Read The Order of the Trees Online
Authors: Katy Farber
THE ORDER OF THE TREES
Â©2015 Katy Farber
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To my students at Rumney Memorial School: for their courage, joy, humor, kindness, and encouragement.
And for my sweet family. I love you more than all the stars in the sky.
CEDAR SWALLOWED HARD
. The fluorescent classroom lights flooded the room, causing her to squint. She walked up the rows of desks, past the kids milling around their cubbies, gathering books. A sea of talking, giggles. Kids who felt comfortable. Kids who had friends. She made her way almost like a deer, as if walking heavily would disrupt the normal scene around her. Barely breathing, she made it to the front of the room. A little sign perched on the wooden desk said Mrs. Doneaway.
Cedar stood, rooted to the ground. Moments passed. Kids were moving around behind her, getting settled for class, bustling, moving the air like tiny tornados. She heard, “Who's that?” and “Look, it's tree girl!” in a small sea of voices. Cedar forced a small cough.
“Oh. Sorry.” Mrs. Doneaway looked up from behind thick black glasses. Her eyes flickered on Cedar's wild mane of hair, her dirty T-shirt, ripped pants. “You must be Cedar. The one we've heard so much about. It is excellent you can join us.” She said all of this while compiling papers on her desk.
You see, Cedar had been homeschooled before this year. But that isn't even half of it.
Cedar was different. And she was well known, but unknown, all the same.
The talk of Middlesex was that her parents found her, surrounded by a blanket of moss, under a giant white cedar tree near the Worcester Mountain trail. The story goes that the baby lay there, cooing, bubbling over with life, under a small pocket of roots. It was as though the tree itself had yielded the little child. Her soon to be parents nearly tripped over her while hiking one morning, and rubbed their eyes, making sure the baby was real. As Sara picked her up, the baby nuzzled into her, leaving sticky sap on her shirt. Kevin was outraged that someone could leave a child there, alone in the woods. They must call the police, find these irresponsible parents, and give this child over to
Child Protective services immediately. But from the moment Sara held her, covered in sap and specks of moss, she was unable to move. She would not put the baby down, or even respond to her husband's requests, and finally demands. Sara only quietly mumbled and sang to the small girl in her arms, whom she quickly named Cedar.
Once home, Kevin called their friends to try to help his wife let go of the child, but she would hear nothing of it. She rocked the baby, who seemed unhappy the moment she was brought inside their rural home. So she brought the rocker and Cedar out on the deck, and remained there well into the evening, rocking and singing to the tiny baby.
After Sara refused to go to work on Monday, Kevin started to accept his fate. That night, Sara held the baby up to the orange moonlight shining through their bedroom window. Their beauty, their oneness took his breath away. He stared, and squinted, for in that soft light, they seemed to be glowing. Shimmering. In that moment, he knew Cedar was supposed to be with them.
Kevin came to his wife, and put his arm around her waist.
“How is our sweet Cedar doing tonight?” Cedar's mom smiled brightly in recognition, hugging him sideways, and said, “Our little baby Cedar is a wonder.”
So was Cedar's beginning, and how she ended up with her parents, Kevin and Sara Montgomery. As she grew, Cedar remained a mystery. Her body was slender, muscular and strong, even as a child. Her eyes were wide, and she nearly never blinked, always showing those deep brown, earthy eyes; eyes that seemed like sparkly magic. And she ran. She ran deep into the woods in Middlesex at an early age. They would find her laughing, singing, walking amongst the trees as if they were long-lost friends.
The kids at Chester School knew that Cedar was different, even though they had not been in school with her until this year. Most knew the story of how she was found. Of course there were newspaper articles, TV stories, and the like. In the earlier grades, Cedar came and went for special classes in the school. Kids stared at her unblinking eyes, and
made fun of the dirt underneath her fingernails and her wild brown mane of hair. The older she grew, the more time she spent in the woods behind Sara and Kevin's Middlesex home. She took books with her into the forest, and would read for hours.
By the time she entered sixth grade, and made the long walk up to Mrs. Doneaway's desk, Cedar looked almost identical to her namesake. Her skin glowed with an olive brown color, and her muscles were stretched over long limbs. Her brown hair almost reached her bottom, and flew out wildly in all directions most of the time. And her wide eyes remained her most unique and disturbing feature. Many people couldn't look at her for longer than a few seconds before blinking and looking away. With eyes of deep mahogany brown and streaks of red and orange, Cedar could see into your soul, it seemed.
Cedar's time for homeschooling had come and gone. Her parents thought she was ready to try regular school, to spend time with her peers. It was exactly like being dumped on another planet. Although she
made it through that first day, and week, she still felt like an alien.
In her second week in Mrs. Doneaway's class, Cedar looked across the classroom at Phillip, another new student. He sat behind thick glasses, with his matted hair combed behind his ears. He was pale, and sat with his head between his hands.
“Hey Phillip,” Cedar whispered during math, “what's wrong?”
He looked up, his face slightly greenish. Not many people actually spoke to him. He had just moved to the Chester school, and didn't have any friends. He and his parents moved around quite a bit. He glanced at Cedar nervously, as if this might be a trick, then said, “My stomach. It's been hurting all morning. I wanted to stay home, but my mom had to work.”
“Listen,” Cedar whispered, leaning over and avoiding Mrs. Doneaway's glance, “take one of my ginger candies. It's good for your stomach. And do you have any tea at home?”
“I don't know.”
“Well, drink some tea with peppermint or chamomile in it, that should help.”
“What are you, some kind of plant doctor?”
“Well, no, I just trust plants more than pills is all,” Cedar said, her lips turning up slightly, her wild eyes dancing.
At that, Phillip cracked a small smile, and took some of the ginger candies from her hand.
Later at recess, Phillip found his way to Cedar's side as she walked through a field, fingering the fall blooms of black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne's lace. She barely looked up at him, as she turned from plant to plant, her hair flying around in the wind. The afternoon sun danced around her, the sky beamed bright blue.
“How are you feeling?” she said.
“Much better. Those candies were strong, but good. Did you make them?”
“Yeah,” Cedar said. “Ginger has been used for thousands of years to settle stomachs, aid digestion and stop motion sickness. You just have to get the right amount, or it can give you heartburn.”
“How do you know about all this stuff?”
“I read,” Cedar said, “and I walk around the woods, looking, and listening.”
She turned to face Phillip, her brown eyes
boring right through him. He looked down, pretending to look at the flowers. The clouds, puffy and full, watched.
“Is it true, what they say about you? That you were found in the Worcester woods?”
“I guess so,” Cedar answered. “I don't remember, of course. But I do like the forest better than a lot of people.”
Phillip smiled. Cedar was nothing like the other girls.
Weeks went by, as a shy, new friendship was born. Phillip and Cedar would spend recess building shelters, collecting rocks or stomping in the small stream by the school. In class, they each quietly endured Mrs. Doneaway's stern voice while waiting for recess, staring outside. At night, sometimes they talked on the phone. Phillip told Cedar about his mom, her search for a new job, and his hot-headed dad. Like a sponge filling with water, life got a little bit easier for both of them.
One day, in science class, Cedar passed a note to Phillip. Other kids snickered and stared while he read it.
“Would you like to join the Order of the Trees? It's a club I started. We meet every other night at 5:00
. near the Cedar tree where I was found.”
Cedar looked over at Phillip, a tentative smile blooming on her lips. This was her first real friend. She failed to mention that she was the Order's only member.
He nodded silently. Phillip was never invited anywhere.
As they walked out of the classroom to the bus together, Cedar heard Miranda say loudly behind them, “Oh look, isn't that sweet, Tree Girl finally has a friend.” Her smooth and well-combed ponytail bobbed as she spoke, packed into a group of her friends.
“Too bad it's nerdy Phillip. They should have a lot in common!”
The girls laughed loudly as they walked toward the same bus.
Phillip's face turned red, and Cedar stared at them walking away.
“Just ignore them,” she said.
“I see why you prefer the trees,” Philip said, still red.
“So I'll see you tonight? At the Worcester trailhead?”
The night was cool and damp. The trees were just starting to change colors. They were getting that crisp, dried-out green look before they change. The light filtered softly through the woods to where Cedar was seated.
She sat under the magnificent tree where she was found. Stella, the name she'd given her tree, stood at least 150 feet high, her girth too wide to fit your arms around. Cedar had visited Stella for as long as she could remember, first with her parents; then, when she was in the fourth grade, she was allowed to go alone. It was only a quarter-mile from her house, and Phillip lived only a few curves in the dirt road from them.