Trevor was getting too old to cut down trees. He had done it his whole life, from the time he first picked up an axe his parents had him out in the forest working with his father. When he was young, his father Ander would cut down the trees and Trevor would do the work of cutting the fallen into firewood.
Back then, he really enjoyed it. He liked being in the woods with his father, using his muscles, sweating and grunting the hours away. It was satisfying work, too, the way he would start with a huge fallen tree and chop his way through it until it was something completely different. He cut it into the size and shape his father had showed him, but sometimes he would imagine what would happen if he kept cutting forever and ever each piece in half and in half again until he was surrounded by dust.
“Because who says we must have the patience to wait for Time to have its way with us?” was a koan his father had given him repeatedly until Time had its way with him.
Now Time had had its way with Trevor too. He was well past his father’s age from his most distant memories of when he first joined him in the woods to chop firewood. Trevor’s own son and daughter had gone off to college. They got jobs in medicine and computers respectively and he was proud that they didn’t have to sweat and grunt their lives away chopping down trees.
He was also lonely. His wife was gone. Her ashes slept on the mantle above his fireplace. Most nights he would stare at her modest urn and try to hear her voice and the songs she had sung to him. Some nights he still could.
He didn’t need to cut wood for money anymore. He owned his cabin and his land and his kids took care of themselves. He pretty much just went into the woods every day because it was all he knew how to do. He rested his axe on his shoulder and walked down a little rocky path that was as worn into the forest as it was in his memory. And he would either finish chopping up a tree he already fell or he would find himself a new tree to take down.
This particular day, he was looking for a new tree. His shoulders ached from work the day before, but he knew that warming them up on a new project would be just what the doctor ordered.
“Now let’s see,” Trevor said to the quiet forest.
He shifted the axe to his other shoulder and scanned the forest around him. He didn’t want to clear out too many trees from any one area. There was no need for another grove. He liked the forest as it was and definitely didn’t want to damage the structure and integrity Mother Nature had blessed it with. He enjoyed the paradox of being both an agent of protection and destruction at the same time.
He always looked for old and sick trees first. When he took them down, he felt assured that he was fulfilling a duty to the forest, clearing away the old and rotted-out so that new seedlings would have a chance to grow. But sometimes he found himself with a strange craving to tackle a tree that was still vibrant with life.
“There is such a thing as too much beauty,” he reminded the forest.
And so he kept walking. It was still early and his belly was still warm with the morning’s coffee, and his feet felt strong today in his well-worn boots. Off in the distance to his right, he saw a patch of forest illuminated with a warmth swath of sunlight. Little purple flowers speckled the ivy. It looked like a magical place so he turned off the path onto an animal run, kicking a few stones out of the way and heading in the direction of the glow. As he blazed this new trail, he relished the cold air spiking it’s way into his lungs and the sound of the underbrush shushing his heels.
“Shhhhh,” he agreed.
Somewhere above him a woodpecker set to work knocking down the door to its dinner. Trevor imagined the sound as if the tree were giggling as the bird tickled it. It was a warm and happy sound that he had known all his life. He looked up to echo-locate the manic bird and saw streams of yellow sunlight piercing the canopy high above.
Then a familiar haunted tickle arrested him and stopped him in his tracks. The ghost caress crept across his face and arms and spun a chill up his spine the same way it had since he was a kid. Walking through a spider web is something you never get used to. It pricked awake a primal terror and he immediately set about wiping away the phantom garment.
He dropped his axe and ran his hands over his exposed forearms. Then he patted and swatted his way down his chest. He ruffled his hands through his hair and over his ears and neck, all the while wiping and pulling at the alien fibers now entangling him. His above him a woodpecker pecked and the trees giggled at his funny little dance.
And as he smacked and slapped himself back into a spider-free surety so too diminished his hushed curses and grunts.
“Ah! Ah! Dammit. Shit. Ungh. Mmmph.”
Until he stood there panting and strange, the forest resolutely oblivious to the trauma surmounted.
And as his breath returned what remaining wits the old man retained after years of axe swinging and bourbon swigging, Trevor was suddenly self-conscious. The eyes of the forest, his oldest and most trusted companion had bore witness to his silly fit. His shaking and flapping like some fallen fat bird wrestling with its broken wings.
And he was suddenly furious. And in his fury he lunged down and grabbed his axe. And he raised his axe with a wounded yell and cast his gaze about the stoic grove.
“AAAAAAaaaaaaaaHhh!” And then, pulled down by the weight of his trusted tool, he fell backward into the mud with a mighty splat.
The earth knocked the wind out of him.
When he opened his eyes, little white spiders blinked across his vision.
High above him the popping work of the woodpecker echoed his own ramped up heart beat. He squished his fingers into the mud and for the first time in his life felt like he was a part of the woods. He lay at the bottom of this thought for some time, letting his body come back to him.
And when it finally did, he giggled, realizing that the forest had made a good point.
When he eventually pulled himself from the mud and leaves, he left the axe where it lay. His tree-cutting days were finally at and end.