The Drury Lane Books Writing Contest was for residents of Grand Marais, MN, and the surrounding region. The prompt was to write a tree-related story under 300 words. Out of 21 stellar submissions, these were the winners:
1st Place: “Sisters” by Kate Fitzgerald
2nd Place: “Writer’s Block, Spring” by Judy Budreau
“Mabel’s Understand of Loss” by Maggie Jones
“Taking Root” by Rachel Andrus
by Kate Fitzgerald
The trio of giant ponderosa pines beneath which my sister and I played as children dropped their long tri-pronged needles in wide circles on the lawn. No grass would grow where the needles fell, so dirt was our play mat—a perfect area for digging.
We spent summers in our northern New Mexico town gouging out a sunken village that we populated with googly-eyed pompom creatures we called geebles. We carved the geebles’ homes in the dry earth with spades stolen from our parents’ gardening shed. We filled each dwelling with tiny furniture fashioned out of soft volcanic tuff from a rocky peak we often hiked via a trail at the end of our street. We connected the homes with a complex system of tunnels.
Our parents tried to re-seed the bare patches around the trees each spring—an annual struggle against nature. Each summer they chided us for digging up their hard work, just as we protested their heartless burial of ours. There was no peace.
Years later, after I’d grown and my parents had moved from my childhood home, most of the neighborhood burned to the ground in a forest fire. The ponderosas—those ruddy-barked ancient monarchs who’d ruled the street—were gone along with the houses.
I didn’t feel much loss for our house. An ugly government-built quadraplex, it had held too many childhood anxieties, alcoholic shouting matches, my first broken heart.
But the trees—those three lofty sisters who’d towered over my sister and me, providing a magical retreat as they shaded us from the scorching Southwestern sun—it was their loss I mourned. And the memory of the little village we’d doggedly exhumed each year—a civilization that had been worth fighting for, until, as with everything, our young hearts lost interest and moved on.
Kate Fitzgerald, who grew up in northern New Mexico, earned an MA in Creative Writing from UNM Albuquerque in 2004. Kate now lives in Grand Marais, MN with her husband, two daughters, an ancient Lab, a young mutt, and a bossy Siamese cat. For the past seven years, she has worked as the director of a nonprofit musical performance and education presenter, the North Shore Music Association.
Writer’s Block, Spring
by Judy Budreau
I should be able to write about trees, their striated bark, tangled limbs left too long to their own tendencies. This time of year, slender shadows arc west to east, sundialing the days through yellow-green to green-yellow, any true green yet to come. There’s enough to say about any of them in a given season to keep a writer busy for days. Or the small wildlife from the woods could populate a children’s book, creatures tucked into roots and branches, acorns for cups, leaves for quilts. But who can top Beatrix Potter?
Soon the bloodroot will bloom, a new patch every morning between the bare maples. Impossibly white, cradled by cupped green hands. Our first year here, I was certain the kids had thrown popcorn onto the forest floor.
It’s early to expect much from the bulbs I planted under the crabapples that step out of the woods, even from the patches lit these weeks by the sun marking time past the big maple. A correction: it’s the gnomon of this maple that marks the days, the seasons.
Yesterday, the cat sat on a boxwood stump and stared down a fox, while I stood motionless outside the back door. A few more weeks, a million more leaves, and they’d never come face to face. The fox circled the nodus of the cat, slowly, then turned to weave her way through the woods, sure-footed, unhurried, with never a backward glance. She was as beautiful as any description I’ve read, and seemed to know where she was going.
Judy Budreau’s writing appears in a variety of regional and national media, as well as obscure literary journals. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota with her partner, a scientist — he is certain that physics explains the world; she is fairly sure it’s poetry. For more of her work, visit www.judybudreau.com
Mabel’s Understanding of Loss
by Maggie Jones
Finlan Owen Anderson loved trees. His favorite was a maple he named Mabel.
Mabel was like a giant umbrella touching the ground. Finn could lie underneath and listen to the wind and the bees. He could sing. He could daydream. Invent. Sleep.
There was an abandoned house near Mabel. One day the fire department decided to burn it as training for new fire-fighters. Finn thought that sounded great.
But it wasn’t. It was scary. The flames were long and they roared. Birds circled overhead, screeching.
Mabel couldn’t fly away. The fire chief sprayed her with foam fire-retardant. But the fire was too hot. The next day half her canopy wilted. Some branches were black. There was a scar on her trunk longer than Finn.
Even Finn’s dad worried. He and Finn measured the scar with a tape measure. It was 12 inches wide. Mabel was 60 inches around, so the burn was less than one-fourth her circumference. She could survive that. They started watering her roots to help.
A tree doctor cut off burned branches. She told Finn, “Trees can’t heal like a boy with a skinned knee or a broken arm. Instead, trees build barriers to keep out infection. They surround injured areas with new cells to isolate the injury. Then they keep building. The injured cells never heal.”
“No!” cried Finn. “Mabel, does that mean you’ll always have that dead scar inside you?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “It’s part of me. It’s good. I’ll build around it. With time, I’ll build something new and wonderful!”
That fall, Mabel’s healthy leaves were bright, like sunshine and cinnamon. The scar edges curved and rolled with healthy wood. Finn measured one new inch.
The next day he made a sign for Mabel.
It said: “Under Construction!”
Maggie Jones is a landlady who rents many of her apartments to writers at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her first career as an agricultural consultant, specializing in soil health, lasted 35 years. She lives in the barn her grandfather built on her family’s Century Farm and also on the shore of Lake Superior near Grand Marais, Minnesota.
by Rachel Andrus
It is a warm spring day, and my husband is sweating. His shovel cuts into the newly thawed earth, scoops out a load, and dips in again. Our two-year-old daughter is perched on one of the many giant rocks we have pulled from our nearby garden, munching a graham cracker and watching Papa dig. I am also sitting, resting, my body still tired from the birth two days earlier of the tiny baby wrapped up against my chest. The baby is tired too, and sleeps. When the hole is sufficient, the sapling goes in, and we all help to cover the roots. The baby stirs as I lean forward to pat the dirt around the newly planted tree. It’s his tree; this ceremony is for him. He sleeps on.
The show over, my daughter now trots down the hillside path to the garden. I watch her head toward the broccoli with her watering can in hand. The rock I’m using as a backrest is smooth and warm from the sun. I take a sip from my water bottle, then lean back and close my eyes. My mind flashes briefly back to who my husband and I were four years ago: just two kids living in a yurt in the woods, with big plans and dreams. Some of those dreams are being realized today.
I open my eyes and look at my son’s little tree. It is an apple tree, like the one we planted when our daughter was born. The baby wakes, and I nurse him in the sunshine while picturing my kids perched in the branches of these trees someday, munching apples. My heart swells with hope and possibilities. I uncap my water bottle and pour what is left onto the dirt at the base of the tree, and watch as the water seeps into the soil.
Rachel Andrus lives in northern Minnesota on a tiny homestead in the big woods, with her husband and two wee ones. She mothers, knits, writes, gardens, and wanders the lakes, rivers, and forest. She is inspired by the drastic changes each new season brings to the northland. See more at offarmandforest.wordpress.com.