Animal Dilemmas – Oak Tree Pheasant

short stories wildlife conservation

Short Story

The Pheasant was hazy with thought. The Satyr had stirred its brain and robbed it from peace and order. The Pheasant made it a point to avoid drifting creatures and their toxic ideas of life. Its mind was set but an encounter always depressed it. When that happens the Pheasant had the habit to put its life in danger. Nothing cleared its mind more than a walk on farm land in the light of day. It was an opportunity to visit the oldest oak tree in the area.

Oaks were not native of these lands but adopted well and morphed to their environment. There were many oak groves in the hills and every second tree in the forest was fathered by an oak. A large patch of the woods at the foot of the hill have been cleared and cultivated but one large had been left in the middle. This was one of the first oak trees to be brought and was older than anyone can remember.

The Pheasant emerged from the edge of the forest and started crossing the fields at casual pace. There were no giants in sight but that didn’t mean it was safe. The Pheasant enjoyed the feeling of risk, the audacity of putting its life in the hands of fate. That way the sky seemed bluer, the sun was sweeter and the breeze cooler. The bird have heard legends all its life about the wisdom of the Oak and how every 100 years it spoke. It spoke and enlightened the creature that was in the vicinity, be it a giant, a mouse or an ant.

Its trunk was wide and stout and the shade it cast was solid and cool. The ground bellow the Pheasant’s feet was soft with rotten leaves and acorns.

‘What does it take to endure a thousand years, all in one place, defenseless? Fate or luck? How many protectors do you need? Isn’t the boredom alone enough to kill you? And is it possible to endure the same life span on the move experiencing all miseries of beasthood,’ mused the Pheasant out loud?

‘Eight hundred and eleven years,’ said the Oak.

The Pheasant halted and looked around.

‘Fate and luck are the same thing. So is choice for that matter,’ continued the Oak.

The Pheasant looked up and stood still.

‘I don’t have a mouth, you are not going to see me shake a branch when I talk. You can look at any direction you like.’

‘I never believed that trees talked.’

‘That’s sensible.’

‘Why you chose to talk to me?’

‘Because birds are sensible and haven’t practiced my pheasant in a few hundred years.’

‘How did you survive so long?’

‘Fate or luck, you tell me. Or I can show off say – skill. My tannic acid is stronger than may other oak tree and keep all bugs away, the rodents don’t eat my acorns from the ground and I have spawned more offspring than anyone else and that happiness keeps me going.’

‘So, it’s just luck!’

‘No, per se. I have had many benefactors. The most important are deceased. They chose to avoid me. The water mold killed every second tree in this forest, back when it was a forest. That was why the giants choose this area for farming. They saw sick trees and started cutting down the rest. They are lazy beasts but I own my survival to them too.’

‘I thought the giants cut and kill without sense.’

‘Most of them do but some are sensible. They thought me too godly to cut down and cut around me. For generations they have gathered here for lunch when they work the fields. I have seen everything from weddings to burials under my branches. Even a rape, murder, several births and one king. The giants are the most emotional of beasts.’

‘You didn’t answer my question.’

‘Ah, yes.’

‘You have seen more than any living beast. Only the gods have seen more than you.’

‘All beasts that travel to satisfy their craving for life see as much as me but experience too much. And too much experience is stress and stress shortens your life and often narrows your mind.’

‘So in order to live good and long you have to stay in one place.’

‘Not only that. You have to plant deep roots, deeper than anyone. Produce a lot of tannic acid to avoid the root rot which only got me in recent years. You have to make life come to you.’

‘How do you make life come to you?’

‘You collect the sun and water and produce as many acorns as possible.’

‘I believe in family.’

‘With me is different. One is every ten thousand acorns becomes a tree.’

‘So how many trees have spawned?’

‘Every tree in the forest around the field is my heir.’

‘I thought your acorns fall to the ground and beast eat them.’

‘I produce a lot of a acid so beasts try to eat them but soon spit them out further on their path.’

‘Many paths lead to you, Oak.’

‘All paths lead to me.’

‘In this forest.’

‘But the world is bigger than this forest.’

‘So there is more oaks like you.’

‘Not many but yes I suspect there is more. From what I have heard from the giants and animals that rest under my branches our forest is but an acorn in the scheme of the world.’

‘To me our forest my world. This is where my family is and this is where I know how to survive.’

‘My world is even smaller than yours but I have traveled far with my thoughts.’

‘It is the best way to travel.’

‘But you have to choose carefully your destinations. You have to restrain your mind from taking various forms. If you don’t you will go mad with desire and ego.’

‘I believe you, Oak.’

‘Do you believe all old trees?’

‘You are the first that spoke to me.’

‘But you had quite the argument with a Satyr earlier.’

‘How did you know?’

‘My branches are vast and many birds use them to catch their breath. They rest and they gossip.’

‘What do you know about Satyrs?’

‘They are the total opposite of you. Demi-gods they style themselves. Thirsty for wine and lusty for flesh. They worship the wrong gods.’

‘What are the right gods?’

‘Roots and water.’

‘Have any gods taken a rest under your branches?’

‘Yes, they have spawned some of those roaming Satyrs before me. The feast was held here a few hundred years ago. Gods are worse than rotten acorns. They amuse themselves with other’s misery and they call it jokes and songs.’

‘I am of the same opinion. Have you ever wished to be able to move?’

‘No, never. My roots are my gods and I worship them fatefully.’

‘Why did you choose to talk to me?’

‘Because you are the most interesting bird that walked by.’

‘I wanted to go around the world once.’

‘The trick is to plant deep roots and never move, not for kings or gods.’


all chapters: Animal Dilemmas

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photograph by Tomas Bankauskas

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