Forestian Autumnal Writing Contest - Winners
You’re in a field. It is blanketed with snow, undisturbed except for the deep imprints that your boots left. Your beeline to the tree under which you stand is the only thing upsetting the winter scene. If When you came out here, it must have been calm weather. Unfortunately, you join me at a rather inopportune time. As you can tell, the wind is moving across the field with vengeance in its heart. Its speed will only increase and then I will have to stop this chat to focus on survival. I apologise, but that’s how it has to be.
You have never noticed me, but I’ve seen you every time you’ve come here. I’ve watched your distant form traipse over here, growing and growing until you stand where you do now. Last time you brought a child. It looked like you so I assume it’s yours. It was nice to see the young girl’s wonder as she looked up and I was looking forward to seeing her again, but that’s fine. I do hope you’re well today. I hope life hasn’t been too tough for you and that that boss you always complain about has been tamed. I would recommend having some strong words with him, but I’m just a leaf so what do I know. Good luck whatever you decide to do.
Oh my, the wind is really getting strong now. I’ll have to leave you soon but for now, you’re standing on the ground looking at the tree above and I know you might not think too much about the individual leaves. Maybe you are marvelling at the beauty of the isolated tree, thrusting outwards from the snow. Maybe you are wondering how it could keep so calm despite the winds that now rip through the branches, like grape-shot across the deck of a ship. You appear to be staying here and so I welcome you, for it would be impolite not to and your company is always nice.
My name, as I’ve told you every time you have been here, is Oleg and I hang upon the ends of a twisted branch. Usually I am content with a life of calmness, but right now you find me struggling to hold on to the rough bark. It is during these times of turbulence that the path of the future spits into two. I, along with my companions could be hurled away from our mother and cast into a world where we are not cared for and where we have no choice but to perish. You, no doubt, do not realise our plight and you do not realise that I, Oleg, cannot afford to leaf this place. I hope you’ll excuse the pun. Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t hear.
There is a girl you see, and her name is Irina. She is the most beautiful leaf for miles around and she hangs not far away from where I am. Irina is far more graceful than I and better able to cope with harsh conditions like the one we are experiencing now. We are but leaves and to you, we may be insignificant but this is our lives and it is all we have. The other leaves on the tree appear to me like shadows or blurry figures on the periphery, whereas Irina…she is everything to me and I always make time for her.
The day started pleasantly enough, with a gentle, cool breeze but the wind is picking up now. I guess I should focus on trying to stay on here for Irina is everything to me, and if I lose her, I have lost it all.
The wind snatches at my body, thrashing me about like a toy in the mouth of a dog. I slam into the bark of the branch holding me down and almost black out from the impact. For a moment, the pain does not come and I am limp in the grasp of the elements. Then, I hear her screams, grit my teeth and I fight my way into consciousness again.
“Oleg!” she yells, her voice just barely rising above the howling of the sharp air that ruthlessly buffets us.
“I’m, fine Irina.” I reassure her, despite the stars that dance in my head and the growing, throbbing pain. I see the desperation in her eyes and the colour draining from her face as the situation gets worse. “Don’t worry,” I scream, but she doesn’t hear me. I take a breath of the frigid air and grip the branch next to me, using it to manoeuvre into a better position. I have come close enough now to see the tears in Irina’s eyes and she reaches desperately for my hand. I clutch it and bring her close, our body’s pressing together in an effort to stave off or at least outlast the beast of winter.
“Thank you, Oleg, you saved me. I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll never let you go. You cannot fall.” I whisper into her ear. Her head falls against my chest and a tear trickles down her gentle cheek.
Another leaf falls by us, screaming as he is swirled away into the white abyss below. I stifle a cry but there is nothing to be done about him now. I don’t know how many others will fall but my only concern now is Irina.
We stay like this, Irina and I, huddled in each other’s warmth and security. The wind fights back of course. It never gives up easily and today it appears particularly furious. A small chunk of wood flies like an arrow towards us. I see its malevolent stare as I gaze above Irina’s shoulder. If I don’t do anything, it will hit her, but moving now, in so perilous a situation might well be fatal for us both.
I steel myself, anticipate the pain in order to prepare my body, and sharply twist around on the branch. I wobble and we shout out; our cries being lost to all but the closest of our siblings. They themselves are locked in the struggle to survive and can do nothing. The surprise movement had caught Irina, my love, off guard and she stumbles. My arms snap out towards her at lightning speed and I battle to stabilise her.
She looks into my eyes, confusion and gratitude flickering over the surface. Suddenly, the sharpest pain exploded into the middle of my back. The piece of wood has impacted. It is whipped onwards by the terrible winds but a splinter remains, and that is all that is needed. My back straightens in agony and my grip clenches, fingers digging into Irina’s shoulders. She knows now what has happened and fights to keep us together and on the branch. I on the other hand, only make things worse as my arms go limp and I cry out, in shock, anger and pain.
She screams as I begin to tumble backwards. Her face is a sea of disbelief and devastation, the raw emotion creeping into her eyes as she realises what might happen. My limbs flail as, as though in slow motion, I am being sucked away by the winds, unable to hold on any longer. Her hand shoots out to reach mine and our hands grip in tense hope. We hold each other like these in the midst of the ruin around us. Then, our hands slip. Our fingertips touch for the briefest of moments but she can go no further lest she fall away herself, and I can do nothing to anchor my body to the branch.
We both know what will happen, and so I stare. I stare at her face with the burning intensity of a forest fire. I will not see Irina again, and so I commit every detail to memory. Her eyes filled with the knowledge of imminent loss and yet the wild, untameable, impossible hope of somehow reuniting with me. Her face, as beautiful as anything could be. It is my fire in the blistering cold and I memorise each crease and smooth surface. Her hair whips around her as if possessed and her lips, red and shining appear to me like a lighthouse to a half-drowned sailor. Her lips, from which the most heart-wrenching pain now bolts, I sear into my mind.
The world takes me in a deadly grasp. It seizes me and hurls my frail body away from the one I love. The last thing I see is Irina screaming into the elements. It is a helpless, hopeless gesture, a futile sound and yet I am determined to remember it. I see her mouth moving but hear no words. They have been taken from us by the cruel wind and I can only watch and stretch out to her, even as I am caught in the middle of the blizzard. I am still stretching when she disappears from sight, looking so pitiful there on that branch. As I am swept along by snow, rain and piercing cold, my eyes bore into the place where last I saw her as if I can bring her to me or me to her. I think not of myself, and only of her as I am taken far, far away from all that I have known. My eyes close, and I see her image there. Her frozen visage engraved into my consciousness and even as I slam into the packed snow, even as my very breath is flung from me in one brutal movement, even as the light fades, I remember her face. I remember her embrace, her warmth, her voice and I know, that I will never forget her. Irina, the leaf, the love of my life.
It is hard to pull of a story using second person narrator without the concept feeling forced, so Mzeusia deserves this recognition for doing so. While in some areas the author resorts to a few cliches, this does not detract from the quality of the piece or its clever construction.
Runner up: Uan aa Boa
Philosophy has long been preoccupied with the question of identity. What makes two sycamore trees in some sense the same despite the obvious fact that they are different? For the ancient Athenian writer Plato the answer lay in an immaterial world of Forms or Ideas. Though his works are far from being a systematic exposition, he appears to have believed that the physical world we see around us is a pale and imperfect copy of a greater reality that consists of perfect Forms. In this realm will be the Form or Idea of a sycamore tree, and two sycamores here on earth are related because they share to some extent in that perfect Form, while different because they share in it only imperfectly. Similarly, there are many things in the world that are more or less round, but only one perfect circle out there in the realm of the Forms. For Plato, the successful sculptor would be one who understood the Form of sculpture and was able to realise it, while the successful judge would be one who understood the Form of justice. In his book The Republic, Plato set out how an ideal society would be governed by philosopher kings painstakingly educated to access the ultimate Form of the Good.
To a modern audience this sounds nonsensical, so it can be surprising to realise the extent to which it has influenced our world. Most strikingly, Plato is arguably the inventor of Christianity. The medieval concept of God as perfect, immaterial, omniscient and all powerful, the God who may or may not be able to create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it, owes much more to Plato than to the Hebrew God who spoke from a burning bush and went out before his people as a pillar of fire. St Paul, author of much of the New Testament, was steeped in Platonic philosophy and when he said that we see now through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) he was actually quoting Plato’s Phaedrus. The belief that this world is fallen and fleeting while eternal perfection lies beyond is Plato’s creation. So too is the corollary that matter is inferior to spirit, work inferior to thought and the body subservient to the mind. When we divide school children into jocks and nerds, jobs into white and blue collar and health into physical and mental we are still trapped in Plato’s legacy.
Sitting under a sycamore tree as the autumn leaves fall it’s obvious how different each individual one is. It would never for a moment occur to me that two of them might be identical, or like any leaf anywhere in the forest. I wonder what Plato would have made of it. Would he have thought this difference a sign of imperfection? Is there somewhere out there a perfect tree which these ones are failing to be like? The idea is ridiculous. The beautiful colours of autumn are the shades of death and decay, transient in the last degree. My thoughts on the matter are part of my squishy, physical, embodied brain. Everything is here. Now.
This is the only piece of prose that was written as non-fiction. An engaging and interesting introduction into philosophical concepts ably communicated using allegory and example.
Gnejs – Some really interesting ideas here and it's nice to see magic realism getting some love. With a little more polishing I think this could have been in the top 2.
Upon leaving the bar, I went straight to a nearby supermarket, picked up a bottle of Pennypacker Bourbon, and headed towards the lake. That area was so very picturesque. A small peninsula, stretching out in the water, covered in trees whose leaves were in that striking state between absolute prime and imminent decay. This led to their colours balancing between being intense and restrained at the same time, like they on the one hand wanted the whole world to experience a detonation of affect, but on the other hand they were too exhausted to completely carry it out, leaving them lingering somewhere in between. Even at that hour, when darkness descended on my new hometown, this rich battle between fatigue and energy dominated the scene. I walked to the very end of the peninsula and sat down by the water. It smelled of autumn, and the prospect of one day crossing this big black entity of a lake all of a sudden seemed intoxicating. If I left my eyes lingering on the horizon for long enough, I could swear I saw something halo-like scuffling for space at the end of my world of vision.
The voice came from behind me and I was startled, spilled bourbon on the ground, and turned my head around sharply. Standing right behind me was a woman dressed in blurry colours. She looked like a human extension of the surrounding woodlands, and ironically, she too seemed to exist in a state between prime and decay. I asked her, in a stumbling attempt at mastering the native tongue, how she knew I was a foreigner, and she answered in English:
“No local folk look at it the way you do anymore”.
She sat down next to me and hinted at my Pennypacker. Bewildered I handed her the bottle and she proceeded to take one long gulp, emptying 1/3 of what was still left in the bottle. She wiped of the bottle with her shirtsleeve and proceeded
“No one cares about the lake anymore, it’s just the place that carries your boat and increases the value of your house. It’s only you kids, who come here from the outside, that appreciate the lake and who the lake appreciates. When you drink and jump off the bridge, fighting the currents, you see her for what she truly is."
I tried to come up with something fitting to say, but ended up asking her if she was a native of the area. She said she had been born right there, pointing towards the woods, many years before the beginning of the Great War, her eyes fixated at the non-intelligible lakeshore in the distant.
“You can’t possibly be that old,” I said.
“Machines were the invaders, the men who pushed buttons only pawns. Today we are all pawns.”
She took another big mouthful of my 2€ bourbon and looked at the horizon. I couldn’t tell if her eyes reflected sadness or anger, so I settled on that it was probably both. At last, she handed the bottle back to me, and I took an equally big mouthful. She continued.
“You must look for what is now in the margin, but what was once in the centre, what might seem wrong, but when you look at it for long enough, you will see that it is right.”
“You need a little perspective, Unabomber-style, is that it?”
“Perspectives are for fools.”
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, the woman stood up and looked down upon me. The anger in her eyes was gone, but the sadness lingered as she smiled and said:
“You are a fool. But it was the opposite of fools that took us down this path. Maybe we need fools to find our way back. Go, drink, jump from the bridge, survive the current and play with your perspectives.”
She patted me on my head and started walking towards the old town. I turned my whole body around and shouted,
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“If you are the Fool, then you can call me the Juggler.”
She started laughing, and before I knew it, she was past the lake promenade and had disappeared into an underground passage.
Sitting by the lake on a dazzling first night, filled with all too many impressions, her words left me feeling empowered, rather than sad. I stood up, closed up the bottle, and started walking in the direction the Juggler had pointed when talking about the bridge. I walked off the peninsula, and headed through the woods. The darkness was engulfing.
Moving closer, the dividing line materialized, and I was able to differentiate between land and water, preventing me from stepping too far. Following what seemed to be a lakeside path, I started running. I ran, not sure why, and in moving faster everything around me lost whatever form it had possessed before. It wasn’t darkness as the absence of light anymore, but instead something otherwise. As if light had never been, and an opposite was not needed to define blackness itself. I reached another peninsula, and after having made my way to its peak, I saw the lights.
I felt like I was watching and experiencing something completely unknown. Everything around me was pitch-black, the water and the woods, and the roads leading up to the bridge on either side were nowhere to be seen. In the middle of an all-encompassing lack of illumination, there were five symmetrically positioned beacons of light. As I moved closer to this gate of stars, the illusion slowly began to fade, from a mysterious bridge of dimensions into a prosaic means of transportation. The transformation didn’t affect my resolve, or my intoxication at the thought of contributing to a long and proud line of tradition; I was going to be a jumper, no mere pawn in a great and ongoing war, but the Fool who turned its tide.
I started walking up the stairs from the ground level and finally set foot on the bridge. It was a lot higher than I had imagined, and a few cars passed me by as I made my way to the middle of it. After a few minutes, I was standing on a ledge at the pinnacle, and it made me shiver. I saw leaves of many colours dancing gracefully on gusts of wind. They twirled on their way downwards, merging at last with the black of the lake.
I stared out into darkness, and brushing away the hesitation, I took the leap. I felt the rush, the sensation of being just Being. Everything around me was compact obscurity, and I a part of it. Then I realized I was falling. Just being Being turned into the recognition of being an object, being rapidly drawn downwards through the laws of gravity. I started thinking that my fall was not graceful, that gusts of wind wouldn’t carry me, that the distance from the bridge to the water was too great. Then I thought that the mere fact that I could articulate this in my head, and then contemplate it, meant that the distance was dangerously great. I hit the water.
At first, there was only darkness, then a rapidly increasing coldness. I opened my eyes, water met eyeball, trying to penetrate and in the process fusing. The current was strong. I remember thinking that had I viewed myself from the outside, my motions of sometimes sideways, sometimes upwards, but mostly downwards, would have resembled those of leaves in the wind on their inevitable descent.
Wild Mustanges – This is a simple story that doesn't engage in melodrama or high concepts – instead it details the specific and everyday in an interesting manner.
He was going to be in big trouble if they were missing. The big shindig was tonight and they still had a lot to do to get ready.
"Which ones?" came the faint reply.
Samuel shook his head. It should have been obvious which ones he was referring to. "The ones for the long table." he shouted back.
"Did you check the shed?"
Samuel sighed. They really shouldn't be stored in the shed. The wood would warp with all the moisture changes. He hoped that they had been protected. If they weren't in perfect condition then they would have to come up with something else. A little searching proved that they hadn't been stored in the shed. There were plenty of bags of yellow and red leaves from the trees, but none of the oak leaves that would extend the table. Samuel stalked back to the house frustrated that he had wasted his time in the shed. Apparently Amelia was thinking he had wanted tree leaves for decoration. This was a thanksgiving party after all, but that wasn't what he was looking for. This was going to be a disaster if he couldn't find the leaves. He had so many other things he need to be overseeing right now, but if Amelia's response was any indication, then he couldn't just leave this to someone else.
Samuel entered the house through the kitchen and was immediately stopped by the head chef as he asked which dried herb leaves he should use as garnish and which as flavoring. This wasn't really Samuel's area of expertise, so he told the chef that whichever shape went best with the chicken for the garnish and whichever complemented the potatoes for the flavoring. He was stopped several more times as he crossed the kitchen as was wishing that he had entered somewhere else. All these questions were important, but so was finding the leaves.
He found Amelia in the main dining room.
"Did you find them?" she asked.
"No. They weren't there."
"There should be bags of them though."
"I'm not looking for leaves to decorate." Samuel said frustratedly. "I'm looking for the leaves for the tables."
"oh. Those should be in the attic."
The attic was even worse for the leaves than the shed would have been. Samuel hoped that they weren't there, but it seemed likely. Amelia could generally be relied on to know where things were once she knew what you were looking for. Samuel thanked her and then headed up to the attic. Looking around he finally found them. To his relief they seemed to be undamaged, but he wouldn't be able to tell for sure until he put them into the tables. He brought them down and arranged to have them put in while he checked on the other details necessary for the shindig to be a success.
When he came back he saw that there was some discoloration, but luckily the leaves weren't warped. Samuel hadn't wanted to have to use table clothes, but that was inevitable now. He couldn't have the leaves a different color than the table. He covered all the tables in a simple white table cloth that had a leaf motif and then put the best leaves from the shed strategically around the table, framing all the dishes. Everyone complemented all the decorations and the shindig went off without a hitch. Afterwards, Samuel was sure to store the leaves in a much more suitable place where they wouldn't be misplaced again.
Shwe Tu Colony – For the sheer depth of worldbuilding here alone. If they had focused on presenting a tighter, smaller piece then they could well have secured first or second place.
Now it has become fall,
And the early dawn light
Leaves markings on the path
Upon which we still tread.
Though it may be long,
We shall not stop; not on my watch.
Every single day, I watch
The green leaves turn red and fall
Off the tree’s branches, into a long
Descent, for they were too light
To find their own road to tread,
And thus, descended upon the path.
How clear is the beaten path.
It leaves nothing to imagination— but watch!
Lightly must we tread,
Lest we lose balance and fall.
Now, we are not so light;
The recovery will be long.
Further down the road, I long
To leave it all, to forego what the path
Promises ahead, shunning the light
Through which we once could watch
Our numbers grow, as those numbers now fall
With every next step we tread.
In my frustration, I know only to tread
Upon the insects, crushing them into a long,
Eternal silence. How tragically I fall
From that glorious, idealistic path.
Already, the ticking of my watch
No longer corresponds to the light
And the dark. How giddy and light
My head feels, yet onward I tread,
Though others turn back as I watch
Helplessly… But as I face the long
Road ahead, in eremitical fashion, this path
Has become mine alone- and I will not fall,
Though these little streaks of light, these intense lines of komorebi, reach long
And far beyond where I may tread, beyond the ends of my lonely path.
I shall persevere yet, and watch— as the red leaves fall.
Leaves - a haiku
I’ve left it behind,
As youths leave old toys,
Only to find them again.
Leaves - a Fibonacci poem
Before the threshold,
Knocking gently on the door,
Bestowing me with the bounties of the harvest,
But also taking from me
The green trees,
The judges decided to view all three collectively as this was the only fair way to judge. The consensus was that the Haiku was subtly crafted and engaging. The Sestina was also an interesting choice, showing a real ability to get across meanings through quite restrictive formats.
Runner up: The Church of Satan
We have a complex relationship, leaves and I
Springing to life with an early march
Greeting me with natural green dye
Towering above as a natural green arch
Then you summer wherever I go
You're so vibrant at every turn
In full bloom now we watched each other grow
In hindsight I had so much more to learn
You've fallen now so I must use past participle
You've left me now and all too late I speak of you with wordy words
Filled with memories I cannot get a gripple
They echo in my head like gurdy-gurds
Wintering without you is a lonely one
Buried in a snowman's chance of hope for you
Despite the fact that we are without the sun
The end of year just makes me feel so blue
This new year I thought I'd spring without
I thought you had taken your final leave and met your end
Yet here you are leaves with all your green and my shattered doubt
I hope you rested well now hello again my dear and valued friend
The past participle grammar joke was certainly not lost on the judging panel of issue editors! Aside from clever wordplay and rhyme scheme, this entry received praise for its thematic thread involving the passage of time.
Natura viget, tempus mutatur
frigus viget, mundus auratum.
Autumnus fugit, relinquit ruinam
tempus fugit, lux ruinam.
principios ad finis.
et initios novis.
Relinquit corruisset, ut patet in.
Relinquit corruisset, ut patet in.
Era advenit Novum
id est de incipiere.
Nova et plus bonum
quod non est finis.
Hiems advenit, Autumnus concidit.
Nix et advenit, gelu non concidit.
Relinquit albare, redit nebula est.
Tunc tempus albare, calidi focis est.
Nature prospers, time changes
the cold prospers, the World is golden.
Autumn goes away, leaves fall
time goes away, light decreases.
This is the start
the starting of the end.
The year is finishing
and a new is rising.
Leaves fall, it is well known.
Leaves fall, it is well known.
A New Era is coming
It is going to start.
New and very good
it is not the end.
Winter is coming, Autumn is ending.
Darkness is coming, ice isn't going away.
Leaves are palid, fog is coming.
Time is palid out there, but fireplace is warm.
Producing a poem in Latin and providing a translation. While we felt that something might have been lost in translation, constructing poetry in a dead language was a very interesting choice.
Scattered leafs are blown
From the trees to dance along
Paths unknown to them
As wind from the same branch leaves
In a different world they land
The disconnected nature of the poem managed to reflect the nature of the prompt nicely.
Caught by the wind,
Swaying side to side,
Into the pile,
The corpses lying about,
Brown with the time of day,
A mass grave of the forest,
Swept to the side,
Numbers on a casualty report,
No one cares for the dead.
The dead, no one cares for.
Dead, the one cares for. No?
Some rather simplistic structure in places, though this was clearly deliberate. A rather clever ending with plenty of play on syntax.