Does Heaven Listen?
"Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven," Rabindranath Tagore.
Prelude: In the Beginning.
"In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands. They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail." -- Psalms 101:25-28.
"Alec, is that everything?"
Alec jumped down off the truck with a grunt and looked back at the carefully bagged and potted plants. It had taken them three weeks to transport all the delicate, valuable vegetation to their new home and at last an end was in sight. He sighed and rubbed his back wearily then looked at his dishevelled companion. "Aside from those two cedars, we got 'em all."
Uneasy, his colleague glanced back at the huge mansion behind them. "They're still on the porch."
"No problem, Tim," Alec said easily, also watching the house. He didn't make a move to collect them either.
The cedars were amongst the most valuable plants in the entire collection and the two botanists should have been thrilled to be handling them. Tim, especially, loved anything to do with trees and would normally have found it impossible to pry himself away from them. Now, however, he was staring at the old house with apprehension, clearly unwilling to be the one to go there and retrieve them.
Alec couldn't blame him; he didn't want to do it either. He wasn't a superstitious man but there was definitely something... wrong with those cedars. When he was alone with them, he felt as though he was being watched. Out of the corner of his eye he had occasionally seen movement only to discover, upon turning around, that there was nothing visible. At times, he had even spotted the branches swaying gently as if in a breeze. While that was normal for trees, these plants had been standing inside the house, nowhere near any drafts. Worst of all, the swaying had caused the leaves to rustle; like the trees where whispering to each other.
Unnatural. That was the word he wanted. The trees were just plain unnatural.
Unfortunately, as the prize exhibits, they were required to go along with the rest of the collection and there were very specific instructions for transporting them. There was no way to leave them behind, no reason to forget their existence.
Alec sighed at his illogical train of thought. "Okay. I'll be right back," he squared his shoulders and started up the driveway sternly telling himself that he was a scientist, his fears were irrational and they were only a couple of trees. He worked with trees every day. Trees were plants - they weren't motile, they didn't think and they certainly didn't talk. Something deep down inside him though, something primal, refused to be convinced.
When he arrived at the porch, he could see the plants weren't alone. Standing between them was a small, thin gentleman of Middle Eastern descent and ancient years. He watched the botanist's approach with a hawk-like gaze, fingers twining around themselves like spider's legs. Alec sighed. "Okay, Mr. Jabbaar. We need to move the cedars now," he braced himself for the argument that was to come and wasn't disappointed as the bushy eyebrows puckered together in a tight frown and the dark eyes grew even darker.
"I have told you before, Doctor Newman. Cedrus libani is a moody plant. It's absolutely imperative you disturb them as little as possible."
"I appreciate your concern, Mr. Jabbaar," Alec said with forced patience. "But these aren't the first Cedrus we've looked after. We know what we're doing and we have no intention of insulting Doctor Austin's generous contribution by harming his plants."
The Asian man sighed in frustration and wondered if he had ever met such a stubborn man before in his life. Of course he had, he realised a moment later. His brother. That was the problem, he decided; as well intentioned as this botanist was, he was as stubbornly optimistic as his brother was. The little gardener hated optimism. He considered it an unwarranted waste of time and viewed those infected by it with a deep suspicion. Optimists, he knew from experience, rarely listened to reason. In fact, they had a tendency to make up their own kind of reason. It was maddening. He glared at the botanist. "These are unlike any Cedrus you have ever encountered. That I am certain of. You must make sure they remain potted in this soil."
"The soil you import from the Levant," Alec nodded patiently.
Definitely like his brother, the little gardener thought uncharitably. He scowled at the botanist, suspecting it would do no good, but trying anyway. "I am not speaking for the sake of my own health but for the sake of yours," he said flatly. "These trees have their demands. Heed them or reap the consequences."
Alec scowled. If the man in front of him hadn't looked so old, so frail, he would have taken that as a physical threat. He bit down on his tongue and forced himself to remain civil. "Sure, Mr. Jabbaar. They'll be in good hands. I promise you." He heaved the trolley they were loaded on into motion and began to push them back to the truck. He didn't look back and was relieved to realise that the gardener wasn't following him down the long driveway.
"Old man give you grief?" Tim grinned.
"Never met anyone so obsessed with trees," Alec grunted as they heaved the heavy plants onto the truck. He paused and wiped his brow, glaring at Tim. "Except, maybe you."
Tim grinned. "Hey, Nasim isn't that bad when you get to know him. He's just a worrier."
"I'll take your word for it," Alec sighed. "You know Sally wants these replanted straight into the earth when we get back?"
"It's just too expensive to keep shipping soil back and forth Lebanon for the sake of two trees that don't really need special treatment."
Tim nodded again.
"These trees won't have a problem with that?"
Tim shook his head. "We'll introduce the new soil slowly so there's no root infection or shock but it shouldn't be a problem. There's plenty of examples of Cedrus growing in American soil. Quite happily so."
"Good," grunted Alec, hopping into the driving seat. "Then let's go." He waved once to the old gardener and put the vehicle into gear. Nasim Jabbaar didn't wave back. He didn't even watch them leave. Alec shrugged, not particularly surprised, and got on with the job of driving.
The botanists never noticed the two young cedars in the back twist and shiver as they began to stretch.