A Song in the Wood by Nicholas Trandahl
Spring had settled fully over Apple Creek Forest in Franklin County, Massachusetts, and with it came a bright and green exuberance. The namesake of the woods, Apple Creek itself, seemed to giggle in warmth and a youthfulness brought about by the rejuvenated birth of a brisk and temperate climate that followed the silent passing of winter and the thawing of the snows. The creek meandered through the maple and birch forest to the quiet township of Appleham which was perched unassumingly on the southwestern edge of the wood.
The bright green of new growth that shrouded the forest floor and the meadows and draws that formed a natural patchwork throughout the wooded area of Northern Massachusetts was peppered here and there with vibrant splashes of contrasting yellow, pinks, and violets that were the loud giddy voices of wildflowers. Layered in the symphony crafted by the late April breeze, the rustling of the foliage, and the crystalline joyful tautness of the air that seemed just on the verge of breaking into jazz were the buzzing of the bees and the cacophony of an innumerable legion of songbirds that had returned from some tropical southern environs.
When Harvard, proudly seated in the distant sophistication of Eastern Massachusetts, released its horde of would-be scholars and academics for Spring Break in late April of 1923, the students scattered far and wide along the Eastern Seaboard for the undulating pulse between collegiate adventure and relaxation. And some of the students, those that were disconnected or disassociated or perhaps just were being recalled to home for some sort of familial obligation, silently separated from the crowd of undergraduates spilling from the Ivy League walls of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton and drifted off solemnly to the homes of their youth and to the families that still inhabited those homes.
Oliver Augustus was one of those lonely drifters, and he was blown forlornly from the gates of Harvard to a train that whisked him smoothly back to his childhood home in Appleham. There would be no adventures with his fellow students for Oliver, no looking for hooch in jazz-soaked late nights, no inquiring of fresh young flappers to pet in some struggle buggy of indeterminate origin. And there would be no returning back to school in the midst of camaraderie, inside jokes and earnest mirth with a gaggle of contentedly exhausted saps, pale-faced with sunken eyes and reminiscent smirks.
Oliver returned back to his family’s three-story home in Appleham, not necessarily because he was a sort of outcast among his fellow Harvard-goers, though he was in a way. He was a rare type of student in that he enjoyed his studies. Oliver enjoyed literature and mathematics the way that his contemporaries enjoyed getting their hands on giggle water and dressing up in their finest glad rags for a night out. No, Oliver was returning to Appleham because it was his father’s birthday, and his mother and his older sister expected him to drop everything and attend the celebration of the Augustus patriarch. All of the Augustus relatives came from all around New England, and an uncomfortable Oliver was forced to consort with all sorts of gregarious distant relations, relaying the same stories about his brief couple of years at Harvard. It was for this tiresome reason that Oliver found himself pleasantly and blessedly alone just outside of Appleham, in the spring-tinted Apple Creek Forest.
He had always loved the woods, and the youthful face of the young man from his parted strawberry blonde hair to his tapered feminine chin expressed a visage of bliss at the state of his being immersed in the familiarity of the sylvan landscape in which he currently strolled. The noon hour had just lapsed into the pastoral warmth of early afternoon, and the soft blue sky was patched with fluffy white clouds that the spring breeze ushered slowly across the heavens. The old maples and their white-barked birch cousins rustled their plumes of green leaves, dappling Oliver with the alternating and eternal dance of shadow and light.
In his pale yellow button-front shirt, navy blue cardigan, and light tan trousers, Oliver was dressed rather appropriately for the brisk April climate. The handsome fresh-faced young man whistled the tune of a new song that he’d heard a boy at school playing on a record player, and as he did so he bent over at the waist and plucked a large and vibrant wildflower, a canary yellow blossom comprised of a smooth green stem and flawless full petals, from the sun-dappled loam of the forest floor. Whistling still, and smoothing back strands of his rosy hair that had fallen out of place when he’d bent over to get the flower, Oliver brought the blossom to his face and studied it as would an astute botanist or a romantic florist.
As he breathed in its floral fragrance through his nose he heard what seemed to be a wisp of voice perched upon the breeze. It reached his ear like a faint dab of sugar, and it made Oliver’s bright green eyes widen. Standing still as he could, and with the yellow blossom held before him, he listened. The voice was singing, and it was the high, fair voice of a young woman. Oliver was too distant to make out the words, and, intrigued and curious, the young man stuck the stem of the flower through a buttonhole of his cardigan and began to stride through the woods.
He went slowly at first, an ear to the woodland spring breeze like a music-fond hound, but when he was assured to be on the trail of the feminine song, Oliver picked up his pace.
Old tree, please carry me!
Take me to the green womb,
And let me grow, let me bloom!
Old tree, please carry me!
Finally able to make out the words, Oliver smiled. What a lovely sylvan tune, he thought. It wasn’t a song he’d ever heard, and he was refreshed to hear a song borne forth from the sweet crystalline voice of femininity as opposed to the rugged bellows of the lads at Harvard. He passed between the solemn pillar-like trunks of maple and birch, and the odd apple tree here and there that was swollen in aromatic white blossoms, as the shafts of bright warm sunlight streamed down through the wavering limbs and leaves.
Young birch, do you see?
Do you know the grove?
It’s full, you see. A true trove.
Young birch, do you see?
Oliver was pursuing the song into the older and most primeval part of Apple Creek Forest. He was indeed pursuing it, because he was sure that the source of the voice was moving deeper into the forest. As Oliver made his way swiftly into the ancient heart of the woodland, the meadows became smaller and almost non-existent and the trees seemed to get larger and older. The ground was less grassy and possessed fewer flowers, and the forest floor was replaced by a thick loam of moss, soggy dead leaves and copious clusters of slimy toadstools. As the trees became taller, the shafts of sunlight ascended higher and higher until the sunlight filtered through with a weak transparency that struggled to illuminate the forest floor. The sounds also became less crisp and more muffled and echoed as they struggled to permeate the thick verdant air that had soaked the old growth heart of the forest.
Wise maple, how are thee?
I am swell, do you see?
I am smiling in your lee.
Wise maple, how are thee?
The voice was rich and it was close, and Oliver made haste towards it in a distracted manner. He seemed possessed or spellbound as he scrambled forward through the thick detritus that carpeted the uneven ground, his smile faded upon his pale freckled face to a mask of seriousness and desperation at reaching the dazzling voice that birthed the song. To Oliver, the song seemed ancient and powerful, but he failed to wonder in his panicked flight through the old wood as to how such a young and lovely voice could carry words so ancient … so primeval.
Before Oliver was a hillock of sorts that was heavily-wooded, studded with tall birch trees that stood out against the woodland murk like white pillars of some ancient Roman or Greek ruin. So focused was Oliver on making his way up the hillock, for he was sure that the sweetly-singing voice lay just beyond it, that he didn’t focus on where he was stepping. Oliver slipped on some moldy leaves and slippery toadstools and he stumbled belly-down into the odorous natural refuse of the old growth forest.
With a grunt he pushed himself up into a crouch, barely noticing the disheveled state of his clothes that were smeared here and there with the dirty slime from crushed mushrooms and wet leaves. And then the young man shot off like a bullet, scampering in a frenzied sort of way up the wooded hillock until, panting and sweating, he reached its crown. His heavy exhalations ceased suddenly and he stood as still as a statue as he observed what was settled down at the base of the hill.
There was a quiet little glade with a broad pillar of radiant sunshine descending from an open space in the foliage high overhead. In the heart of the glade was a shallow pond of dark water that was shrouded in green algae and peppered with little lily pads. A moss-covered stone protruded out from the heart of the pond, and upon it was a girl.
The girl appeared to be Oliver’s age, maybe a little less, and her lithe white flesh was barely covered by a short diaphanous dress that left her collar, arms and legs uncovered and almost glowing with their pearly whiteness. The hue of the dress was indeterminate, wavering in uncertainty between white, robin’s egg blue, pale aqua, and mint green, and the article seemed to glimmer with an enchantment or inner light. Had he been in the right state of mind, Oliver would have blushed in embarrassment for the dress was quite transparent and all of her womanly features could be spied beneath. Her eyes were large and almond-shaped, and the purest green color adorned them like colorful jewels. Her green eyes were so bright and large that it seemed that they were illuminated from within. Her hair was thick and golden yellow, and it fell about her narrowly-rounded white shoulders like waves of spun gold.
Watching this scene down before him, the woodland glade and the singing ethereal girl, Oliver stood statuesque and rather dumbfounded. He would be easy to spot atop the hillock over the glade, but the girl was distracted and her eyes were hooded in pleasure as her small fine mouth purged silky chiming words.
Blossoming apple, how can it be?
How can my fortunes smile so?
To be in a spring like this, you know.
Blossoming apple, how can it be?
Oliver slowly came to, really taking note of his surroundings and himself and the glade before him, and he gently lowered himself into a seated position atop the hill and next to a young birch. His green eyes remained focused on the girl down below him and the very old song that she sang. Oliver eased himself back, propping himself up with his elbows, as if he were in a park relaxing after a picnic. As he did so, his hand nudged a red toadstool that was studded in white spots. He tossed a quick glance at the mushroom, and he noticed a yellow and black salamander upon the top of the toadstool’s cap. And Oliver smiled slightly when he observed that the salamander also seemed to be watching the singing maiden in the heart of the forest glade and it was listening to the sweet sylvan words of her song with unseen ears.
Oliver wholeheartedly returned his attentions back to the girl and her song. It felt to him like a sin to have missed even a word of the song or to have missed a moment of her. And he atoned for that sin by pouring his observant gaze upon the forest glade in the ancient heart of Apple Creek Forest and upon the ethereal form of the girl.
Oliver didn’t know whether it was minutes or hours that slipped by, but he observed that the shaft of sunlight above the glade slanted in from the west now and it was colored a richer yellow hue. The song hadn’t stopped, or Oliver hadn’t noticed if it did and began again. It was as if her lovely song continued forever, and Oliver wondered if it had always been seasoning the depths of the forest since the dawn of time. He wondered to himself if the girl had always been here, as much a part of the forest as the old silent trees around him.
And then suddenly the singing stopped, and it was as if someone had thrown a pail of ice-cold water into Oliver’s face. How could something so beautiful cease to be? How could something so perfect end? Oliver even felt tears welling up in his emerald eyes at the awful absence of the song. The lithe delicate girl that sat upon the rock turned her fair face towards him, craning her face slightly upward to gaze directly at the young man from Harvard that was perched above her in the woodland gloom.
Before Oliver could say a word or move, a crystalline chiming deluge arose in the air, sounding to him like a million tiny silver bells ringing. A yellow-green glow bloomed and intensified from the heart of the glade, and it grew and grew until Oliver couldn’t make out the slender feminine form that was upon the rock. He stood in a rush, holding the papery white bark of the birch next to him for support, and he cried out in discomfort at the brightening magical light and the increasing din of the chiming noise.
And suddenly the light winked out of existence and the terrible and lovely bells stopped. Oliver stood panting and disorientated atop the hillock somewhere in the ancient heart of Apple Creek Forest, the little glade and pond nestled sleepily down below him. And there in the golden afternoon sunlight that fell from above was the mossy stone in the center of the algae-covered pond. But the stone perch was bare, empty of both maiden and her sweetly-singing voice.
Oliver’s mind, heart and soul were a conflicted morass as he silently observed the glade below him. It felt as though he was in the throes of the worst tragedy of the world because the song was gone and so was the girl. But he also felt the most poignant joy and exhilaration at having heard her rosy words and seen her otherworldly magical form. He stood there for a spell, observing the silence and her vacancy, but eventually Oliver turned and slowly made his way back down the side of the hill that he had first ascended to witness the enchanted scene.
As he hiked down the wooded slope, beginning his sojourn back out of the depths of Apple Creek Forest and back to his family abode in Appleham, Oliver was forced to wonder if the girl and her song were real at all. Or were they just some sort of illusion, some sort of heavenly dream? Did she exist like the people he knew and communicated with throughout his life, or was she an abstraction like love, faith, or dreams.
It didn’t matter, thought Oliver. It didn’t matter because he could remember the girl and he could remember the words of her song. The other boys would return to Harvard at the conclusion of Spring Break with weary smirks and their inside jokes, but Oliver would return with the memory of the singing maiden. He felt it already blooming in his heart. He felt the words, and he could see her dazzling eyes and her waves of golden hair and her ethereal dress that barely concealed the slender flawless form beneath it. And he would keep the yellow blossom that he’d placed in his buttonhole. He’d keep it forever as a memorial or a relic, an artifact of that day in late April when he’d been allowed a glimpse across of veil of reality and into a realm of dreams and enchantment.
Oliver would return to his classes and his studies, but as his pencil would scratch some equation, prose or formulae upon a crisp clean piece of paper his heart would pound in a woodland rhythm. And the words of her song would spread throughout each cell of his body.
Old tree, please carry me!
Nicholas Trandahl is an author of poetry and fiction, currently residing in northeast Wyoming. He has two daughters and is engaged to be married. His passion for literature is fueled by his fondness for the literary works of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, James Salter, Raymond Carver, and Virginia Woolf. He was born in 1984.