The black prairie soil yielded to the incessant pressure of the young seedling, driven by the code of the creator to put down roots and reach for the sun. It broke free of its earthen womb in the shadow of the larger tree from which it was descended.
The larger tree had been in this woodland belt near a small running stream for decades. It had seen the passage of many corn harvests, and had provided shelter for many of the prairie creatures during its time. His strong branches had hosted squirrels and wild turkeys. His acorns nourished tawny-coated deer. Other trees of his lineage remained in the woods around him…though some had been hewn down many years past by settlers intent on cleaving the virgin soil and turning it from buffalo hills into the breadbasket of the world.
Season pass, as they must, and the seedling grew to a sapling in the shadow of the giant oak; sheltered from the prairie storms by its girth. Sometimes the wind blew and the snow fell and bent the sapling, and on those times it leaned on the larger tree for strength. Corn continued to be harvested, the stream continued to flow, and the sheltered sapling grew in size and strength to match his father. For a few seasons they were like paired oxen, strong and steady sentinels of the woods.
Gradually, ever so gradually, things began to change. The old oak became ill, and lost its vigor. Branches once hard like iron began to drop leaves and lose strength. The prairie storms that once blew themselves out on his trunk now began to break away the weakened branches, wounding the giant and leaving him susceptible to even more rapid deterioration.
Drought that summer loosened the grip of the giant’s roots that had held the stream bank in place and anchored the mass of his trunk for many years. When the fall storms blew that year, the old giant, feeble with age, leaned to the east, and found strength and a resting place in the arms of his one-time sapling. He was not gone…just tired. But his last seasons were upon him.
Now winter has the countryside in its quiet grip, the land blanketed in snow. The young oak sleeps, but is ever strengthened by the additional burden of supporting the old tree. The stream is frozen now, quietly gurgling beneath the ice, so as not to awaken the sentinels.
From the rise to the south, visitors come. One is a man, in the prime of his life. The other visitor is his boy, young and supple. They trudge through the snow, the boy leaning on the man when his footing falters. They walk with difficulty, bundled against the cold.
As they reach the weed patch on the bank of the stream, a gaudy rooster pheasant rockets from under the boy’s feet, and accelerates towards the shelter of the woods. The boy, excited, shoots too soon, and misses. He tries to pump the action of his shotgun but he paper shells of the old 16 gauge shells have swollen with the moisture from the snow. The gun jams. Frustration causes the boy to shout.
The man, who always gave the boy the first shot, hears the boy’s cry, and shoulders his own gun. The bird is far away and nearly safe, flying under the old oak resting in the arms of the younger oak; trying to put limbs between the hunter and his tail feathers. The man momentarily loses sight of the bird as it passes under the oak. The distance now is growing, between the pursuers and the pursued, almost beyond range of the shotgun. He drops to one knee, framing the bird between the A-frame formed by the two trees. A shot echoes through the woods, and the bird folds 45 yards away.
The pained shout of the boy with the jammed gun now becomes a jubilant whoop. He is astonished by the shot that he just witnessed, and sees the man now through different eyes. The man chuckles because he knows that it was a very fortunate shot. Together they walk to retrieve the bird under the two oaks, the young and the old, bound together by strong arms.