Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | January 11, 2009

The Tree of Life

Lincoln, MA. January 3, 2009.


Passing through the forest, she leaves no footprints. Her thin legs break no twigs, and her breath shimmers. Around her, light gathers together and young trees bend to let her pass.

When I arrive, they snap back in place: sentinels eager to block my way.

Hallucinations? Probably. I’ve spent too many days wandering in the cold past pine after pine and oak after oak. Too many meals of tangy beetles and bitter, mouth-numbing tree bark.

At first, she was no more than a shimmer on the snow. A sense that I was somehow no longer alone. I had stumbled, and as I lay there wondering whether I should even bother to arise and continue my mad quest for home, she passed by.

I scrambled up and followed her sparkle, wondering as I crashed and bumbled my way along her trail: is that what madness feels like? Or death? Is this an angel come to lead me away?

I did not eat or drink that day or sleep that night for fear of losing her. Step by frozen step, she took shape in my swimming vision. Sparkle became mist became a slim female shape, always moving swiftly, always just out of reach.

Now it is approaching evening on the second day of my mad pursuit. I no longer feel my feet as they crash through the crusted snow and propel my dazed body forward. I am past hunger, past exhaustion, past fear. Wherever she means to take me, I will follow. Madness? At least I won’t remember the pain. Death? As long as heaven or hell is not an endless forest, I will go.

She stops.

Unknowing, my feet continue on, slamming me into a thick gray tree trunk and sending me sprawling.

I rise up on one elbow and throw my head from side to side. Where? Where?! I scream inside my head. Or maybe I’m screaming aloud.

She’s gone.

Tears trail down my numb cheeks and into my mouth. The moisture stings my parched lips.

She’s gone.

I lean against the tree, close my eyes, and wait to die.

But dying is slow work, and a strange gurgling sound pries my eyes open. I scrape the snow away from the base of the tree. The roots descend not into earth, but into stone! I lost feeling in my fingers days before, but as my hand rests on the fine gray bark, a fierce tingle fights through the numb skin until I tear my hand away in wonder. Next, I rest my cheeks against the bark and feel them warm.

Where the roots push through stone, the warmth is strongest. If I am already mad, what harm in more madness? I begin to clear snow like an angry badger. Maybe she is beneath this tree, trapped and waiting for rescue.

Finally, I find the edge of the stone, and peer below the tree into a cave filled with rushing water. A sinewy curtain of roots guard the underground river.

Unthinking, filled with wonder and madness, I venture too far over the edge of the stone and plunge into the water.

I’m dead, I decide, for the cold is gone. In fact, it is more than gone. I no longer remember what cold felt like, or hunger, or thirst. I am as full as after the most delicious Christmas dinner, and sated as with the coolest spring water.

And she is here, wrapped with roots and smiling through her glow. The tree of life welcomes you, she sings.

I smile.



  1. I like this story. Something akin to that visited me in “dream” some seven years ago. It is still present in me. It was a kind of sweet, casual, very simple enchantment. By the way, your story is very well written; a very good piece of writing. Thanks.

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