The Tree of Life
We depend on the world's rainforests in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. The rainforests play a significant role in maintaining weather patterns and the world's limited supply of fresh water. Of course, the natural elements and species from the rainforests are the basis of many consumer, agricultural, medical, and industrial products. Although rainforests cover less than 2 per cent of our planet's surface, they are home to more than half of all plant and animal species.
According to The Nature Conservancy, eight million square miles of tropical rain forest originally encircled the Earth. More than half of these forests have been burned, bulldozed and destroyed. Only 3.4 million square miles remain. If deforestation continues at these current rates, scientists estimate that nearly all the tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2030. In the meantime, with the passing of each second, more than an acre of the world's rainforests disappears.
In 1971, there weren't many people in England thinking about the importance of trees and how we were mistreating the Earth. Ecology and green issues had not fully entered the mass consciousness of the public in most countries, and yet, in the Oxton area of Wirral, there lived a girl of fourteen who was in love with all of nature; a girl who believed trees were important life-giving, oxygen-bearing creatures. Her name was Prudence, but she told her well-to-do parents that she preferred to be known by the name of her own choosing, which was Harmony. Harmony's bedroom wall was covered not only with posters of pop stars, but also with charts depicting different species and types of trees, constellations, and a map of the Solar System. Harmony was also a frequent visitor to Ness Botanic Gardens, and she often pestered her father to take her and her school friend Sharon (christened Starshine by Harmony) to the Lake District or the Delamere Forest.
Stuck over Harmony's bed, on the blank reverse of a strip of wallpaper, she had scrawled the first verse her favourite poem, Woodman Spare That Tree, written by George Pope Morris in 1830:
Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot:
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!
The sensitive otherworldly schoolgirl was an easy target for the school bullies who could not understand a girl who would stop in her tracks and kneel in awe to admire a cluster of wild crimson poppies in bloom at the side of the road. What did the oddball girl find so fascinating about a morning moon that made her stand in the playground, gazing up at the pale lunar orb, oblivious to the joker tying her shoelaces together? Why did Harmony get excited each August when the Perseid meteors were due to arrive after midnight in streaks of dazzling silver across the starry skies? Normal girls had boys on their minds, but Harmony and Starshine were in love with the Northern Lights and shooting stars. Crazy, thought the mundane teenage girls in Harmony's school.
Then came the attempt to save the tree that was to later provide the dullards of the school with many mindless laughs. An old oak was scheduled to be uprooted because it was an obstacle to a new road that was to run through a stretch of greenery on the outskirts of Oxton. The removal of the old oak had been mentioned in an inch of column in the local newspaper, and no one opposed the plan. There was no environmental campaign to save the oak, but Harmony decided she would sit beneath the large tree - one of her favourite friends - on the last night of its 'life'. Starshine joined her, and the two girls sat drinking soup from a Thermos beneath the twinkling canopy of the night. The parents of the girls were not keen on the all-night vigil at all, and Starshine's 18-year-old brother Kristian checked on them several times on his moped.
At dawn, Harmony was hugging the tree. Tears trickled from her weary eyes. Starshine, fatigued and longing for the cosiness of her bed, tried to convince her friend to go home. Harmony refused, and Starshine complained about being unable to keep her eyes open. 'You're being like the disciples who fell asleep as Jesus was suffering on his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane,' Harmony told her weary friend. Starshine went home, leaving her friend with the condemned oak. The sobs from Harmony faded into the hush as she made her way home. An hour later, Starshine returned to her outlandish friend with a bundle of biscuits, lemonade and a blanket. Harmony embraced her and Starshine the two girls cried a little. It wasn't long before they were singing to while away the hours. Harmony had a fine singing voice, and she sang a song she and Starshine liked. A song that had been in the charts for a while called You've Got A Friend, by James Taylor. After the song, Harmony made a morbid request to her friend. She said, 'If I die before you, could you plant something, like an acorn?'
'Don't talk like that,' said Starshine. A chill ran down her spine.
'I have a feeling I will never become a woman,' Harmony said.
'That's a horrible thing to say,' Starshine said, and she told her friend to sing another song.
Harmony laughed, and agreed she was being gloomy, and she said, 'I'll probably live to be a hundred at least.'
That morning, the earthmoving and construction equipment arrived in a convoy. Despite the hysterical protestations of Harmony, the tree was chain-sawed and its roots were wrenched up by the shovel of a JCB.
A week later, Harmony was on her way to school when she saw a beautifully iridescent Silver Studded Blue butterfly fluttering upwards from a hedge. She watched the sapphire winged creature rise up into the morning air as she walked on across the road. Starshine stood on the other side of the street - with her hands to her face.
A car hit Harmony. The impact threw her back onto the pavement, where she rolled into a hedge. Blood trickled from her nose and ears. The car that hit Harmony screeched to a halt.
From across the road came terrible screams. They came from Starshine. She came running across the road.
'Harmony,' Starshine muttered in shock, gasping to get her words out. She knelt beside her friend, trembling.
'I'm dreaming,' Harmony said.
Starshine saw her smashed teeth. She grabbed her best friend's hand. Both hands were shaking, but Starshine squeezed tight. 'It's okay Harmony,' Starshine said, and tears streamed down her face.
'Am I dreaming? I thought I might have dreamt that,' Harmony whispered, and her eyes looked not at her friend, but somewhere in the hedge, as if she couldn't see properly.
'Harmony you're going to be -' Starshine's found herself too choked up to speak any further as she saw the damage the car had done to her soul-mate.
Harmony died. Those eyes that had been so full of life, so full of inquisitiveness and wonder, were devoid of some spark of consciousness now. Some sacred essence was no longer evident in the teenager's eyes now.
'I love you Harmony,' Starshine said, and she burst into tears.
'She just stepped out in front of me,' said a voice.
Starshine turned and saw a middle aged man standing beside her. He was also in shock, and he had his hand pressed over his face. He looked through his splayed fingers, moving his lips without saying anything audible.
'She was my best friend,' Starshine told him, and as she gazed back at her dead companion, a crowd started to form.
Three months after the tragedy, Starshine - or Sharon as she was now known again - was staying at her Aunt Gretta's house in Bromborough one night, when the two of them heard something very strange. The old upright piano in the parlour of Gretta's house had been locked since the Second World War, and the keyboard lid had remained shut because its key had never been found. The sound of piano music emanating from the parlour, half-past eleven at night, was therefore particularly baffling. Gretta and her niece slowly descended the stairs in their night-gowns and stood on the bottom steps, listening to the melody. 'Aunt, I know that song,' exclaimed Sharon excitedly. It was the song Harmony had sung on the night they'd held a vigil at the oak tree: You've Got A Friend.
The piano suddenly stopped playing, and Gretta and Sharon cautiously entered the parlour and quickly switched on the light. There was nobody there, but Sharon and her Aunt glanced about the room, feeling very uneasy. 'What's that?' Gretta pointed to something on top of the piano.
It was an acorn.
Sharon recoiled in amazement. She picked up the acorn and held it in her clenched palm. A single tear welled in her eye. The next day, Sharon buried the acorn, not far from the spot where the old oak tree had once stood.
©Tom Slemen 2002. Taken from Haunted Wirral