Arbor Day

Posted on: May 22, 2014

On her last night in their little house, Allison stared out the back window, her eyes straining against the fading light.

The sun never really set in this little pocket of the New Hampshire woods. There was none of the pomp, none of the grandiosity, that accompanied the end of the day like it does in other places. The sun would just quietly slip behind the multitude of trees as the day passed from light to dark with only a brief foray into dim.

It used to be the only thing she missed, the one tiny imperfection in her otherwise story-book existence, until the trees took something far more important than a sunset.

Ever since their chance meeting at college, Allison said that she would gladly follow Jack to the ends of the Earth. When he found a teaching position at his alma mater, she proved it, moving with him to the tiny little hamlet in the White Mountains where he had grown up.

It was early spring when they bought their house, a little cabin nestled in shadow of the surrounding peaks. The house itself sat at the end of a mile long driveway, in a dense grove of stout, deciduous hardwoods. The thicket tapered off and gave way to a maze of spindly white pines and other evergreens as you climbed towards the ridge. She was mesmerized by the raw beauty of this untamed environment.

The isolation did not frighten her; in a way, it was a comfort. The University of Denver had taught her that she was not suited for the hustle and bustle of city life, and the quiet solitude reminded her of her family’s farm in Nebraska.

Except for the trees. Never had she seen so many trees.

While Jack was teaching, Allison spent her time on her own education; she devoured books on the indigenous flora, meandered through the woods, waded in the marshes, forded little brooks and climbed boulders. She reveled in her new world, learning its secrets.

On weekends, they would explore together. She would run from tree to tree, touching them, telling him of the wonders she had learned. Relishing her enthusiasm, he would flash his quiet smile and listen to her expound on the minutiae that differentiated the sugar maple from the black maple, or the white ash from the red.

Spring turned to summer, the world transformed from buds and blossoms into a great green mass, breathing and teeming with life. School was out. They had each other’s company all day, everyday. They made their own swimming hole by building a small dam on one of the little streams that danced through their property. Naked and alone, Allison and Jack splashed around, getting some relief from the heat and making some of their own. They screened in their porch and slept outside every night, serenaded by the lullabies that the woods provided.

And just as quickly as it came, summer was gone. The days got shorter and the nights turned cool. Jack was back to grading homework and preparing lesson plans. They moved their bed back inside and watched in wonder as Mother Nature got dressed in her autumn finery. For Allison, it was a revelation, an explosion of color the likes of which she had never seen, or even contemplated. She rambled through the woods, exulting in the myriad of reds, oranges and yellows. She danced under the trees as they dropped their leaves, like a child splashing about in the rain.

The first snow of winter was mild, a white dusting on the skeletal remains of the trees. Soon the entire world was blanketed with a thick layer of snow. But even this could not temper her passion for her surroundings. She ventured out some mornings, snowshoes strapped to her feet, marvelling in the silence that only winter can bring. But many days she was just as happy to stay inside, keeping their house cozy and warm, cooking hearty soups and stews on the old wood stove. She felt as if they were insulated from all of the harsh realities of the world, enveloped in their own little cocoon.

But no one is ever safe from the world.

Without power and phone, she had clung to the hope that Jack had ridden out the ice storm at school, or with his parents. But it wasn’t just the power and phone lines that came down. All over the state, thousands of majestic, towering trees, ensconced in a thick cuff of ice, had buckled under the added weight and crashed down, crushing whatever, or whoever, was in their wake.

It took two days for her to find out.

Warm and consoling, Jack’s family tried to convince her to stay after his death. Allison didn’t know what sounded worse, continuing on without him or leaving their home behind, so she tried to stay. She tried to pretend that she was okay, tried to pretend that the seclusion she had so loved wasn’t turning into desolation and despair. She made it four months.

In the end it was the trees that drove her away. The woods, once so inviting, now made her claustrophobic, straining for breath. The fitful bits of sleep she managed to get were littered with nightmares of the forest coming alive; the branches grabbing her, choking her, trying to swallow her whole.

She couldn’t leave the house that last night. She finished packing and found herself gazing out the windows, memorizing, remembering. The sunlight disappeared but she continued to stare, not stopping until the view of outside was replaced by her own reflection.


Allison smiled at the approaching sign.

                                                                                        The Good Life
                                                                                    Home of Arbor Day

Interstate 80 unfurled before her, a ribbon of blacktop that stretched as far as she could see. The horizon beckoned in every direction, unobstructed except for a few cottonwoods far off into the distance. The setting sun dipped behind the clouds, illuminating the skyline with a subtle pinks and purples. She rolled down the windows and took a deep breath. She scanned through the radio station, stopping on the classic rock station just in time to hear Janis Joplin belting out “Me & Bobby McGee” in her unmistakable boozy, bluesy drawl.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, and nothin’, thats all that Bobby left me.”

“Amen, sister,” she said as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. “At least we’re free.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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