Forest Eulogy
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I remember the first time I stepped into your forest, lost and afraid, barefoot, covered in bruises, covered in abrasions. I had been running for so long I could not tell if dawn had arrived or if dusk was setting, the sky the color of condensed milk, bits of the firmament lazily coming into view high above, not a worry in their infinite life. How similar were they to you, who sat atop a felled tree, rusty axe embedded into stump, blonde hair dancing against the cold breeze.

You stared at me, with rubies instead of eyes, and I realized the world of man had ended, and I had stepped somewhere else entirely.

I remember asking if you were going to eat me, like the stories I had heard; stout men with lizard skin and heads of felines, or hags with glass eyes who would use crushed petal of toxic flowers to concoct spells that would make one’s mind blank and one’s body move on its own, guided towards their caves and huts where pregnant women and misbehaving children would be cut up and prepared into stews. To that idea, you laughed, and your laugh rumbled through the cypresses and maple trees, and the jackdaws took flight, and the dogwoods bloomed, white flowers turning to red berries turning to rot and dust, falling to the ground, fertilizer for the next generation of greenery.

You were no child-eating hag; you were the forest, walking on two legs.

You stopped laughing, and vines grew around me, and I was then reminded of the stories of protectors of the forest, lumberjack tales of wood automatons and giant spiders, of sky dragons and fox women. This was to be my end, I thought, yet suddenly, I saw myself in a bed of flowers, of peonies and marguerites and daphnes, and I could feel a cold sensation on my feet as moss grew to patch my bleeding soles, and morning dew flowed to clean my wounds and wash away the dirt and grime on my hands and hair.

‘You’ve come far away, haven’t you?’, you asked me, and I nodded, still afraid, yet less tense. If this was a ploy to kill me, it was working, ‘I see.’, you muttered, and told me I had to return from where I’d come. This was not the world I knew. It was not a world of science and knowledge, one of effort and experience. I was in the presence of a forest faerie, you said, and the terrains of a fae were not to be disturbed by human hands. If I stayed, I would die.

What did I say back then? ‘I’ve come here escaping from a world that wishes me dead. I would rather die amidst your forest than in a world of cement and false lights.’ Something along these lines. Whatever the words were, I meant them. I had run from a world of murderers and hypocrites. Drawing my last breath to the cries of bluejays and the aroma of a soon to arrive spring was like a dream come true.

You closed your eyes, then simply told me to follow you. We walked through grassy hills and clearings, and despite the difficult terrain, each of my steps landed on clover patches, my way illuminated by firefly swarms. The forest takes care of its guests.

We arrived at a dilapidated hut, the kind child-eating hags would have in the old tales, and you told me I could live here for the time being. I was not the first to choose the forest and death over a life in the city, and I wouldn’t be the last. You apologized for the deplorable state, and each wooden piece composing the hut grew flowers and moss and mushrooms and lichen and birds and deer walked to and from and the awfully shaped house became a proper structure. A proper home.

I slept on a patch of grass, and had my first nightmare-less night.

I remember the first time I picked up the rusty ax. You were not happy, but you hid it very well. Behind those ruby eyes, those longer-than-usual ears, behind the lack of nose, and sharp teeth, and multiple pairs of insectoid wings hid a scared child. The ability to command the forest used to hide someone who had seen it all burn down before. The perceived cruelty and coldness hid someone who didn’t want to be betrayed again. The laughter and warm smiles you thought you were incapable of making hid someone who felt three inches tall when you were so, so grand; capable of snuffing out the sun and replace with your own bright visage.

You asked me to only use it on the dead, in order to forage, in order to hunt. I agreed, and would soon discover how fast venison spoils. The first three nights I couldn't help but empty my stomach, empty my bowels, empty my eyes out, and you cried and apologized and all I wanted was for you to shut up and stop apologizing, that it wasn’t your fault but I couldn’t speak at all, only burn in anger, in frustration, in fever. The next three days you disappeared, and suddenly, a doctor came to the house, and helped me back to health.

Upon his leave, I asked you if you had left the forest, and you said that you didn’t understand how my body worked, how it was natural for the poisoned wolf to perish, for the poisoned boar to hide away and waste away and be devoured. And the mere idea broke your heart, and you cried and I realized I’d become part of the forest. And from then on, a golden and green deer would walk by and I would then hunt them and eat their flesh, and a golden and green rabbit would hop near our hut, and I would set traps near its burrow, and fruits and berries and mushrooms that were safe to eat had a golden hue to them and I laughed, wondering if it wasn’t a bit much, and you got angry at me.

You made me promise you I wouldn’t die while you remained as the guardian of the forest, and I promised that I wouldn’t, and I didn’t think too much of it, but you must have known back then, no? The following winter was colder than in previous years. It would only grow colder, I would come to realize.

I remember the first time you were confident enough to take me to your sacred grounds. It was the heart of the forest, and naturally, it represented all that you were. Were I to set fire to this place, you would die on the spot, and the forest would disappear, and I asked you why the hell would you ever tell me this, and you stuck out your tongue and suddenly, this was a shared issue.

A set of seven rocks were placed around a white tree, marks on it I could not understand. A rose made of glass grew around it, and strange four eyed birds circled it. The tree bled sap the color of rainbows, and its leaves were the shape of diamonds, the wind making them vibrate, playing glockenspiel notes.

It was a beautiful sight, but this was not why I was here. You guided me to the back of the tree, and there I saw houses made of dirt and buildings made of wood and stone. Churches made of moss and stadiums made of deer skulls and squirrel droppings. Here you told me this was made by you, based on the few times you had departed from the forest, and had stepped into the world of man. Here you told me that you didn’t hate men, but were rather intrigued by them, by their ability to craft such alien shapes that were so hideous yet so beautiful, because it was death, because such death was beauty too, and where cement and mortar was placed, no plant could grow, and no animal could subsist, and yet the church spires and the clock towers were grander than any tree, and so complicated in shape and function, and you wished to be able to create something like this. For eternity you had lived in that forest, and had not once created something that hadn’t existed before. You hardly could call your work a creation; you were a protector, an observer. You saw the world live, then die, then be reborn, and had done so since the dawn of time.

I asked, oblivious, what had changed. You, in your bluntness, told me I was at fault. Had I never eaten rotten venison- Nay, had I never stepped into your forest, you would have continued to live a boring life, chained to a job one could not escape from, for you had been born a servant of the will of the world, and you would die as such.

I apologized, for it was my recklessness, my desire to face away from an unkind world instead of confronting it that had put you in such an awkward position. You blinked, then broke into laughter, that beautiful laughter that attracted the porcupines and scared the pelt hunters, and instead thanked me, for you had never felt as alive as you had felt now.

We began to play in the mud then, crafting together our own creations, structures the world had never seen before, a sanctum neither of men nor of nature.

I wish we had the time to play for longer.

I remember the day you told me you were dying. You sent me a golden deer, but something didn’t look right. His fur had bald patches, and his horns were short. His legs seemed bruised, and his eyes looked tired. I felt like something was wrong, and asked you about it, and you tried to play it off, but I knew you were lying. You were really bad at it.

You told me you were dying, and I could not believe it. Why would you pull such a cruel prank, such an awfully unfunny joke? You opened your mouth again, and I realized you were speaking the truth.

Tell me, where have the foxes gone? Why did the dragons of dawn and dusk fly away and haven’t returned this season? Why have the mermaids left the rivers, left the lakes? Haven’t you noticed the fruits grow smaller, and frailer? Haven’t you seen the glass roses crack and shatter? Hasn’t autumn arrived sooner this year? Haven’t the leaves fallen slower? Hasn’t winter grown colder yet again, and the snow rabbits grown smaller?

The forest is dying, you told me, and you were dying too.

I embraced you, immediately, without a second thought, and you broke into tears, as did I. You said sorry time and time again and all I could do is curse you in my head: Please stop apologizing, you did nothing wrong, and yet the words couldn’t come out. I was powerless. I felt anger, frustration, fear.

What can I do, I asked, and you didn’t need to even reply for me to know that nothing could be done. This was the will of the forest; the will of the world. Just as men cannot help but lose his race against time, even the forest faerie turns to rot and dust. You were older than anything else, so it was only logical that you would soon depart. You apologized once more: You were sorry for having to die within my lifetime. It would have been so much easier for me to die first, because what is a hundred years to a near-immortal being? What is a single human to the lord of the forest? Naught but a speck of dust.

Your ears twitched every time you lied, and that made your passing so much more bittersweet. I could pretend all I wanted that I meant nothing to you, a mere plaything amid eternity. I would be at peace knowing this, and yet, you’ve died already, and who would I lie to but to myself now?

I remember spending several days visiting your sanctum, and the tree did not look any different, yet the song playing each time the wind ran through its leaves was slower in tempo; it sounded so much sadder. I tried to use all the tricks I knew of botany to keep your heart going, but I knew nothing, and you were aware of it. You allowed me to continue, pitying me like a man pities a lost child. By the second week, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I remember spending days taking down the hut the two of us lived in, and using the planks and the nails to build a small cart. Hop on, I said, and you did as you were told, knowing full well what my course of action was.

The following day we reached the closest town. I remember that, when I was a child, I used to live in this town I believe, and I had nothing but trauma for these memories, but at that moment, during those last few days, this place that had only given me pain thus far would become a place of joy.

I remember I first took you to the grand clock tower, and you asked me how did the tower work, and I could not really give you a clear answer, but I knew mechanisms inside of the tower made the clock work, and you wondered if it was possible to go inside, and we were not able to go, but you were enamored by it nonetheless.

I remember we walked to a chapel, and this we were to enter, and you saw pictures of saints and you asked me if this God was as kind yet cruel as yours, and I could not answer you. I remember we climbed to the top of those spires you admired so much, and a friar allowed you to swing the great bell inside, and you seemed so happy then, and it didn’t feel like much but you told me the ground you stood on before had no bronze, and so no matter how much you tried, you could never make something like this.

I remember taking you to a bookstore, and you devoured every book, and the store owner got angry with us, and asked us to leave if we weren’t going to buy anything, and it was here that we realized we had no money to speak of, for we lived a life where no exchange was necessary, and we left and eventually we stumbled across a library, and you picked books on mechanics and botany, and with the former you marvelled at it all, yet with the latter you had naught but complaints, for no man seemed to understand the true workings behind the world’s plants.

I remember taking you to a fair, and you tasted the cotton candy, and found the consistency weird, and bits of candy would get stuck to your face, to your hair, and I would laugh, because if I stopped laughing I would tear up, and we went to the flying cups, and we went to a roller coaster, which you hated, and we went to the ferris wheel, and it was here that you saw the city in its entirety and you began to cry. It was a beautiful sight, you said. And you thanked me, then you told me your name. Your true name, that which a fae protects at all costs, that which signals the end of a most sacred contract, and with a last smile, you embraced me, and turned into dandelion seeds.

By the time the ferris wheel touched the ground again, all that was left of you was a white and green seed you left on the ground.

I would eventually learn that your death was my fault. A faerie cannot allow a person to stay in one's forest: It's inimical to the way of nature. A man knows only violence, only greed and lust and ire, and would destroy it all if allowed to live amid nature. And any guardian of the forest who would do something like this is bound to be denied by nature, and disappear. If I hadn’t been there that day, you would still be here.

I wish I could say I have no regrets. I still think back to my choices, and I wish I had said something different, I had done something different. I wish I had been stronger, like you. You would have told me that you weren’t strong at all, in part to assuage me, in part because you could never see yourself as a strong person, as someone who was more than the forest they had grown from; that they had grown into. And I would be there to prove you wrong, but you aren’t here anymore. Not yet, at least.

The forest died almost immediately. The once proud forest, immensely vast and immensely dense began putrefying with your parting. Massive trees would turn hollow and collapse into dust, and the flowers and grass dried up. Many panicked, afraid of a pest unlike the ones who wiped most humans hundreds of years back, yet I knew the reason, and I knew I had to act quick. A lesser man would have allowed the forest to be consumed like the sadness had consumed them, proof of my growth. That is something you would have told me, I think. I guess you were right.

It took me a full day to reach your sanctum, and indeed, where once stood a beautiful tree was nothing but dry dirt. I made a small hole using my two hands, and there I planted your seed. I ran to a nearby stream, and from there I carried water using my hands until I managed to properly water you. I knew I had done well, because the ground immediately began turning into a better color, a muddy color that then turned slightly red, and soon grass began growing. The flowers and the moss returned, and whichever tree was still standing gained its leaves and its fruits.

The forest survived, so I must assume you had survived too, in the shape of a seed.

Many asked me what I had done, and I told our story, although I must say I did omit some of our most embarrassing moments. You can thank me later. The people in turn told me no one entered the forest, because they feared its guardian. And I told them there was little to be afraid of. If you respected the forest, that is.

It’s been a long time since then, and I must apologize for it. I know you would tell me there is nothing to apologize for, but I wish I had chosen to dedicate these words to you much earlier. So much has happened since then. The forest still flourishes, but now it has intertwined with the city. No cement or mortar has made its way here. Instead, people have built houses of wood and thatch using that which is provided fairly. There is no overcutting, overhunting, overfishing. I’ve made sure of it. All who live still remember how the forest turned gray and dusty, only to be reborn anew. They understand the power you once protected; the will of nature.

I think you’d be proud to see the small church with beautiful spires that’s been built close to our old hut. It’s the design we carved together, mud and sticks turning into reality. You were right: They are beautiful.

I think you’d also be happy to know that last week, I saw mermaids return to the river, and two days ago, I found a dragon nesting atop a cypress tree. The foxes and the badgers have returned, and the deer have beautiful antlers, twisting in the shapes your heart tree once had. The four eyed birds have been staring at your seed for a while now, which has sprouted slightly, a small half inch tall shoot signaling that the forest is healing, because you are still here.

I don’t know how long it will take for you to grow back into a conscious shape. I wish I had asked you so many things that would aid me now that you’re not here, but I should not regret as many things as I do now. One day you’ll flourish back, and I’ll have to welcome you in, and when I do, I strive to be light of heart, no regrets weighing me down.

And if the worst comes to pass, and I am not here to welcome you in, I want you to find this diary, these pages, this writing; this message I leave to you, and I want you to understand how much you meant to someone; how much you meant to me. And when you see the buildings created in the image of those you imagined one day would see, amid the world you grew chained to, yet loved and protected until the end, I want you to experience the same joy you made me go through.

Until next time

The child who loved the forest

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