A tree-hugger? Yes, I am. And so much more than that. I talk to the trees and I listen to them, too. And with good reason. You would too! I’ll tell you why.
It started on a Saturday morning after a wild Friday night on the town. I had deliberately drunk myself into an elevated state of oblivion. That week, I had lost my job, lost my girlfriend and I now had debts I could never pay. So oblivion express it was. And that target was successfully achieved at a significant cost to my remaining funds.
I was awoken the next morning by the sun’s glare. It was far too strong to open my eyes. My head was thumping as if an obese giant was tap dancing on my cranium. I tried to wipe the sleep away from my eyes with the back of my hand but I couldn't move it. Every time I tried I heard a strange rustling. I tried again then heard a deep strong voice "Quiet down, young one in front!"
I finally managed to force open my eyes. In front of me, there was a small natural hollow, like a miniature amphitheatre, covered in grass. In the distance, I could see a winding path leading down to the sea. Around me was woodland. The scene was familiar – but I was viewing it from an unusual angle. I turned my head – a slow painful process. Behind me, there were two larger trees. One, the voice I heard before, said in a military tone, "Eyes front, young one!" Another voice, a gentler female one, said "Have you offended Mrs McLaren, the landlady at the Victoria?"
I tried to remember the previous night; it was all a bit hazy. I recalled being requested to leave the Victoria bar, just after closing time. It wasn't the bar staff that had asked, but an older chubby woman, the owner I had guessed. I had maybe been somewhat impolite to her as I was finishing my drink as fast as I could. I had given her a no-holds-barred review of her establishment, her appearance, and her customer service. A no-star review.
"I think I might have been," I replied to the voice.
"Hah, the auld witch!" the male voice said. "I got on her bad books too, as did Margaret here. She stole her parking space in the supermarket. I scratched her car, swerving to avoid a cyclist. I'm Robert, by the way."
"Do you know where we are?" asked the female voice. Margaret. "It's the Witches Hollow. Heard of it?"
I knew I’d recognised the place. A popular picnic spot, it had previously had a darker side. A coven of witches, according to local legend, had used the spot for their ceremonies and then had been executed there following their trial. Some were shown mercy by being strangled and then burnt if they pleaded guilty. Burnt alive, if they maintained their innocence.
"A suitable spot," I replied.
"The old witch," was the response of my male companion. "She's turned us into trees. Probably hopes we'll get chopped down for firewood."
So, there was a nice future to look forward to.
We stood there a small stand of trees beside the hollow. The sun on our faces during the day, rain falling on us, a strange tickling sensation as we drew up the water.
The seasons passed slowly there. In the spring, there was a tingling where my hands should have been as young leaves burst through. In summer, rabbits, foxes, and the occasional badger snuffled around my roots. And picnickers came. God, I envied them – able to walk or run about! And kick any animals that snuffled about their feet! And then autumn where winds blew and ripped the now brown leaves from our limbs. Then the bitter cold winter, where snow clung to the bare branches.
Months passed. Then one day, come the spring, five people came to the Witches’ Hollow. They marked out the shape of a pentangle on the grass of the hollow with sawdust and placed candlesticks at each point. Then they started chanting. "Bloody hippies," was the verdict of old Robert.
As the chanting continued, I felt my hands and arms come free, and I heard the leaves rustling wildly. Then my feet became free. I was human again, naked but human. I looked behind me and saw a naked older man and a middle-aged woman. Robert and Margaret. We were free. We walked out, joyously towards the hollow.
"Bloody perverts!" shouted the celebrants as they ran off.
Eventually, we arrived at the town after a laborious trip. Margaret had to steal clothes from a farmer's clothesline. We must have looked weird as we walked barefoot back to the world, dressed in a crazy assortment of ill-fitting clothes.
Did we wreak vengeance on the witch? No… god knows what she would have done to us if we got her really angry! And in any case, I owed her a debt of gratitude. That period had changed my view of life. The simple things became important. The dappled light on a grassy bank as the light filtered through my leaves; the smell of the rain in the air, the twinkling bright stars on a cold winter's evening, the laughter of children playing on the grass; the things I had taken for granted or not noticed before.
So now, I hug trees, speak to them, listen to them – just in case they too are victims of the witch or one of her ilk.