Back to the Withywindle, Chapter 2

The hills and valleys surrounding Chernobyl were beginning to look as if Men were just a passing memory. The red deer munched grass contentedly, and wild boar families rooted in the river mud. It had taken a lot of work singing to the land and animals to heal, but he had to admit, it was now becoming a jewel of beauty such as was seldom seen in this Age.

He stiffened. Deep in him, he felt a snick of bark closing suddenly, and heard a whisper of an old song of sleep forced, anger rising, of dark willow roots restlessly moving... and he had to laugh. Some things didn't change, and going there would bring up merry memories of happy meals, laughter by the creek, and yellow boots and a boundless love for Forest and River. Quieting, he wondered how long had it been now since Iarwin had passed West. Apparently, not all the land had passed into unending slumber just because he was not gallivanting through it! And when Old Man Willow was singing around the younger Children of Iluvatar, then sadness was sure to follow.

Which meant he was finished here... though he had to grin at the result of his labors. Learned Men were saying how unexpected it was that the land had come back so verdantly after the Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation of all the Men of the area. But they had not known him either when they came with their cameras and Geiger counters and wonder. To them, he was just a nameless warden dressed in non-descript Brown, who melted into the shadows while they loudly theorized but never listened.

Radagast fondly petted the rabbits who came to see him off, and touched his forehead in greeting to the Eagle circling above. Hoisting his dufflebag and walking staff, he set off for the railroad tracks. It was a long ways, and he was glad that he no longer had to walk it all! And he couldn't wait to get some decent pipe tobacco and beer again, too.

In the meantime, Old Man Willow had been busy. Dark willow trees had sprang up all along the creek again, and grew with an unnatural speed. Oaks cracked through the mall parking lot, and a chill breeze blew off the downs most days. The shopping mall had never taken off. At first people came to the stores, but after the four grade-school boys went missing, shoppers stayed away in droves. Dark squirrels soon replaced the gray ones that were everywhere else. Within a year, the mall was empty, and the decorative tree in the middle of it, left untrimmed, was pushing at the glass ceiling. Corporation owners bemoaned the economy; locals talked about haunted creeks, and trees that shifted in the night. They closed their windows at dusk, and put high fences up at the edge of the Vale, so children would not wander. Old Man Willow thought how much things had come around again, just like the fences the Little People had built to keep out the trees, before the world changed. At least this time no one had burned a strip along the fence!

But for all that he felt more alive than he had in an Age, he was lonely. Before, Ulmo had filled all the rivers, and lesser Maiar had lived in many streams and even some creeks. But now, the water was silent. Animals moved, but there were no laughing blue-clad imps to throw songs back and forth with. He started to wonder if anger was all there was, and remember a time Before. At the depths of his memory was soft reedy voices of Entwives, tending blowing fields and blooming flowers. Long ago their memory had faded as they had, kindling his Search, and his anger. But now, he just missed touch, laughter, togetherness. He didn't remember why they were gone, and he was even beginning to forget why he had been so angry.

And deep along the Withywindle, sunshine reached the water at the feet of the old Willow, again.