A group of sturdy, overgrown pine trees towered over a helpless little twig of a sapling covered in pinecones, with some sticking out of the countless holes in its body. Being the youngest and smallest of the trees was not at all fun for this poor sapling, especially since it was surrounded by the overwhelming presence of its colossal pine tree brothers, who stood tall enough to tear through the thick blanket of clouds overhead and overlook every corner of this beautiful, green earth. “I want to grow up to be strong and unrelenting in the face of Mother Nature’s wrath, but I’m so sick of my brothers,” the little sapling told itself as it attempted to dislodge each pinecone, one after another, using its stumped branches. “I’m so sick of the crap that they put me through. I don’t like that I live in their collective shadow, and never get a taste of sunlight. I hate how they often whip and jab at me with their needle-sharp leaves, and especially how they break off my branches and blow away my tiny light pink flowers with every shot of scaly pinecones they take at me. I don’t know why they treat me like this. Is it because I grow flowers instead of pinecones? Why can’t I grow pinecones like every other tree? I want to leave.”

But the little sapling had been planted here, reared here, and its roots had extended many miles into the gradually hardening earth. But even so, it was not entirely grounded because this foul-tasting, sandy soil prevented it from growing, thus causing a large portion of its roots to dry up and perish. One day, fueled with anger and a burning hatred for its brothers, the sapling mustered up enough strength to pick itself off the dirt, and to slowly extract what was left of its cracked and peeling roots, and slither across this sandy landscape, far away from this toxic environment. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be a long and worthwhile journey.”

The earth had already completed a full revolution around the sun since the brave little sapling began its drifting around the four corners of the earth in search for a new and suitable home.  After wandering endlessly in the unforgiving midsummer heat of the barren desert, a deep feeling of regret began to wash over it, as it knew that it would not last long in this ever-expanding horizon of fiery red sand. The sapling had to tame the voices in its head telling it to turn back home and continue enduring the nightmare that awaited it there. “Remember why you’re doing this,” the sapling told itself. “You needed to escape the abuse of those callous criminals you called ‘brothers.’ They were hollowing you out with their toxic threats and insults. They ‘fed’ you to the woodpeckers. They were constantly sticking their pinecones into your wounds, and it would take you eternity to get them out every time—remember? If only you had more branches, then maybe getting those prickly things out wouldn’t have been such a nightmarish task.”

The long path that ran down the desert landscape cracked and crumbled with every step the sapling took, and its tiny roots were withering away with every passing minute. Time ceased to exist, and the path just kept stretching further into the faint horizon. It was littered with small rodent corpses and the air was filled with the pungent smell of death and decay. The stench was nauseating and the sapling knew that it didn’t have much longer before it would eventually meet the same fate that had befallen the wildlife here. A loud thud echoed across the dry wasteland. The sapling’s tiny roots for legs finally gave way and it now layface flat on the burning sand. Death was on its doorstep. But the sapling had to keep going. “Keep fighting, you can do it. You will do it. Think happy thoughts. What should paradise look like?” Trying to calm itself down and take its mind off of its current predicament, it conjured up images of mountains painted with layers of bright green conifers, and a glassy green lake that reflected the rippled sea of clouds underneath the baby blue sky. The sapling lingered a little longer in its idyllic world before drifting back to reality, where it found itself feeling a little bit stronger. After gathering every ounce of energy that was still left in its parched body, it slowly hunched over. Some of its roots scratched at the earth while others mistakenly grabbed onto each other in their search for something solid from which the sapling could pick itself up. Finally, they found a large rock, and then slowly, the sapling began to rise from the ground and take a big step forward.

“Welcome to Williams Lake” the etchings on the wooden post read. “Where am I? How far have I been walking?” the sapling thought to itself. It began to examine its environment. In the distance were colossal black mountains evenly sprinkled with white snow. A deep emerald lake shimmered in the sapling’s peripheral vision. Rays of sunlight illuminated the water with a faint but noticeable glow. The jagged rocks adjacent to the lake formed a green and gray mosaic. The magnificent landscape left the sapling awestruck. This, however, was replaced by wariness once the sapling heard a barely audible whisper coming from something in the distance, which grew louder as it got closer. The sapling’s ears were strained to follow the whispering as it wove through the forest, in hopes of pinpointing its source. The search came to a halt when the sapling finally looked up, and locked eyes with a whole army of conifers towering over it, their colors ranging from flaming reds and oranges to soothing greens and blues. The cracks and wrinkles of their confused and intrigued expressions reminded the sapling of the disgusted expressions displayed on the faces of its older pine tree brothers, the ones who bullied it into fleeing from its own home. They called it “a strange mutation,” “nature’s screw-up,” and “a walking target practice for cops,” simply because it was a long, single-branched stump with large bullet hole-like wounds throughout its body. But little did the sapling’s brothers realize that their verbal abuse was what caused these holes to form in the first place. Their hateful criticism had also stripped the sapling of its flowers—its life force, its confidence. It was always in the spotlight, though ironically, never in the sunlight. It only lived in the shadow of its brothers.

Suddenly, a deep voice pulled the sapling out of its reflectivestate. “What’s the matter, young one? You seem afraid.” The sapling immediately turned around to find an old but robust-looking tree. “I’m lost,” the little sapling said after a brief pause, hiding in a small patch of darkness behind some rocks.

“Why, this beautiful paradise is known as ‘Williams Lake,’ filled with—”

“No, I’m lost inside,” the sapling shyly confessed. “I don’t know who I am or who I’m destined to become. I feel different from every other tree.”

Several of the trees nodded in sympathy. “You’re right, you are different, but you have to learn to accept it,” the old tree told the little sapling with a kind smile. “In this community, we thrive on diversity. Here, no two trees are identical. Each of our distinctive qualities balances out the sameness that we all share as a single species, and it is important to keep the scale balanced.” All the surrounding trees expressed their agreement with the master tree’s words. The little sapling took a moment to digest the eye-opening truth that had just been revealed. The old tree then extended its branches to the sapling in encouragement. “Come with us, young one,” it said. “We will help you learn to accept and love your God-given differences by showing you ours. It’ll be a long journey, but once you are able to turn self-hatred into self-love, you will thrive.” The sapling did not take the old tree’s branches immediately, and this signaled its hesitation to the rest of the trees, who, in response, extended their own branches one by one in a show of support. This gave the sapling mixed feelings and it did not know how to respond. It was shocked and moved by the tree community’s supposed act of love, but at the same time, it was scared and hesitant. It was willing to trust these trees, but the small voice in its head advised against it. “Should I give them a chance? How do I know whether or not they’re lying about their intentions? Am I willing to take the risk of becoming part of their community?” The sapling’s mind was racing with these questions and its body refused to move, but the trees understood and allowed it plenty of time to make its final decision. After what felt like eternity, the little sapling decided to listen to its heart and finally extend its single branch. Perhaps everything the wise old tree said was genuine, as was the acceptance it had received from the rest of the trees. This sense of belonging was something the sapling had never experienced before. Some of the holes in its body were already starting to close and it could see a number of tiny, light pink buds starting to form. It was slowly healing and it began to feel something new. It felt at home.

Anna Lee-Hewing is a sophomore majoring in Computer Arts. This spring Anna read this story alongside her accompanying images at KALEIDOSCOPE, a word and multimedia variety show sponsored by the Writing Program of the Humanities and Sciences Department, which took place at the SVA Theater.