When you live in the shadow of the tallest trees for hundreds of miles, your lives become something of a sideshow these days.
“What’s it like seeing real live trees all day?”
“Is that your tree house? Can I climb up there?”
“Are you a Druid? Are you related to one of them? “
“Is it true you dance naked among the trees to celebrate the seasons?”
Day-in, day-out people come to gawk at the century trees and wonder aloud about how they got so big when the rest of the trees have been left stunted brush by comparison.
Calling them Century Trees at all is a bit of a stretch too; as the druids seem to be able to grow massive 200 foot tall apple trees in what seems like less than a decade. Green thumbs, toes and everything in-between it seems when it comes to the Tree-Folk, which is what they call themselves. They live around the trees, sometimes in tree houses up in the canopy, sometimes in the trunks but mostly in little adobe huts on the south faces of the trees, attached to the outside of the trunk and slowly rising up, up up as the tree does.
The tourists come into town (Gramercy, thank-you very much, not Apple-Town) and gawk at the trees to the west and marvel at the nearly constant humidity and the way that the rain has become so predictable in the shadows of the Grove. They come, stop a while in town, spend a night or two in the hotels or camp in the north wood near the river and then leave; back to normal forests and unpredictable rain; back out over there.
Gramercy was here before the Grove and before the Tree Folk moved in. We got by as a highway/biway a food stop with curios for people on long road trips going from important place to important place. It was flat and dry and future-less here. A town populated by people perpetually leaving or settling in to die. We had one public school servicing Kindergarten through Grade 12 and then the kids would leave for college and leave the town a little more quiet than it had been. The closest thing to modernization that the town council had ever implemented was a municipal sewer system to bring indoor plumbing to the sleepy village of 110.
When the first Tree Folk arrived about 40 years back; they were just passing through like anyone else. The Sheriff at the time thought they were hippies or something and hassled them out of town; but some lingered and bought up the dusty scrub land west of town with what seemed like an endless supply of cash. This pleased the town council at the time; because the land had been “town land” for as long as anyone could remember and it was good for nothing but rabbit hunting and atv rides in the dust. The Tree Folk set about building their grove as soon as the ink was dry on the deal and within 20 years something like 30 Century Trees stood west of Gramercy and even in their shadow the whole of the area was green.
The Tree Folk mostly keep to themselves; tending their grove and trading massive fruit for what they need. They all kind of dress the same, the men wearing tight crew cut hairdos and the women smart bobs. They all have a healthy glow about them and arms like chimps, from climbing and tending their trees. The Tree Folk kids attend one of three Public Schools in the area; with Gramercy now boasting a population of 10,000 most of the year and a few (not many) chain hotels and restaurants calling the area a new tourist hot spot. A wholesome Las Vegas or something. Their kids rub elbows with the rest of us and then go home to the Grove at night; nestled in their adobe houses on the sides of massive apple trees.
About 35 years back; as the grove started to grow there was a huge hoopla about the water table and how much water all this Green was costing us. The Tree Folk’s leader at the time, Paul, he just smiled at the question and produced a sheaf of paper showing the water levels for 100 miles around over the past 10 years, showing an actual increase in the water table in the local area.
“The Trees, ” he said, still smiling that beatific smile they all seemed to flash when talking to folks from Gramercy, “The trees don’t take water, they make it. They convert Oxygen and Hydrogen into water on their own and then the excess leeches down their roots into the water table below. The trees make their own food and then share the bounty with us”
Some bigwig from the EPA showed up a while later and after some harrumphing and more official visits from the CDC the Tree Folk were given leave to do what they would with the Land; with the only consideration to the government being lights affixed at the top of the trees to ensure they would not be a hazard to air travel. Paul had smiled a little smile at that, whispered something to one of his followers who nodded and wandered on foot back to the grove. Weeks later the canopy of the trees glowed a soft blue at night, like the massive leaves had stars weaved into them. When asked about it Paul would only say “We asked the lightening bugs how they did it then shared it with the trees”
Years later; when the third public school opened and the latest organic plastics plant went into operation (supplied via the skins left from a pulping mill down the way) the Tree Folk became a national treasure; something to read about in books and learn about on educational specials. Like the Amish of Pennsylvania, the Tree Folk of Montana were just another reclusive farming folk; building their land of Milk and Honey and finding Utopia among the leaves. And Gramercy, we’re along for the ride, living here in the Shadows of the CEntury Trees and always ready with an answer to “Do you know any Druids? Did you see them dancing naked at Springtime?”