She was encouraged to grow up as tall as her father and to smell like her beautiful mama, even if she was ever caught in the midst of a drought.
“Because that’s what we, pine trees, do, my little one,” her mama told her. “And if you grow up particularly pretty, they might choose you, in the middle of next winter.”
“Who are ‘they’?” the baby tree would ask, every year. (Like all children, she liked her favorite stories repeated to her, endlessly.)
“The unrooted ones,” mama would whisper and sway to block the tiny dust clouds heading into her child’s hair — with her long, long limbs.
Oh, no! She wouldn’t grow up to be an ordinary tree, her mama gossiped to other mothers. Her daughter was meant to be unique. First of, she was gaining inches day by day.
“The taller you grow, the sooner the unrooted ones will get you!”
And: She was pretty! Such a pretty baby tree: with long, dark green needles that weighed down her lean branches toward the ground! All the other kids seemed to have upright branches. Their needles lined up into mohawks and made them more susceptible to storms. When winds gained speed, or rain began to pound the soil above her roots, she seemed to endure it all with grace. Light on her feet, she would let whatever weather run its moods through her hair; and after every type of precipitation, she made tiny slides for the rascal raindrops. The little ones would chirp and tumble into one another; hang onto the very edge of her needles, then leap onto the next one — and repeat.
She didn’t know where the rascal raindrops would go once they rolled off her long hair and hit the ground; but she imagined they built tunnels in the soil and lived there, with their families (but after they would fall in love, of course).
One time, though, she questioned her own theory when a particularly familiar rascal raindrop appeared her eyelash, after she awoke from her impatient dreams:
“Haven’t I seen you here before?” she asked the sparkling babe. But he was already chirping too loudly to hear her question; and as soon as the other kids woke up, he began to slide, slowly at first and on his belly, with his arms outstretched forward. The further he slid, the more rascals joined him, and they would go faster, laugh — louder; and their chirping made her tilt her branches even lower and give the kids a bigger thrill.
“Maybe,” she thought, “they all fly up to the sun instead — to tell its rays to be a bit gentler on us.”
(Drought — was told to be her only fear. Besides that — she had none.)
Sometimes, she would get the glimpse of the unrooted ones. A particular one continued coming around too early in the mornings; so, most of the time, she would sleep right through his visits. One day, though, he came up to her and woke her up with his shadow.
He was taller than her, but not as tall as mama. He had flat hair, the color of a sickly pine. It was flat and so dense, it clung to his trunk in one single layer.
“What a strange creature!” the baby tree thought.
“Don’t! Slouch!” she heard her mama whisper through her teeth. She snuck a peak: Mama looked sleepy and wet. But she would NOT shake off her raindrops yet: Because she wanted for all of the unrooted one’s attention to go — to her child.
Would that be it? Is that how it would happen: The moment when she would be taken away to the magical place from where other pine trees never-ever returned? It had to be wonderful there, she thought. Oh, how she craved to travel!
She let the unrooted one pet her hair. He made an unfamiliar noise and bent down to her. A little current of air brushed against her branch. The unrooted one repeated the noise and petted her, again.
She then noticed he had a patch of different-colored needles on his tree top. They were the color of gray snow (like sleeping raindrops). Then, he went back to giving her a treat that smelled absolutely atrocious but mama said it had to be good for her. So, she closed her eyes and sucked it all up, to the last stinky bit. She would behave and do whatever the main unrooted one would want her to do. Whatever it would take — to get her to that place.
There were some stories she’d overheard from the elders. Some said that unrooted ones took them to more delicious soils. Others mentioned that they would only feed them water, in that place — and that was truly strange. But the common truth was that the chosen ones got to wear pretty things and learn how to sparkle.
“Like the rascal raindrops?” the baby tree would ask her mama.
“Much better, baby girl!” her mama said. “Much better!”