Love comes in a strange story package. It could be a narrative about a young couple, determined to fight past anything that stands in their way. It could be a tragic, depressing spiel where the world seems against one. Or, it could be a story about a tree, and a squirrel, in Anderson Park. For in that park, special, peculiar things are always happening. They are in all places. But there is one particular friendship, in that particular place that is special.
The tree and the squirrel were inseparable. In the spring, summer, and in the fall, it seemed as though they were one. The squirrel would dart among the branches, nimbly scramble among the roots, and sleep among the flowers of the tree. And the tree would hold the squirrel tight while dancing among the wind.
Neither of them felt they had anything to prove, anything they needed to give, anything that needed to be returned to them. They just had always known the other there, and felt as one. In the darkest night, the harshest storm, the tree would shelter out any fear with its thick, green leaves, and the squirrel would curl up in a hollow, warming the tree from the inside.
Most days in their little haven in Anderson Park went according to schedule. The squirrel would wake up, lick the sweet dew from the tree’s branches, and patrol around the park, bushy tail flying. The tree would watch the squirrel do so. Then, perhaps later in the day, young humans would come to scrape bark off the tree, and the squirrel would dance wildly in front of them, acting rabid until the humans went away. Both the squirrel and the tree enjoyed it when this occurred.
In the afternoon, a light drizzle might start to fall, and then the duo would watch as humans slowly trickled out of the park as the daylight started to fade. The rain would clear up, and the last brilliant rays of the sunset would shine through burdenless clouds. The squirrel would rest on the highest branch of the tree to see the sunset.
But the best part of every night was the stars. Shining high above, like ever-twinkling diamonds. The vast numbers, spreading out across the sky like a river, a sea, perhaps even an ocean. And so, every night when the stars were out, the squirrel would whisper the songs of the stars to the tree, and the tree in turn would shelter the squirrel from the harsh winds of night.
But as the days grew colder, change tinted the air. It wasn’t a harsh, unforgiving change. Nor a calm, peaceful change. But it became a fact among the creatures of Anderson Park that the blissful times of summer were ending, and winter was coming.
The squirrel spent most of its days now scrummaging for seeds and nuts under the vast blankets of crimson leaves coating the ground. It kept close to the tree, though, instinctively dashing up the rough trunk of the tree at any sudden sights. But the tree didn’t see this.
From the eyes of the tree, everything was slowly drifting out of control. The squirrel spent less and less time accompanying the tree. Life in Anderson Park was speeding up, out of the warm, relaxed plains of summer, and into the frantic hills of autumn. And the tree was losing little bits of itself every day, in the leaves it shed, and in its sense of companionship.
One thing that stayed the same, as nights grew colder, was the constant shine of the stars, and the warmth of the squirrel resting in the tree’s branches. These nights were the happiest times of the tree’s day. The tree had the squirrel all to itself, and it loved this. Every morning, the squirrel would wake up blanketed in soft, golden leaves. A gift from the tree. But it seemed all too soon that the squirrel would scurry over another tree’s roots, staying near another tree. The first night the squirrel didn’t come back was also the first night of snow.
Soft flurries danced through the air, drifting across the downy gray sky. The park looked softer, with any sharp angles covered in smooth powders, any harshness coated with softness. But inside, the tree’s heart was breaking. It could make out the furry shape of the squirrel resting upon the boughs of a nearby oak.
All throughout winter, the tree stayed a stately queen, dripping with icy jewels. Its bark hardened, as all feelings of belongingness drained out of it.
All the squirrel felt was a sense of security, of warmth, as it rested inside a soft hollow of the other oak.
Finally, spring came, and for the first time in many, many days the squirrel headed over to the tree, blinking the sleep from its eyes. But the tree had grown cold, and refused the squirrel. This repeated many times, until the squirrel had just about given up.
In April, the tree’s first flowers began to bloom. Bright pink, pale rose, deep orchid.
Then, one fateful late-spring morning, a soft breeze was drifting through Anderson Park. The scent of rain was carried on the wind. But with the mist and rain came a gentle hope, a thing of warmth. A welcome thing of warmth after the long winter. The squirrel left the old oak, his golden-brown eyes sparkling.
The tree could see the little fuzzball of a squirrel bounding toward it, up and down, up and down, like a little fledgling, learning how to fly.
But the tree was full of envy, and hate. As the squirrel scampered up the tree’s branches, begging forgiveness, the tree could not forgive. Inside, its thoughts were swirling.
I should take you in. But no! You betrayed me! Oh, how far have we gone from the carefree days of summer! It was your choice. All your doing! None of mine! You mustn’t come ever again. It was your choice. All yours. Your betrayal!
The squirrel was perched on a small twig of a tree, head bent, eyes sparkling. Oblivious to the harshness inside the tree’s mind. Unprepared as the tree let the branch the squirrel was balancing on break. Unable to comprehend as the squirrel dropped, falling through the air. The squirrel hit the ground with a small thud. Its small head lifted, looking at the tree one last time, and then it bounded away toward the street and road, out of Anderson Park.
The tree watched as the squirrel fled. It watched as the daylight faded and a brilliant orange-crimson-magenta sunset swept across the horizon. It watched as the bright golden lights of fireflies flickered on and off, on and off. Finally, the tree watched as the endless twinkling stars came out and shone. And then, the tree remembered.
The tree remembered the stories the squirrel would share under the moonlight. It remembered the warmth that came from being with another. It remembered casting wishes upon the comets speeding through the sky. And most of all, the tree remembered the songs of the stars. The squirrel’s songs of the stars.
The tree waited the next day for the squirrel to return. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the next and the next and the next. Every night, the tree would whisper the songs out, calling for the squirrel, filling the night with a soft, lyrical tune.
And the tree still stands, ever wishing, ever waiting, ever hoping for the squirrel to return.