precies in mijn handschrift in het boekje paste.

Het titelblad van het boekje met in mijn handschrift in grote letters de titel The Birch, daaronder mijn voornaam en de initialen van mijn vrienden en hun kinderen, voor wie ik dit verhaal geschreven heb.

The Birch

Sometimes the elderly were quietly whispering underneath her roots. She could only recognize the sounds, not the words. That upset her, because she knew they were talking about her. She didn’t like it here. The soil tasted as sour as the comments she always got. So sour that it kept her from growing into her potential. She felt sad most of the time.

It was not just her age that made her the odd one out, it was her lust for talking to any living creature that crossed her molds. The only times she didn’t feel sad was when she heard stories of places she could never travel. So whenever a bird, a worm, an ant would pass, she welcomed them to stay for a bit and tell all about their adventures. But the elderly didn’t approve. They were scared of the creatures staying so close. They carry diseases, they said. They will eat us from the inside, they said. So whenever a lovely passerby came close, the elderly started grunting a low sound that scared away all animals. She never felt lonelier.

But sometimes the old ones dozed off and wouldn’t pay attention. At one such a time a bubbly bright red squirrel passed by. They chatted for a bit. She was very interested in how it would feel to fly through the air and the squirrel did its best to describe how it felt for them. Then she asked the question she wanted to ask right from the beginning. Could the squirrel bury some acorns so they could sprout. The squirrel was a bit reluctant at first. It would mean sacrificing their juiciest stock. But then they smelled the sadness oozing from the soil around her. They promised to come back and sow various seeds.

The squirrel did as promised. Around her new species grew and grew. Slowly at first, quickly afterwards. She hugged their baby roots when they felt sad. She scared away the deer that threatened to eat the babies alive. The elderly did not approve, but there was little they could do. The tiny ones grew roots.

Once the babies grew big enough she started telling them the stories she had heard from the animals passing by. She taught them how to communicate through their roots. How to vibrate pleasantly so more animals would hang out with them. Through the years the elderly died of old age, and the young sprouts were able to grow their roots further. They welcomed all creatures, big and small, in their branches and between their roots.

Many years later the birch tree path was transformed into a forest. She was the only birch left and knew it was her last season of pumping water. All her adopted children had grown beyond her imagination. She was now the elderly, but she never whispered underneath the roots of the youngest ones. Instead she told them stories of all the places she’d never seen. She taught them that the only reason she could tell those stories was because she never stopped inviting and talking to others who didn’t grow roots, despite the elderly’s efforts. When she heard her first babies, now fully grown alders, oaks and beeches, tell the littlest ones stories of places they’d never seen, she knew she could let go.

Slowly her roots dissolved.

The soil smelled and tasted better than it ever had.


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