For centuries I’d stood in close company with many others like me. My companions made many demands. I had taken root in rocky soil, and they all wanted to drink from the earth. It was not easy to live with so many hungry companions, some much taller, reaching much deeper than I.
After the Infestation, times were not so lean. The others were fewer, and the land thus richer. It was the first time I had been thankful for woodpeckers; they dug into my flesh, but they also ate the pests that threatened me. For a long time after that, I drank from the earth and spread my arms to the sun. Though the children of the lost grew and crowded once more, I was already tall and broad. My leaves spread wide, and my roots spread deep, breaking the rock apart beneath me to reach deeper, richer sources.
The air got harder to breathe as the quick ones became more common. They brought strange litter that did not enrich the earth and toyed with fire under my boughs. It always was frightening to have fire so close, but they seemed to be careful with it, usually. When they weren’t, I was lucky. So far.
Then wildfire swept through. The wind was high, and there’d been no water to enrich the soil for some time. It was an arid time, and the fire swept through hungrily. I had no doubt it was alive. Nothing but a living thing could eat with such greed.
Many new seeds took root, ready to succeed their elders that had burned. But I wasn’t willing to give up. The rocky soil I’d once taken root in had been my salvation; it had protected me somewhat from the spread of the fire. I struggled with the last of my energies to reach for the sun. Soon the rain came, nurturing me and all the new life. Over time I grew again. Eventually, I could spread out above all other trees, and drink deeper, growing slowly healthier.
Then the humans came with axes. They built a shelter from some of those that fell, used others to fuel their fires. I didn’t know why I was spared. Perhaps the lone, grand oak pleased them. Perhaps the fire or the infestation had ruined me for building their homes from.
They lived so quickly. In a flash, I had initials carved all around me. They gathered up my acorns to feed animals with, and soon there was a swing hanging from one of my branches. And the children on that swing grew fast, too. Soon, they had children. I grew stronger, sturdier, reaching higher and deeper. And one day, there was another house built, but in my branches. Boards were nailed into me to climb to it. More houses sprung up, more quick little humans, and soon there were always children among me, from one generation or another. However many houses they built, though, I was always unharmed.
Once, my companions were others like me, struggling to nourish themselves more fully than me, struggling to reach the sun before I could. They were always seeking to suffocate me or shade me or somehow to kill me so that they could live. And I was no different; after the fire, many died in my shade so that I could grow strong.
I have new companions, now. They hurry and are sometimes thoughtless or harmful. They keep the hungry fire as a pet, but they are careful with their fires. They do not fight me, and have provided me a nourishing place to grow in peace. I will bear witness to their lives, until the world changes again.