Short story: The Tree | Otago Daily Times News Online

To mark World Environment Day this year, we’re republishing The Tree, by Isobel Clarke, from The Heat is On: Young Writers on the Climate Crisis, a free digital anthology of creative writing about the climate crisis. Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature.

The tree

Ten years ago, a girl planted a tree. She and her grandmother walked through the tall grass, clutching a conker seed in their joined hands. They dug a hole in the fine, lush earth and placed the conker there. Grandma covered the hole and the girl tapped it three times for luck. They left.

The first year they returned, their tree was two feet tall. It was healthy, well placed. They gave him water and left, hand in hand.

In the second year of their return, the tree had barely grown. It was stiflingly hot outside. The ground was very dry. They spilled buckets of water on the floor, knowing it would only last a few hours. In an anxious silence, they returned home.

In the third year of their return, the tree was over a meter high. But the forests around it were not. Sawdust and burnt stumps lay where they belonged. The tree had not been touched. It was a controlled fire. They went home, tears streaming down the little girl’s cheeks.

The fourth year, they did not come. Grandmother was gone, and with her, the girl’s house.

Fifth year. No one was there for the tree. He wanted the girl to come. The climate was changing. We had to say goodbye.

2 years pass…

In the eighth year, an almost unrecognizable eighteen-year-old woman walks up to the tree. She’s been through so much, lost so much. She thought that if she came here, maybe she could say goodbye to her past, move on.

There’s no way she can do that now.

She does not stand in the lush field surrounded by glorious forests that she was eight years ago. No. It’s a wasteland. A dry and dead desert. The smell of smoke and devastation lurks in the thick air. Plastic wrappers slide down her ankles, taunting her, teasing her. Everything is your fault! They seem to be yelling at him. Everything is your fault!

She is running now, her curly brown hair flying behind her. His hazel eyes search, scrutinize. “Please, please,” she whispers. But now she’s seen it and she wishes she hadn’t seen it.

A shriveled tree 2 meters high. The branches creak in the dusty wind. A plastic bag is caught in the remaining leaves and a dead crow lies at his feet. How, how can he be so… dead when they planted him with so much love? The girl kneels at the foot of the tree and wraps her arms around him. “I’m so sorry…” she whispers. “I’m so, so sorry.”

She comes back as much as she can after that, but nothing she does helps. No water is enough to save the tree, no love is enough to heal it. Two years and it’s dead, nothing but a reminder of what was ten years ago.

Lying in bed that night, the young woman tossed and turned. She’s dripping with guilt that her own race is responsible. There’s only one thing she can do.

Fight for his planet.

Isobel Clarke was born in Edinburgh in 2009. She still lives there with her mother, father, sister and her cat Zeus. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, writing and running. After school she would love to publish a book and travel the world. Nepal and Japan top the list.

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