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Death Of A Tree

Story ID:4217
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Somewhere in Texas USA
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I'm just going to post my ezine for you today.
It will explain why I haven't been posting much these days.

This story was written by a friend of mine. With
permission I used it on my ezine last weekend.
The first part is just my intro to my group.
The story about the tree is below that. It's a bit
long but well worth the read.

Hearts and Humor

Death of a Tree


Dear Michael,

Hi, Gang!
Welcome to all our new members. I hope everyone enjoys the story tonight.

Tonight's story is much longer than normal. I'm not sorry about this.
I think you will understand.

I'm sorry for not posting my regular stories the past few weeks. Ginny and I
are in the process of moving. I received and accepted an offer for a position in
Idaho. Ginny will be near her daughter and grandchildren again.

I'm excited! I can't wait to see the west coast. We'll be living close to
Boise, Idaho. There is so much to see in that part of the USA. Oregon and Washington states are close. Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite are also
close. I'll see things I could only dream about in the past.

I haven't had too much time to write, so tonight I bring you something
special. Back in the late 90's, when I first found the internet, I joined an internet
writing group. I met a special friend. Willie and I quickly connected. He was a rough
and tough Texan. I was a soft hearted Nova Scotian.

Time went by. Willie and I shared our stories and then insults. We were
insult buddies. I worked night shifts. Willie woke early. We'd meet online and banter.

Willie was an amazing writer. He was an ex-policeman from the Houston
area. During an undercover drug bust, Willie was shot three times. He survived, but
had a bullet lodged near his spine that caused him great pain. The pain was the
reason he was up early in the morning to chat with his Canadian friend.

Willie laughed, when I moved to the USA. "You dumb Canuck! I told you
you needed to move south!"

I'm sad to say, soon after I moved to the USA, skin cancer took control of
my friend. One night, when I lived in Ohio, I received a call from Willie's wife. Sandra
told me Willie was gone.

I never met my buddy.

Willie, you'd probably slap me in the head for saying this, but I loved you
and the friendship we had.

Tonight's sorry does have some adult content, but read it through. This is
the story I remember my friend by. It is much longer than my normal posts, but I
don't want to do a two-part story. This needs to be read all at once.

If anyone is interested in greeting cards or crafts, Ginny belongs to a group of artists. They've teamed together to market their products. Check them out at: http://www.etsygreetings.blogspot.com
Ginny's cards and other crafts are at: http://www.ginginsgoodies.etsy.com
To sign up for my stories go to:
To read more of my stories, go to:

Now for today's story:

Willie, this is for you, my friend. I couldn't meet you on this side of heaven, but I will
see you when I get there. Thank you Sandra for allowing me to share Willie's story
with my readers.

Death of a Tree
William R. Walker

Gnarl stood on the eastern edge of the wide and grassy plain, ever aware and in
tune to all that took place within his broad radius of sentience. For more than one
hundred years, he stood vigil, steadfast and in the same position and would continue to do
so for another two centuries. No super conscious effort was expended in the
accomplishment of this amazing task. None was needed because, you see, Gnarl was a
live oak tree.

For almost thirty million years, since the prairie had risen from the sea, his kind
had been in attendance, had witnessed, and recorded in detail all that had occurred. After
observing an event that transpired within his broad radius of sentience, it would be noted
by Gnarl, then stored in his vast memory, a memory filled with every minute detail of the
event. Thus, the smallest and most intimate details of an insignificant happening, such as
the swift leap of a voracious wolf spider upon its prey, would not only be observed by
Gnarl, it would also be accurately recorded and permanently stored for later retelling.

When the soft, warm breezes blew in from the nearby sea, his broad green boughs
would bend and sway. His leaves would stir and make a sound like a quiet whisper that
carried to the next live oak. And a whisper it was, because on that gentle, wind-borne
sigh rode the details of all that Gnarl had witnessed in his long sedentary life.

At the next mott, other live oak trees would feel then absorb Gnarl's message
after which they would whisper it to their neighbors at the numerous other motts that
dotted the broad prairie. Thus, the intimate details of the hungry wolf spider's lethal leap
would not only be intimately known by Gnarl, but by all the live oaks for many miles

And so it was on a cool and blustery April day in 1836 - the day men arrived on
the prairie. Gnarl knew of men. He knew from personal experience and from countless
stories passed down by his ancient ancestors. The stories told of naked and painted
savages who passed by on their way to fish in the nearby bay. Sometimes the peaceful
nomads would stop to gather the large acorns from his and other oak trees' branches or
dig the plumb mussels from the bed of the old river that flowed and meandered its way
through the quiet prairie toward the bay. On many occasions he had even witnessed them
stalking the many large buffalo herds that would stop to graze the tall coastal grasses
before renewing their unending migration.

Now, once again, men had come to the prairie. Two separate groups mounted and
in long columns, arrived a day apart and made camp on either side of the prairie where
Gnarl maintained his unending vigilance.

The larger of the two groups was Mexican soldiers. They were uniformly dressed
in bright reds, greens, and blues. Their woolen tunics were crisscrossed with dazzling
white belts and festooned with brilliant medals and loops of golden braid. Before long,
they had pitched their tents and spread their kits under the drooping boughs of a groove
of Gnarl's live oak friends. To say that these men exuded an aura of assured confidence
would be far from an adequate statement. Their bold manner and relaxed attitude
informed Gnarl of the strong belief in their mission and their superiority.

His keen perception told him that the other group of men was different. They
were a mixed bag of ragtag Texian soldiers. Here, he sensed and recorded no uniformity
of dress, no glittering medals or golden braid, no pomp, no ceremony. Instead of
displaying the bold confidence and a secure belief in the invincibility, like the men
camped across the prairie from them, their hurried expressions and nervous manner
betrayed the quiet and haunting desperation that surrounded them.

Gnarl sensed the terrible resolve and dedication to cause that both groups felt
He sensed poorly concealed fear and trepidation of each other, sensed it, but could not
begin to understand it, could not understand why these men had come to this peaceful
prairie to kill one another.

The Mexican camp was barely set up before a small group of Texians, mounted
and heavily armed, appeared outside their camp perimeter and provoked them into
action. Loud gunfire, drowned out by the occasional rolling boom of cannon shot, echoed
across the wide prairie as the two groups made a half-hearted attempt to size one another

Gnarl witnessed these terrible and reckless acts of desperate men in desperate
times. He observed and recorded many acts of bravery on both sides as the small
skirmish ran its short course then ended with hardly a drop of blood spilt on either side.
That evening, when bright stars dotted the darkening sky, both camps settled down to
a quiet, but tense night. Tomorrow, they knew the final performance of this mortal drama
would be acted out.

Dawn arrived with a crisp coolness on the mist swept prairie. Gnarl was aware of
the thick columns of smoke from dozens of campfires as it rose above the treetops. He
watched it stop its slow ascent and form a thin, undulating blanket of tarnished silver
over the apposing camps. He heard and recorded the metallic clank of equipment and the
inpatient neighing of horses above the hushed murmur of sleepy-eyed men as they
prepared for the coming battle. Before long, both sides ready for the days terrible

Serried ranks of anxious Mexican troops stood by, silent and unmoving as they
waited for the expected Texian attack. The only sound was the nervous snorting of their
cavalry horses and the muffled snaps and pops of their battle flags as they unfurled and
waved in the chilled morning breeze.

One hour passed, then two, but no sound or movement came from the Texas lines.
The Mexican commander, who also happened to be the self-appointed president for life,
assumed with a logic that lacked any imagination, that the Texians were frightened and
unwilling to face his numerically superior force and so ordered his troops to stand down.
All morning and into the early afternoon no sound came from the Texas camp.

Tiring of the waiting game, he finally gave the order for them to eat and take a
much needed siesta. The Mexican commander wasted no time in donning a pair of his
finest silk pajamas then settled himself on his cot with confidence, knowing that several
thousand more of his troops were en route to the prairie. When they arrived, he would
hesitate no longer in destroying these foolhardy Texas rebels and asserting his rule over
this wild but fair land.

Gnarl observed this, missing nothing. He was surprised and somewhat perplexed
by the total lack of activity from the two large groups of men. While musing it over, a
gentle whisper reached him from across the prairie. He immediately recognized the soft
feathery voice of Knot, an ancient live oak that grew across the prairie near the Texian
camp. Knot spoke of hurried activity in that camp, activity that announced an end to the
quietness of the afternoon.

Gnarl dutifully absorbed Knot's message then, in turn, whispered it to the other
nearby live oaks. He and the other oaks stopped their excited whispers and became
quiet as the tension increased. It was an overpowering tension obvious to all, that is, all
but the sleeping Mexican camp.

The prairie suddenly came alive with the whispers of hundreds of live oak trees.
The Texians were on the move! Gnarl extended and stretched his senses to the limit in an
effort to detect the movement, only to have it blocked by a low rise of ground between
him and the advancing men. He was about to turn his attention back to the Mexican camp
when a strange sound reached him, a strange, but at the same time familiar sound. It
reminded him of the sweet melodies that the birds sang from the many nests he had
supported through the years.

Suddenly, a flag appeared above the low rise. It had a white background overlaid
by a bare breasted woman wielding a long, banner draped sword. As he watched, the long
staff it was attached to popped into view, then the callused and dirt encrusted human
hands that held it. Seconds later, several heads beneath furry animal skins and floppy brimmed hats popped into view, then more and more.

Before long, hundreds of wide-eyed and panting Texians appeared in a long
line abreast. It surprised Gnarl when he discovered that the sweet melody came from
three men blowing wind instruments in the middle of their undisciplined ranks. In all
the countless stories whispered across the prairie in more than a century of life, not
one of them gave the slightest hint that creatures such as these could produce such a
pleasant sound. Next to appear was a tall, broad-chested man sitting astride a snow-white
horse. Gnarl observed and recorded it all as the man rode up and down the uneven line,
shouting loud, patriotic words of encouragement and vulgar invectives at his men.

Gnarl directed part of his attention toward the still sleeping Mexican camp, a
camp completely unaware of the deadly peril that approached. Their sentries, although
standing, leaned on their muskets half asleep, oblivious to the fast approaching danger.

Suddenly, loud Spanish shouts of "Los diablos Tejanos - the Taxas devils,"
echoed across the prairie. The warning came too late. In an instant, the Texians fell upon
the Mexicans like a pack of slobbering mad dogs. The air immediately resounded with
the flat crack of musket fire and blood curdling screams of "Remember the Alamo!
Remember Goliad!" Seconds later, the Mexicans added their own screams to the
unnatural din, but theirs were different, theirs were the terrible dying screams of pain and

Gnarl's senses were stretched to the limit, as he worked overtime in a valiant
effort to absorb all that was happening. Never in his long life had there been so much
information to perceive, to feel, and to record. He felt the thin layer of life sustaining
cambium under his thick outer bark swell and expand with the overpowering flood
of raw data as he distributed these strange new impressions throughout his vast network
of memory cells.

Gnarl absorbed every nuance of pain and terror the Mexicans experienced. He
absorbed every detail of the insane killing rage that held the attacking Texians in an iron
grip as they waded through a terrified and confused enemy that was more than twice
their number. Before long, the sharp report of musket fire dwindled to an occasional pop
as the Texians switched to clubbing and stabbing, not taking the time to reload their
single-shot weapons.

Eighteen short minutes later, the fighting ended. Around Gnarls trunk, blood from
almost one thousand slain Mexican soldiers was trampled and churned into the red and
sticky morass. He was quick to note that among the many mounds of dead, lay the
twisted and broken bodies of only two Texians.

Mounted Texians, driving dozens of frightened prisoners before them, then began
to arrive in small groups. gnarl sensed the Mexicans' fear as they were corralled nearby.
Next, the victorious Texians began stacking captured ordinance under his drooping
branches. There were countless kegs of black powder, wooden crates of primer, and
explosive canister rounds for the cannon. As perceptive as Gnarl was, he did not sense
the danger of having so much destructive material near at hand.

Later, as the blood red sun dipped below the distant horizon, the victorious Texas
commander interviewed the captured Mexican dictator. It was at that moment that a
large campfire built near Gnarl ignited a corner of the canvas that covered the ordinance.
Within seconds, the leaping and crackling flames reached his lower boughs, setting them
ablaze. Gnarl felt no pain as the flames climbed higher and higher, consuming branch
after branch of his evergreen leaves. Although there was no pain, he did experience a
sense of loss because when he tried to whisper this new and unusual experience to the
other oak trees, the message came out all garbled and unintelligible. Seconds later, his
entire frame, from top to bottom, was ablaze.

The crackling and popping flames quickly consumed every leaf on Gnarls broad
and mighty frame then died out. Only in a few places did the fire still flicker and burn,
usually where a dead branch or gray streamer of Spanish moss had hung on through
the winter. The damage was serious, but not fatal. Gnarl knew it would take the entire
spring and summer to partially regenerate his foliage; his growth ring for this year would
indeed be a thin one.

What Gnarl really missed, even after only a few brief moments, was the ability
to communicate these strange new sensations and impressions to his fellow live oaks.
Without a thick coat of leaves, he had no way of impregnating the warm gulf breeze with
his whispered tales. He gave his loss a brief thought then dismissed it. After all, he could
still perceive and record his impressions for later telling, and he could listen to the other
live oak trees tell their tales. With his usual sense of duty, he resumed his job of gathering
and storing information.

A large keg of gunpowder suddenly exploded with a blinding flash and a
tremendous roar. The violent concussion shook Gnarl from the ends of his highest
branches to the tips of his deepest roots. Bits of burning canvas and other debris rained
down on the remaining ordinance causing more explosions. In seconds, Gnarl had lost
almost every branch on his once majestic frame. Jagged and splintering chunks of bark
and memory-rich heartwood flew from his mighty trunk as the destruction continued to
tear him apart.

Still, Gnarl felt no pain, only a deep sense of regret at not being able to relay
these final dying impressions to the other live oaks. With a deep inner sigh, his sentience
flickered on and off several times, then slowly faded into a black nothingness.

The nearby live oaks instantly sensed the loss of one of their own and began a
sad wail. It was a soft and mournful wail, whispered to a wind that carried the tale
of Gnarl's life and death. Their leaves whispered his story for any that cared to
listen. They spoke of the small, insignificant acorn that took root in the dark, fertile
loam of the prairie and grew into a beautiful live oak tree. They spoke of his dedication
and his attentiveness on the most exciting day that had ever dawned on the prairie.
They spoke of the heroic death of a great tree.

On cool, moonlit April nights, when the traffic on the nearby ship channel
is quiet, you can sit under the spreading boughs of the live oaks on the old battlefield
and listen. If you are gifted and possess the proper sensitivity you will feel their
consciousness. Its sentience will surround and embrace you with folds of ancient
knowledge. And if you have a keen sense of hearing, you will hear their soft
whispers when the gentle gulf breeze stir their dense foliage - soft, mournful
whispers that tell you the story of Gnarl, of how he once lived and died.

William R. Walker

Thank you, Willie! I will never forget our friendship.

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