The Sleeping Black Tree
By Gregga J. Johnn
Once upon a time in a forest clear and far away, there was a tree. If you had been walking through this forest you would know which tree I mean for he was not like the other trees of the forest. The other trees were all awake in the sunshine, with full heads of abundant leaves, lush fruits, and stunning flowers.
The tree of which I speak, however, did not like to waken in the daylight. The other trees pitied him for he did not have leaves and his branches were barren of fruit. His bark was smooth and glossy black. He was nothing like the other trees that surrounded him. The sleeping black tree stood in a small glade set apart from the others. He was tall. He was strong. He was quietly, alone.
Many travelers came to this forest for the beauty of the place and it was often said that this forest is how a forest should be. But, the glade in which our sleeping black tree stood was considered frightfully somber by most travelers. Some thought the place must be haunted. Some thought the place was sacred. Most simply avoided the place and so the sleeping black tree slept on, quietly alone.
There were the occasional few who traveled by that way and became drawn to the sleeping black. One such party would traverse this way on a yearly pilgrimage through the forest and set up camp each annum at the foot of the glossy roots.
They kept secret their precious camp, speaking rarely of its treasures, knowing that should the mysteries be made common knowledge then the quiet, lonely place would become a bustle with those who might want to steal this hidden treasure. Even when the sun was up and shining, they chose to not speak of the wonders that occurred while they camped at night. And so, the other trees of the forest never heard what happened while they were dormant in the dark.
The truth is the sleeping black tree did not always sleep, nor was he always just black.
The annual pilgrims set up their camp among the roots of the sleeping black tree in quiet joy. It was twilight and they bustled about in goodwill making sure to be settled by moonrise. They had waited for this particular month to take their journey for it was the time of the rare blue moon and the mystery in the quiet lonely roots of their tree was rising in power with the Luna glow.
When the camp was settled, dinner was celebrated and drinks were passed around. But, as the moon began glowing over the dormant leaves of the rest of the forest, the pilgrims doused their fires, covered up in warm blankest to ward off the night’s chill, and snuggled into the darkness watching the great sleepy tree.
But tonight was not to be a night like any other night.
The travelers smiled at each other in quiet expectation. They waited, expecting to see the glimmer and glow of the great black tree waking under his beloved moonlight.
For this tree was a nocturnal bloomer. In the moonlight he stretched forth his force and burst with a great rustling of leaves that covered every inch of his stark outline. Soft white flowers unfurled with the grandeur of royal holiness, filling the air with the incense of fragrant dreams. Fruits of wondrous spice grew overnight in tiny pods of succulent refreshment. The sleeping black tree awoke in power and magnificence under the magical glow of moonlight and stars.
But it was not all this grand glory of the night growth that brought the pilgrims back, year after year. There was another element of the dark magnificence that caught the wanderlust of every weary traveler. It was in his bark. The smooth, glossy bark became a sea of reflections in the starlight.
As the blue moon rose to full height, and the leaves rustled out of the hidden buds, each wanderer moved forward, seeking the reflection of themselves in the bark of this grand living tower. Seeking to plant in secret their dreams and pains and hopes. They brought their secrets to whisper into his soul that he might reflected back to them the precious treasures that could come their way should their boldness allow.
Yet on this night, as they slowly crept forward with faith in what visions of wonder he might reflect back to them, their tree guide began to quiver. There was a creaking and groaning and in places the smooth, glossy bark began to show lines of stress and cracking. The pilgrims backed off with fear for themselves and great concern for the welfare of their mighty friend. Then a violence overtook the whole being of their strong tower until suddenly the pilgrims where all cast backwards through the air as he erupted in flames from deep within and a column exploded directly up into the moonlit night.
Then out of the trunk, from a mighty crack there burst forth a foreign creature that landed upon the grass, dazed, confused and very, very cold. The pilgrims immediately took to their weapons and fired upon the small faery. They were convinced that she was the cause of such violence committed against their mighty treasure. The winged lady scrambled to her feet and dashed from their sight, not uninjured by the accurate aims of their attacks.
And thus with the harm out of the way, these triumphant protectors returned to their secret keeper and whispered into his still quivering reflections their own secret treasures and all were cooled off in the chill of the night.
In the following morn these refreshed and hope filled pilgrims set out upon their way singing the victories of the night’s adventure and the trees of the forest clapped their hands along with them.
The sleeping black tree returned to his pose of quiet loneliness, and the creaking and groaning of his heart could be heard through all the ground about him.
Consolation was offered by the other trees. It was silliness for the black tree to consider housing a fae creature of any kind. The fae were fae. They were not to be believed. Naturally a tree as young and strong as the sleeping black would attract such wanderers, but such a creature of eternal whimsy would never settle for a quiet home as he. Should the sleeping black tree want company, he should seek it from among other trees. After all, his heart would only turn bitter and dry when his faery lady left him as she was bound to do in time.
The sleeping black tree did not find rest in their concerns. He humbly followed their gazing direction as they pointed out the wormwood tree that poisoned the pond across the way with her bitterness. She was a stark reminder to all for what would happen should you love one not of your own time and kind.
The wormwood had loved once but her love had left her too soon and the loss churned in her heart such toxins that all who sought company with her were quickly turned away by the foul stench that surrounded and poisoned her atmosphere.
Sleeping Black was given good warning and then left on his own as the other trees continued their daily growth in the light of all that they knew was best for them.
But as twilight fell again, the familiar restlessness that Sleeping Black had come to love returned to him, creeping in timid wonder toward his beautiful reflection. Approaching in humble awe of his magnificence.
The faery lady bowed before him, sad to have caused such violent stirrings within, yet still afraid that she should again be made his captive. For all was not as it seemed. She was not a foreigner to this dark soul. She was not a vague wanderer that he had chanced upon. Nor was she one looking to leave his mighty rest. Nay, this faery lady was his dearest companion of many days who had already settled her home deep within his heart. But his quiet, solitary life had seen fit to keep her presence secret and indeed, he had even enclosed her deep within that she could not leave, lest the secret of her presence be made known to the disapproving forest that surrounded them.
It was silliness indeed to think a creature of fancy and flight should ever want to bind herself to a tree of such solid strength. Yet, creatures of fancy and flight often set their intents upon silliness and those of solid strength find lightness in this flighty joy. And thus it was that these unlikely souls found themselves caught in the contention of love.
But, it was not their love that was in contention. Their love was warmth and closeness, company and comfort. The contention, however, arose in the not so simple working out of details. How two such diverse souls might continue to find a home in each other’s differences?
So, thus it was in the returning of the Lady Fae to her Sleeping Black that she sought to convince him of her faithfulness. Yet, she questioned if her convincing was necessary? For, truly, if one must convince another that they are worthy of being loved then the love that needs the convincing is not worthy of being convinced. For love must be freely given with great sacrifice freely offered, or else it is but control and there is no rest in forced restriction.
Love is found within the embrace of deep paradox. For love must be sough with all effort and heart, yet offered only as a willing, free gift. Love must be given with devotion and sacrifice, yet release to grow where it will. Love is the joining breath of union, yet must be free to expand and grow independently. Two opposite intentions, existing and changing, growing and healing together in a tug-of-war that draws in closer, or else it gives off only burning in being pulled apart.
How then should a tree and faery find such union together? For while it is true that love does conquer all; defeat is in the details.
By now our sleeping black tree was calm and cooled after his explosion. His own lonely soul longed again for the gentle warmth of sweet love.
The lady faery grew bold after her flight to escape captivity. But, she too longed for the safety of his strength and companionship that their love afforded.
Together again under the moonlight, her faery demands of freedom melted and his rooted concern over privacy dissipated. The comfort, the security, the genuine companionship that their unlikely love offered was enough to make all else disappear. The rest of the forest faded from sight. The pilgrims wandered past as they chose. And the sleeping black tree awoke in his joy while the wandering faery settled in her peace. Together they hoped to face all contention without fighting against each other, but rather side by side as one in wild abandon and solid power. And their future was reflected in hope of what dreams may come.