The Living Tree

by CARSON ROSE | 3rd Place, student prose contest

At the spattering edges of a town not necessary to name, lies a square white house with dusted over windows and a squeaky door that sits helplessly ajar. Behind that house lies an ancient, tired-looking orchard, and behind the orchard sist a garden. In the garden sits a tree.


Once, my feet plunged deep down into the earth, my roots circling and weaving and surrounding each other, as if they were trying in slow motion to reach to the ends of the very planet itself, but had nothing stable to hold on to, other than pure, dark soil. My arms quivered on windy nights and grew dark on rainy ones—they were an art exhibit in the snowy winter and a place of refuge in the hot, stifling summer. Out of the sides and ends of my many oddly shaped arms sprouted my leaves, shaking and murmuring quietly as if they were afraid to speak their minds but could only maintain a stage whisper.

I was a big tree. A strong and confident and sturdy tree, with branches that people saw for miles—even over the garden wall—and leaves that families raked into piles and spent hours throwing themselves repeatedly into, hollering and squealing and laughing until they couldn’t breathe, and sat up with shining eyes and roses flushed in their cheeks. My arms supported many rope swings and treehouses, tired glossy-eyed fathers saving their barefoot sons and bright eyed, muddy overalls-wearing little girls saving kittens. My leaves shaded picnics where people usually either choked on sandwiches or confessed their love over and over again, and my roots made comfortably worn in benches where they whispered secrets and laughed and cried and screamed and talked to themselves. Wildflowers grew at the base of my legs—little dots and lines of blue and purple and white painted all around me on the side of the hill and all throughout the rest of the garden that boys and girls picked for each other and ran, as fast as they could, up to each other and breathlessly exchanged handfuls of them, faces glowing and eyes alight with what I’d only heard of but never felt myself.

I was a wonderful, beautiful, tragic tree. And wonderful, beautiful ,tragic things happened all around me, all the time.

As seasons changed and wrote and rewrote themselves over and over again, people came and went, climbed and then eventually came down, picked flowers and then crushed them up underneath their heels in broken-hearted confusion, fell hard and fast in love and then out of it.

And as I watched, the cycle made me bitter. These people with insides, and minds, and hearts . . . they could walk and run and speak and think and feel—they were living. And I knew that my branches and my leaves and my roots made it impossible for me to really feel like they did.

But I felt left out.

Over the endless circle of time, my core’s bitterness grew and spread and began to reach all throughout me like giant, cold, hard, earthen hands, contaminating everything they touched and squeezed.

My branches began to ache. The bark that had rubbed off from the continuous friction of rope swings burned consistently like little fires on my arms. The parts of my trunk that had supported tree forts and climbing children began to tire, and when gusts of wind blew up against me, tremors ran up and down and through me. My roots were dark and sore, and now seemed to be a neighborhood development for a hundred colonies of fire ants. My leaves still fell in the autumn and grew back in the spring, but the ceaseless wheel of seasons only caused my bitterness to thicken, and after a while, I discovered a new “feeling.”


My unhappiness that stemmed from feeling absolutely nothing began to grow quickly into changing my world in a way that I felt absolutely everything—everything but happiness.

This potion of confusion and unhappiness simmered for a while, and I grew weaker every day. When it rained, I longed to cry too, and when my leaves fell, I no longer felt airy and beautiful like I had so many years ago. I felt exposed and stagnant. Dark and bare and lifeless. When my leaves grew back next season, I felt incredibly tired. To pretend that I was bright and green and fresh when I only felt the same, the same, the same, the same—

It exhausted me greatly, and caused my roots to ache and groan all the more.

As my unhappiness grew and my bitterness spread, the people stopped coming to see me. there were no more rope swings, and the children seemed to be able to tell how much it hurt me when they built their forts, and soon took them down. There were no more rescue missions, no more young misunderstood girls with fire in their eyes storming up my branches to hide from difficult life decisions and tired-eyed mothers, no more boy scouts marking my trunk with their pocket knives. Boys and girls who made each other light up no longer picked each other flowers or laughed on blankets at picnics under my leaves or ran as fast as they could down the side of the hill. I was unpleasant to be around.

By then, the garden wall itself was crumbling, and also had been ambushed by the endless armies of fire ants, and as the people stopped coming to see me, a new dark and unrelenting creation sprouted in me.

I was lonely.

Eventually, my loneliness morphed into hurt, and I longed more than anything to scream, louder than my branches turned and groaned uncomfortably, louder than any human could. But the garden was empty.

On one particularly bad day, the last day of winter, many years of pain and hurt later, I finally fell apart. My confusion and sadness and everything I didn’t know the name of inside me finally collapsed, and my whole trunk, all of my branches, sighed a long, wailing sigh.

And I sat there. Waiting to feel relief or to feel the weight come off or to feel something, something other than what I’d been feeling for so long—

But there was nothing.

Nothing, at first.

And then, some numb days or weeks or months later, I sensed a small movement at the base of my trunk. A whispering and a humming and a soft flickering.

A tiny, tall and skinny wildflower, the first of many, was opening its petals.

The delicate pink plates spread slowly, stretched, and seemed to take a long, deep breath.

Then it relaxed, and swayed, and, surprising me a little, a small spot of color took root inside me. And I felt it start to spread—slowly, hesitantly, of course—

But surely.


Carson Rose would describe herself as something like Eeyore with spunk and a mild dinosaur fascination. An avid reader of the classics, she can usually be found curled up in a hammock with a book or splayed on her bedroom floor watching TED talks or various other random media, often accompanied by her allergenic cat, Milk. Besides reading and writing, she also enjoys oranges, creating a good Spotify playlist, and living out her inner architect in Minecraft. Her current favorite book is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys. She also really likes hugs.