The Great Hemlock
Craig W. Steele
One June, a thunderstorm pounced from out of the northwest.
Driven by winds screaming like enraged soccer fans, billowing
coal-dust-colored clouds draped the sun in a twilight cloak, while sheeting
rain drummed coded taunts upon the dripping tresses of the trees.
The end came soon. Bent by gales as far out of plumb as its thick,
lofty trunk allowed, the hemlock’s inner scaffolding failed abruptly,
venting a crack like cannon fire. Gathering momentum, voicing
a prodigious sigh as air parted before it, the hemlock toppled,
splintering and maiming innocent trees in its path. Ringed by almost
150 years from the day its first fragile shoot greeted the sunlight, it lay
sprawled for its full 100 feet within the woods from which it had sprung.
And so, the great hemlock died … and yet it didn’t.
Roots that once stabilized its lacelike crown above the canopy still
moored its stricken stump within the dirt-grained darkness. The next
spring, borne by the stump’s enduring heart, suckling on life-giving sunlight,
more than a dozen bold shoots sprouted.
These are not a new generation from seed: They are a continuation
of the same tree life: They are the old hemlock itself,
metamorphosed into these lissome limbs—
its closest continuers.