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|"When the cold of Winter comes,
starless night will cover day
But in dreams,
I can hear your name
When the seas and mountains fall
|— In Dreams|
Over the years, a man visits a certain tree. As the seasons change, the tree becomes a place to rest and a place to remember.
The man peered up at the early dawn sky. The sun peeked slightly over the earthbending train system and cast warm glows on the lower ring houses and shops of Ba Sing Se. He passed flower vendors and curio stands: all closed. He noticed early signs of morning life: laundry lines going up, pots and pans preparing themselves for breakfast. The man continued walking and looked ahead. There was a place he needed to be.
The lone tree stood atop a small hill. It's simple branches reached upward in the morning. The tree lacked any stunning characteristics; it had a solid trunk and dark green leaves. Footsteps broke the calm silence as the man approached the tree and gently spread a brown blanket over the dew-covered grass. He found a comfortable position and sat down. The man, like the tree, looked common. A grey beard covered his face, his hair hidden beneath a straw hat. His eyes contained a sense of knowing. He watched the sunrise.
During the young weeks of spring, the first cherry blossoms covered the grass in a white blanket of petals. When the wind picked up, the petals flew lightly, carrying so long as the wind lasted. When the man returned to the tree, he carefully tiptoed around the delicate petals as not to disturb the scene. The air smelled sweet, fresh and new. Upon the thawed earth at the base of the tree, he placed a basket of moon peaches. Then he left. Well not entirely, he stopped after a few steps and returned briefly to snatch a moon peach before smiling and continuing on his way.
One humid summer day, the man returned to the tree. Breathing heavy in the heat, he removed his hat and tattered leather sandals. The hot air vibrated with the chirps of cicadas and crickets. Sprawling in the shade, the heat became bearable. During the summer months, Ba Sing Se shimmered with life. People everywhere flocked to the colorful dance parties and festivals. Children ran around and played in the lamp lit streets. From beneath the tree, the man quietly watched a group of kids play earthbending until their mothers scolded them for being out too late. Slumping against the trunk, he fell asleep and snored contently. He smiled in his sleep. He dreamt happy dreams.
In the fall, the leaves already changed colors, painting the landscape all shades of crimson and burgundy. Summer left without a goodbye and a chilling wind moved in. The man walked up the hill clothed in a cloak to keep warm. The sky was an overcast grey, foreshadowing rain. From the fold of his cloak he produced a letter wrapped with a white string. He read the letter out loud, in the silence. Hands trembling as he finished, he stared into cloudy sky. Tiny raindrops fell and rolled down his cheek, masking his tears. He removed his cloak and wrapped the letter in the fabric to keep it dry and warm. He placed the little bundle at the base of the tree. He rubbed his hands and wrapped his arms but he still shivered in the chilly wind. The man quickly left.
The man returned often as the years flew by. The tree became a safe haven. He told the tree stories of his nephew, and his crazy adventures. The tree remained still as a statue, but the man could swear it listened. Sometimes he meditated beneath its branches and waited for a reply. His constant footsteps created a little path leading to the familiar tree.
One especially cold winter, the now elderly man slowly walked to the tree in the dead of night, bundled in a heavy parka to ward off the falling snow. The freeze penetrated his bones and sapped the heat from his limbs. On top of the hill, the dark silhouette of the leafless tree showed vaguely against the clear, obsidian sky. The moon illuminated the cold landscape, white as pearls. The old man didn't bring anything this time. He leaned against the tree for a few minutes. He reminisced about what could have been. He didn't stay long.
Into his late years, visits came less frequently. When the old man decided to visit the spot, he rested his legs from the walk up the hill. His joints ached. He felt the heavy weight of his experiences. He saw the best in people and tried focusing on the great fortune in his life. Sometimes the bad memories still haunted him, reminders of what could have been. The old man rarely placed things at the tree's base. He didn't read letters out loud either. The tree and the man, sat quietly at the top of the hill together. The old man felt tired even while he rested.
Eventually, the old man stopped visiting altogether. Grass grew over the path that once led to the base of the tree. The lone tree stood atop the small hill, in silence once again.
Leaves from the vine, falling so slow,
Like fragile, tiny shells, drifting in the foam.
Little Soldier boy: come marching home.
Brave Soldier boy comes marching home.
|Elements of Life|
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