ISLA AND THE ASH TREE
Isla Mai Marsceill loved animals and trees and birds. Discovering paths that might lead to an adventure was their favorite pastime. Their family liked having plants and animals too. Their uncle Lolo always had a dog in his house and a cat or two. So did their Uncle Chris. Their grandmother, Gigi, and grandfather, Pop, liked vacationing in the country. Their mother and father enjoyed having a garden and having a dog as part of the family. When Isla was five, they got Moose, their drother, a combination dog and brother. And their grandmother, Mimi, loved to garden.
Isla liked spending time in Princeton at Mimi’s house. She had a tulip magnolia tree in the front yard that Isla enjoyed climbing. But Mimi and Isla’s favorite tree was the old ash in the back yard. Mimi and Isla worried about the tree. It had been hit by lightening and looked rather sick. Some of its dead branches had to be cut by the tree surgeon.
Isla sometimes stayed at Mimi’s house in the summer so they could swim in the Princeton pool. This summer, Dan, the tree surgeon, came to check on Ash, that’s what Isla named the tree.
Isla asked Dan, “How old is my tree?”
Dan guessed over 100 years. He was glad that the tree showed new growth but he would have to trim more branches and give it extra fertilizer. It needed looking after.
That afternoon, Isla sat down next to the tree as they often did after a swim in the pool. They tried to comfort the tree.
“I hope you aren’t too worried about having some of your branches cut. Dan is just trying to make you feel better,” they said as they stroked its trunk. “I wish I could bring you some special food or medicine that would help.”
“You are helping.”
Who said that, they wondered. It sounded as if it came from the tree. But trees don’t talk. Maybe Mimi was pretending to be Ash.
They went inside the house and called “Mimi. Mimi.”
“Isla, Isla,” Mimi called back. She always did that when Isla shouted for her.
Mimi came into the kitchen. She had been straightening up the house after their swim.
“What’s up, little one?” she asked.
“Did you just say something to me when I was sitting next to Ash?” Isla questioned.
“Not me,” she answered. “Why? What did you hear?”
“I thought the tree said something. But that can’t be. Trees don’t talk.”
Mimi furrowed her brow. Whenever Mimi did this, Isla knew she was thinking hard. Then, she told Isla something she had never told anyone.
“One morning when I was swimming laps at the pool, I looked to my right at a large oak tree. Suddenly, I felt it communicate with me as if it said, ‘Aren’t you happy? Life is good.’ I thought it must be my imagination, so after I reached the end of the pool and was swimming back to the other side, I looked at the tree again. It waved it’s top branch and I felt a smile inside me like a pleasant tingle. I know this sounds like make-believe but I’m sure it happened,” Mimi said in a far away voice.
“So maybe you did hear Ash talking to you,” she went on. “Scientists believe that trees talk to each other using chemicals and electricity just like humans. And they help each other by sharing food and sunlight the way friends and family support each other.”
Mimi was going to tell Isla more about tree science, but she could see that Isla needed to think this over so she stopped.
Isla went to their room and laid down on their bed to consider that they might have a friend that was a tree.
Isla discussed the idea of befriending a tree with their stuffed animals and dolls. Really, they were just thinking out loud. What would it mean to be a tree’s friend? If they thought about it, they were already Ash’s friend. They liked Ash, wanted to help Ash, and enjoyed spending time with Ash. Isla especially loved swinging from the tree’s branches.
Now they might even have conversations with a tree. That possibility excited Isla. Since their parents were taking them home the next day, they decided to visit Ash after dinner. Maybe the tree would talk to them again.
Mimi thought it would be a good idea to eat outside on the terrace. Isla tried to hurry her up. They wanted to talk to Ash alone. But Mimi wouldn’t be rushed. She liked looking out at the garden and talking about the flowers, the herbs, and the strawberries. Eventually, she decided to go in and do the dishes. She told Isla they could play in the backyard until it got dark.
“Finally,” Isla said to themselves and moved over to sit on the far side of the tree’s trunk out of Mimi’s view. They wondered what they should say or ask. But before they uttered a word, they heard the tree.
“I’m glad you came back. I was afraid I might have scared you away by talking to you. Are you scared?” the tree asked Isla.
“I was surprised. I thought it was my imagination. I don’t know anyone who’s heard a tree speak to them. Mimi and my mom talk to their plants but the plants never talk back.”
“Usually, it’s just young people that plants talk to, so I’m glad we met before you grew up,” Ash said.
“My name is Isla,” they told the tree.
“I know. I hear your family call your name. I also heard that you gave me a name, Ash.”
“Is that okay?” asked Isla. “Did you already have a name?”
“Well, we don’t use names. We call each other by our place in the community,” answered Ash. “I’m known as Elder because I’m the oldest tree in this area, but you can call me Ash.”
“I’m sorry I’m leaving tomorrow because we just met,” Isla told Ash.
“But don’t you have trees in your backyard?” the tree asked Isla.
“Yes, I do. Do you know those trees?”
“Sort of. When trees live close to each other and are from the same family, in my case, ash trees, they look after each other: we communicate through our roots and through the air. Look over to the side of the yard. Do you see that tall ash by your grandmother’s bedroom window?”
“I see it,” said Isla.
“Well that’s my child, known as Sprout for now. We send messages through chemicals, electricity, and smell, a bit like you humans. If there are dangerous insects close by, we send out an alert. If I need more water, Sprout sends some in my direction. We even communicate with other species of trees.”
“But aren’t my trees too far away? Could your roots go that far?” asked Isla.
“No, I couldn’t reach all the way to your house. But there are other ways you and I can keep in touch. I know you like adventures. Would you be interested in having one with me, my family, and my friends?”
“What type of adventures?” Isla asked.
“Traveling between trees, meeting animals like moles, voles, and squirrels, assisting us if we need extra help” answered Ash.
“But how? Is it dangerous?”
“I’ll look after you. If you are thoughtful and kind, all will be well,” the tree assured them.
“Should I tell my family?”
“You can but they may not believe you. When you get home, talk to the tree where your swing is attached. That tree will tell you how to enter our world and how time will stop for everyone else when you are visiting us. That way no one will know you are missing and they won’t worry. What do you say?”
“I say YES!” Isla shouted.
“Isla, it’s time to come in. Time for p.j.’s and a show,” called Mimi.
“I have to go,” Isla told Ash.
“Okay. Talk soon,” Ash replied.
The next morning before Isla went home, Dan, the tree surgeon, and his crew came by to cut the dead branches off Ash. Mimi made Dan promise they would only take the dead parts. After he left, she watched the workers from her kitchen window. They were getting too close to the live branches. She rushed outside just as a leafy bough tumbled down. Isla heard Mimi calling up to the workers and ran to the screen door to see what was wrong.
“Stop! Stop!” Mimi yelled. “Don’t cut any live branches. We must protect what life this tree has left.”
They heard her. Ash was safe.
Isla breathed a sigh of relief and heard the tree sigh along with them.
When Isla got home that night, it was too late to talk to the tree. Early next morning before breakfast, they went to the tree that held their new swing just as Ash held their old swing in Mimi’s backyard.
They stood in front of the tree and quietly said “Hello.” The tree didn’t respond. They waited for what seemed like a long time, but still no answer. Had they gone to the wrong tree? They decided to count to 20. If the tree didn’t answer, they would return after breakfast and try again.
“One, two, three, four, five, six,” they counted. Then they tried singing the numbers. “Seven, eight, nine and ten, should I try again” they rhymed. Isla began to worry. Maybe Ash was wrong and their tree wouldn’t be able to talk to them.
They sang all the way up to 20, but the tree was quiet. Disappointed, they turned to go inside.
“You have a nice voice,” they heard behind them.
They turned to face the tree. “Thank you. I was afraid you wouldn’t hear me.”
“I’m glad I did. I understand you’re going to be traveling in our world. We have work to do, so you can learn the ropes, that is, how to get around.”
“Isla, breakfast is ready,” they heard their mother call.
“I’m not hungry” Isla told their mother.
“Well, you have to eat something before we go shopping,” their mother called back.
“I don’t want to go shopping. I want to stay home,” shouted Isla.
“Isla, come in now and have a quick breakfast,” their mother answered.
“I wish I could eat when I wanted to and stay home if I wanted to,” thought Isla.
Then they sighed and told the tree “I’ll be back later.”
The tree responded, “When you return, I’ll start teaching you the ways of trees.”
Isla went inside, raced to the dining room, and ate their yogurt and granola as fast as they could. Then, they took their bowl out to the kitchen,
“I’m just going outside until we have to leave,” they told their mother who was emptying the dishwasher.
“Okay. It’ll be about 20 minutes,” their mother advised them.
Isla ran to the tree but stood behind it, so their mother couldn’t see what they were doing. They weren’t sure their mother would understand.
“I’m back but I’ll have to leave in a little while,” they said to the tree.
“Okay. Let me introduce myself. In this yard, I’m known as oldest maple or O.M. for short. Since we don’t have much time, I’m going to tell you how we will visit with each other and with other trees. “
“Nice to meet you O.M.,” Isla replied.
“And you,“ O.M. answered. “If you decide to join us, you will enter inside our community of trees by actually going inside, for example, inside me. Once you are in, I’ll show you around. You’ll learn how to travel through roots or even branches. You’ll meet others that make a home inside me and inside Ash.”
“Do you mean animals and insects?” Isla asked.
“Yes, and you’ll see fungi, a plant that keeps us connected, like your Internet.”
“I’m a little scared,” Isla admitted.
“I understand,” O.M. agreed. “How about we give it a quick try, and if you don’t like it, we won’t continue.”
“Okay,“ Isla answered with a bit of worry in their voice. Before they knew it, they were in a dark place, but they didn’t feel scared. They heard O.M.’s voice.
“How are you? You are in a small tree hollow. Do you want to leave?” O.M. asked.
Isla couldn’t speak. Once their eyes adjusted to the shadows, the light amazed them. They could look up and see spots of sunlight fall on the tree almost like stars on its golden wood. It reminded them of their living room at sunset, warm and peaceful.
Suddenly, they were outside.
“I put you outside because you didn’t answer me: I was worried you might be frightened,” O.M. explained.
Isla couldn’t make their lips move as they tried to understand what had happened to them.
“Isla, Isla. Time to get going,” their mother called.
“Isla, are you okay?” asked O.M.
“Inside was so beautiful,” they answered.
“Isla, do you want to take anything with you?” their mother called.
“You go,” said O.M. “We’ll do this again and I’ll explain what you were seeing. You might even meet some of the other inhabitants.”
“See you soon,” said Isla and patted the tree goodbye.
It was late afternoon by the time Isla got home. They told their mother they were going to play in the back yard after they changed their clothes.
“Aren’t you comfortable?” she asked.
“Yes, I am” Isla answered emphatically. “Don’t be like Mimi, always asking that question. She worries too much about people being comfortable- what they wear, where they sit, are they too warm or too cold. It’s annoying.”
“Okay, okay. I’m going to start dinner. Let me know if you want to cook with me.”
“I’d rather be outside,” Isla called as they ran upstairs to their room.
“I think I should wear my boots in case it gets muddy inside the tree. Maybe I should bring my flashlight. It might be really dark. And a magnifying glass might be useful” Isla said aloud. They decided to wear a backpack to hold all their gear and allow their hands be free.
“Would you like some company?” called a soft musical voice. It was Croquet, Isla’s imaginary friend who wasn’t always imaginary. Her hair was white except for a big poof of pink hair on the top of her head. Her eyes were black with green bags around one eye and pink bags around the other. Isla liked her looks: they were so interesting.
“Yes, oh yes, I would,” Isla answered. “I’m going to visit inside a tree in the backyard, and I’m a bit nervous.”
“I would be too. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to be in a new place with new people. Even people I’ve met before can make me feel shy. Together, we won’t be as worried.”
“Agreed,” Isla told Croquet as they made their way down the stairs, out the back door, and over to the tree.
“I’m back, “ she told O.M.
“And who did you bring along?” O.M. asked kindly.
“Can you see her? You’d be the first besides me. Her name is Croquet. She’s one of my closest friends.”
“I don’t see in the same way you do, but I sense a being. And my sense is that your friend is kind and generous,” O.M. replied
“Thank you,” said Croquet who sounded as if she were singing.
“Okay folks. Here we go. Welcome to my world,” invited O.M.
Immediately, they were inside the tree. Isla fished out their flashlight and lit it. They could see through the floor. It looked like their hair after a bath or like their mother’s hair which is very curly.
“What are all those tangles below?” she asked O.M.
“You might say they’re my life blood. They’re my roots and attached to them are a type of fungi.”
“What’s fungi?” asked Croquet. Isla was glad Croquet felt at ease and asked the question they had also considered.
“Have you ever seen a mushrooms growing by trees?” asked O.M.
Isla and Croquet nodded yes.
“We have some in our backyard,“ added Isla. “They’re called morels and they aren’t poisonous. We had them for dinner one night.”
“Well mushrooms are the fleshy part of the fungi, like an apple is the fruit of its tree. The parts that grow the mushroom underground live along side my roots. They’re partners with trees. We give them lots of nutrients like sugar for energy and they transmit information amongst the members of the community.”
“Like what?’ asked Isla.
“Well you know that other maple in this yard, the one close to your house?” asked O.M.
Isla and Croquet again nodded yes.
“If that tree, which is smaller and younger than me, needs water, it sends a message to the other trees in your yard that it’s too dry. When we get the information, we send it some water, so it can be healthy.”
“OW!” cried Isla and Croquet in unison.
“What’s wrong?” asked O.M.
“Something just pushed by us and bumped us hard,” Isla cried out.
Croquet whispered in Isla’s ear, “I’m scared.”
“I’m sorry. I should have warned you. That was Skiouros, my resident squirrel. He lives here. It was cold last night, so he’s busy looking for nuts and places to hide them. When he gets anxious, he doesn’t notice anything around him. “
“Skiouros. I never heard a name like that before,” said Isla relieved she hadn’t been hit by some weird tree monster.
“It’s Greek for squirrel. By mistake, Skiouros ended up in Greece one summer and took a liking to it. He can’t get back, so he holds on to his memories by having a Greek name.”
“Why can’t he go back?” asked Croquet.
“He traveled through the system used for transporting visitors from tree to tree and, by mistake, got caught in a loop. He ended up in a pine tree on Mount Parnassus. That method of travel is only for visitors like you and Croquet, not for the residents of the community. “
As O.M. was talking, Isla got out their magnifying glass. They wanted to see the fungi more closely. They bent over, lost their footing, and fell between two large roots. They let out a big groan.
“What happened now?” asked O.M.
“Isla fell,” answered Croquet. “They can’t talk because they had the wind knocked out of them.”
“Another warning I needed to give you. Walk carefully because this isn’t a flat surface. It twists and turns. It’s like walking on a log that isn’t straight. Can you get out?” O.M. asked worriedly.
“I’m out,” answered Isla. “Croquet has many skills. For example, she can twist herself into any shape. And she is very strong. So she helped pull me out.”
Isla put their arm around Croquet and gave her a thank you hug.
“Isla, time to come in. I need help with dinner. Where are you hiding?
I want to see my beautiful bean,” called Isla’s mother.
“Who’s bean?” asked O.M.
“That’s a nick name my dad gave me,” said Isla.
“Well, you better go. Will you come back or did you get too scared?”
“We’ll be back, won’t we Croquet?” Isla assured the tree and Croquet smiled in agreement.
Isla was moving up to the first grade and was busy for the next few weeks, so they didn’t have a chance to visit O.M. At school, they began looking at trees more closely, wondering which ones talked to each other, which ones helped each other. Finally, on Saturday morning, Isla approached O.M.
“O.M., I’m here,” they told the tree. “Can I visit?”
For a while, there was no response. Then they heard O.M. speak in a whisper.
“Hello Isla. I’m afraid I’m not feeling well today. I think I’ve got a virus. I’ve alerted the community. I wonder if Ash is okay. I know the Emerald Ash Borer is killing many of them. Have you heard anything about Ash because I haven’t and I’m worried?”
“No, I didn’t know Ash was in danger. I’ll ask my mom to call Mimi. She needs to know about this disease. What ails you?” Isla questioned worriedly. She didn’t want her new friend to get sick. She didn’t want to lose O.M.
“I think it is just mildew and lichen, which won’t do me in but makes me tired. See what you can find out about Ash from your Mom, or if you’re game, you could visit Ash and find out yourself. It will be your first voyage. We could try tomorrow. Are you interested?”
Emerald Ash Borer
“I am but I’m nervous. I’ll talk it over with Croquet and we’ll decide together. I’ll let you know later today. I hope you feel better.”
Isla went to their room to confer with Croquet about taking that first trip through the trees. They discussed whether they were ready. After all they didn’t know what to expect. But they hadn’t had any trouble inside the tree and it seemed that O.M. did look after them. The tree had taught them how to walk along its underground roots. They decided that they were pretty safe and would probably go tomorrow. But first, Isla wanted to get a grown-up’s advice.
That afternoon their father was taking them to the dog park so their drother, Moose, could play with his friends. While they were there, Isla would find a way to get his opinion. Isla went outside to find their father and Moose. He was getting Goldie, the car, ready for the trip.
“Should I get Moose?” they asked him.
“Sure. I’m just about ready,” he answered.
On the way to the park, Moose whined and cried most of the way. He couldn’t wait to romp around with the other dogs. When they got there, they could barely hang on to his leash as he pulled them towards the entrance. Once he was inside, he tore around the perimeter of the park. After he found his friends, they licked their faces and started jumping on each other.
As they watched Moose, Isla approached the subject.
“Dad, when you were young did you ever do something that nobody else knew about?”
“What age are we looking at?” he asked.
“Well, my age.” Isla answered.
“I did. One day, I needed to have an adventure, to do something risky but something I thought I could handle. I didn’t want to get into trouble and I didn’t want to hurt myself. And I didn’t want my parents to be involved. They might not have approved. So I got my bike and rode down the street to visit my friend, Drew. We decided to pack a lunch and ride up to the woods at the end of our neighborhood.”
“What happened?” asked Isla.
“We put snacks and fruit drinks in our backpacks and made for the trees. We tried to find paths to ride on once we got there but that didn’t work, so we parked our bikes and took a walk instead. We found a log, sat down, and ate our lunch. After awhile which seemed like a long while, we began to worry that our parents might find out. So we rode home. We’d only been gone a half-hour. No one knew or so we thought. When we were older, we found out that our parents had seen us riding in the street and decided to watch us but not interfere. They wanted us to feel independent, but they were making sure we were safe.”
Neither of them said anything for a while as they watched Moose cavorting. After their father gave Moose some water, they sat down on one of the benches.
“Should I be looking out for you Isla?” asked their dad.
“I think I’ll be all right. We read books about kids traveling through time and solving problems. I’d like to have some adventures too and I’d like to help plants and animals if they’re in trouble,” they told him. They knew he wouldn’t ask a lot of questions. He trusted them to take care of themself.
After lunch, Isla and Croquet visited O.M.
“How are you feeling?” Isla asked the tree.
“I’m recovering. Some others in the community sent more nourishment my way and it helped. I’ll be fine by tomorrow. Have you decided to take a trip to Princeton and see Ash?” O.M. asked the two friends.
“We want to go. I have horseback riding lessons tomorrow morning, so it will have to be after lunch “ Isla explained.
Is there anything we need to bring?” asked Croquet.
“Wear shoes that have a good grip. Bring some wipes in case your hands get dirty or you touch something that might infect me when you return. And bring a flashlight just in case.”
After lunch on Sunday, Isla went to their room to get ready for their trip. Moose came into the room while they and Croquet were packing their gear. He started sniffing around and putting the wipes in his mouth. Then, he wouldn’t let go. Isla had to be stern with him.
“Drop it Moose,” they told him. “Drop it.”
A few seconds later, he obeyed. They needed to get going. When they left the house, he followed them. Isla knew once they disappeared into the tree, Moose would make a fuss, so they took him back inside and told their mother he was bothering them.
Finally, they were ready and called to O.M. that it was time. Instantly they were inside the tree.
“I see you came prepared. Once you get going, it may feel a bit strange,” O.M. informed them.
“How?” Croquet and Isla asked in unison.
“Of course, I’ve never had the pleasure, but I understand it might feel like you are on a fast boat with the wind at your back. It doesn’t hurt but you might feel the pressure. It also doesn’t last long. Ready?” O.M. asked.
Isla and Croquet held each other’s hands and nodded yes. Then, they felt a surge and a whoosh pushing their bodies through what seemed like a tunnel. Seconds later, they landed on their backsides as the force dropped them off inside Ash.
“Well hello you two,” said Ash and chuckled to himself. “I see you had a safe landing, sort of.”
They stood up and brushed themselves off, excited and still a bit nervous.
“Is that really you, Ash?” asked Isla.
“Are we really here? asked Croquet.
“Welcome to Princeton,” Ash said to the two friends. “What brings you here?”
Isla and Croquet looked around to make sure they were really in Princeton. The trip happened so quickly that it felt like a dream. Had they really traveled hundreds of mile in just a few seconds?
“It’s true,” Isla said aloud. “We did it Croquet.”
Croquet’s eyes widened in wonder. So this was Mimi’s house. So this was Princeton. Isla realized that they needed to find out if Ash was okay, if he was free from the virus.
“We came to make sure your aren’t sick with the Emerald Ash Borer disease,” Isla explained.
“I see you’ve been talking with O.M.,” Ash replied. “So far so good. Mimi’s been taking good care of me and my off spring, Sprout, over there. She has the arborist give us medication every two years. But many ash trees have not been as lucky.”
“I’m relieved you’re healthy,” Isla told Ash.
“Me too,” chimed in Croquet.
Then they heard a car pulling into the driveway. Isla was sure it was Mimi. They didn’t know what to do. How could they explain how they got to Princeton? And they couldn’t ask Mimi to keep it a secret from their parents. She wouldn’t go for that.
“Ash,” Isla said hurriedly, “ Please put us back inside so Mimi doesn’t get curious.”
The tree did their bidding and, immediately, Isla and Croquet were inside the tree. A few minutes later, they heard the car leaving. Mimi must have forgotten something as she often did and came back to the house to get whatever it was she had left behind.
Isla asked Ash to put them outside. They wanted to show Croquet around the yard and have a visit with their favorite places. Isla took Croquet to the side yard where one summer they had built a stage out of some slate Mimi was storing. With their dolls and stuffed animals, they had put on a show with dancing and singing. Mimi had been impressed with their performance. Then, Isla and Croquet peeked out the front yard gate to gaze on Isla’s climbing tree, the big tulip magnolia on the side of the driveway.
Isla thought that they should finish their visit with Ash and head home before Mimi reappeared. So they returned to the back yard.
“Ash, you said that many trees have not survived because of the virus. What happened to them?”
“Once they get ill or someone notices that the trees are infected, they cut them down. You can see many fallen trees in neighborhoods and forests. It can be hard to look at. All that life destroyed, not to mention the loss of family members amongst the trees. They rely on each other for support.”
Isla and Croquet almost started to cry as they imagined all the trees that had died. Ash noticed their sad faces.
“Don’t be too down cast, “Ash told them. “Even when a tree seems to be dead, like an old stump, it’s still part of the community. The neighboring trees help to keep it alive if possible and the stump will share its small resources with the other trees. Even when a tree dies, it helps others. As it rots it puts nutrients in the soil that help seedlings grow. We look after each other even when we’re old and sick.”
“What can we do?” asked Isla.
“Well, you could spread the word about this virus, so more people can save our trees. People sometimes think trees are nice to look out or even to climb on, but they may not know the many ways trees contribute to the environment. For instance, trees pull carbon monoxide from the air and put back oxygen. When it’s hot, trees provide shade for people and plants. Also, we provide shelter for animals.”
“Like Skiouros the squirrel who lives in O.M,” Isla and Croquet said in unison. They often found themselves saying the same thing at the same time.
“Yes, squirrels, mice, and even turkeys feed on ash seeds. In fact, a flock of wild turkeys once ran across this very back yard. And bats and porcupines like to make their homes in the hollows formed in our branches and trunks.”
Suddenly, they heard a car door slam in the driveway.
“Uh oh,” said Isla. “Mimi’s home. We need to get back to my house.”
Ash accommodated them and with a swoosh, they were in Claverack.
O.M put them outside when they landed and asked about their trip.
“I loved traveling through trees. It felt like I was part of your lives. And Ash doesn’t have the virus but New Jersey has been hit hard. I want to help, but I’m not sure how,” Isla explained.
“I have a feeling you will think of something,” O.M. assured them.
“ I hope so. When I do, I’ll tell you all about it. I better go inside now.”
“It’s been a pleasure,” O.M. replied. “You two have been excellent guests.”
Isla and Croquet felt weary from their travels and made their way back to the house. Moose greeted them at the door with slobbering kisses.
“You didn’t stay out very long,” Isla’s mom called to them. “You’ve only been in the yard a minute or two.”
So it was true, Isla thought. Time moved differently when they traveled through trees. They hadn’t been missed.
“I feel like playing in my room,” Isla called to their mother as they made their way up the stairs to their bedroom
Isla and Croquet climbed up on Isla’s bed.
“We need a plan,” Isla said. “We’ve got to help save the ash trees. So many living creatures depend on them.”
Croquet nodded in agreement.
“I’m just going to close my eyes and try to think” Isla advised her. Seconds later they were fast asleep.
Isla was awakened when Moose jumped up on the bed and began licking their face. They didn’t mind: they liked cuddling with their drother. A few minutes later, their mother came to the door.
“So you’re up. About an hour ago, I came upstairs and saw you were taking a nap. It’s been a long time since you fell asleep in the afternoon. You must be going through another growth spurt.”
Isla smiled, a smile for their mother and a smile for themself as they remembered their secret adventure. Their mom smiled back and winked.
“Well dinner will be ready soon,” she said as she turned from the door to go back downstairs.
“Croquet, where are you?” Isla called.
“Right behind you,” whispered Croquet. She was sitting on the top of the headboard with her friend Lavender who looked a lot like Croquet but had a poof of purple hair instead of pink. And like Croquet, she could only be seen and heard by Isla.
“Hi Lavender. Nice to see you. Do you two have any ideas about saving trees?” Isla asked them.
“We should spread the news like Ash said. Let other people know about this illness.”
“Exactly. But how?” Isla, Croquet, and Lavender thought hard.
“A poster!” they cried out together.
“And I can take it to school, show it to my class, and tell them all about it.”
Immediately they got to work. Isla’s brain was humming. They felt full of excitement and hope. Tomorrow was an important beginning.
Before Isla knew it, several hours had gone by. The poster was almost done.
“What do you think?” Isla asked Croquet and Lavender.
“Be-U-Tiful,” they exclaimed in unison nodding their heads enthusiastically.
Croquet and Lavender
Just then, Isla’s mom called up the stairs that dinner was ready. Isla sighed. They wanted to finish the poster and take it to school tomorrow. Maybe their parents would let them finish it before they went to bed. After they sat down to dinner, Isla’s father asked what they had been up to.
“I’m making a poster about sick trees,” they informed him.
“Sick trees?” he asked, clearly confused.
“Yes,” said Isla. “Did you know that ash trees are being attacked by an insect called the Emerald Ash Borer?”
“No, never heard of it,” their father replied.
“Well the Emerald Ash Borer is infecting ash trees and thousands and thousands and thousands are getting sick. It’s so sad. I want to let people know, so the trees can be helped.”
“What a coincidence,” their mother injected into the conversation. “I was talking to Mimi while I was cooking dinner and she said the same thing. In fact, she was very upset because she got a letter from a landscaper that said Princeton is going to cut down 107 infected ash trees right around the corner from her house.”
“See how awful this is!” Isla exclaimed. “That’s why I have to finish my poster tonight. I want to take it to school and show my class. The sooner people know, the sooner the trees can be saved!”
“How do you know about all of this?” asked their father.
“I keep my ear to the ground,” Isla said with a smile.
Their mother and father thought that was a pretty good joke and moved on to discuss who was taking Moose to the dog park tomorrow morning. Isla was relieved that they didn’t have to explain how they had learned about the disease. If it came up again, they would say that Mimi had told them.
Often after dinner, the family put on music and had a dance party. But tonight, Isla asked for an early bath, so they could have time to finish the poster. Their parents agreed.
Next morning before they left for school, Isla used paper bags to protect the poster and keep it hidden. When Isla arrived at school, their classmates clamored around them.
“Isla, show us what you have,” they demanded.
“You’ll see,” Isla replied mysteriously.
Right before class, Isla went up to Hannah, their teacher, and whispered in her ear.
“I have a special announcement to make. May I do it before we begin our work?”
Hannah nodded yes and a few minutes later, she announced that Isla had something special they wanted to discuss. Isla looked around at their classmates and told them all about the Emerald Ash Borer and the terrible plight of the ash trees.
“Did you know that 100 million ash trees have been destroyed?”
“No,” the children replied amazed at the number of dead trees.
“Levi raised his hand and asked, “Why?”
Isla told them that most people believed if the trees were too infected, it was best to cut them down. When they saw the look of dismay on their faces, Isla repeated what Ash had told them.
“Don’t be too sad. When trees are cut down, some life remains in the stump. and it can give nutrients to trees that need them.”
“What?” asked Bryne. “You mean trees help each other?”
Isla, then, told the class about trees being a family, about how they communicate, and how they support each other.
Hannah said to the class, “We’re learning a lot about how living organisms relate to each other. It’s like a mini biology class.”
“What can we do?” called out some of Isla’s classmates.
“We can tell the world,” Isla answered.
Hannah asked Isla, “Do you have a plan?”
Isla nodded yes and reached behind them to bring out the poster.
“We need to let other people know, so they can give their ash trees the medication that fights the infection. And we should let people know that trees need to be in groups, that they shouldn’t be cut down, and that they shouldn’t plant just one in their gardens. Trees are like us: they need each other.”
Hannah suggested that the students work together to find a way to spread the news. There was a great deal of excitement in the room as the children brainstormed ideas.
“We can put your poster on the Instagram site for Catskill Montessori.”
“We can ask our parents to use their Instagram accounts to do the same.”
“We could each make signs and walk up and down Warren Street in Hudson this Saturday.”
And on and on came the suggestions.
“Well,” said Hannah. “I’ll see if we can put Isla’s poster on our Instagram account. You tell your parents about what you’ve learned and see if they think a parade on Warren Street is a good idea.”
Warren Street, Hudson, New York
That night at dinner Isla told their parents about what had happened in school. They asked Isla what they could do and if they could carry a sign on Warren Street this Saturday. Isla felt sure they were on their way to helping their tree friends.
That night with Moose at their feet, they dreamed of marching up and down Warren Street but instead of their classmates, they were arm in arm with O.M. and Ash. The next day before they left for school, they told O.M. the good news.
“Thank you, Isla, for trying to help. I hope it does some good!”
Isla was surprised O.M. used the word hope. Of course, it would work! But they soon discovered all did not go well.
That morning Hannah gathered the children together and asked how the tree project was going.
No one replied. Isla decided to speak up.
“My parents said they would go with me and carry their own sign on Warren Street.”
“Mine think it’s too dangerous, marching in a group with signs,” said one classmate. Other’s nodded their heads in agreement.
Isla was amazed. “But the trees,” they cried, “they need us!”
No one answered. Isla stood up and started to walk away. They felt angry and let down by their friends.
Hannah called them back. “I have an idea, Isla. Why don’t you all make signs about the Emerald Ash Borer and about the importance of trees? Then, if your parents agree, Isla could go to stores in Hudson and ask to display them. What do you think of that approach?”
Isla agreed. They didn’t think it would be as effective, but it was better than nothing.
After school, Isla visited O.M. and told the tree what had happened.
“Don’t be disheartened Isla. Did you ever hear the expression, tall oaks from little acorns grow?”
“No.” Isla replied.
O.M. continued, “It’s an old proverb, anywhere from 200 to 600 years old. It means that you can start out as small as an acorn but grow into something mighty like an oak tree. In fact there’s an ecologist, James Murray White, who used that very expression in his Save the Oaks campaign in England. So your acorn is you visiting the stores in Hudson. It’s the first small step that could grow in a very big oak, that is, a march forward. Thank you for beginning.”
Isla wrapped their arms around their good friend, O.M. They felt restored.
That night at dinner, Isla’s parents wanted to know the plans for the march on Warren Street. Isla looked at their food and kept quiet.
“What happened, Isla?” asked their father.
Still no answer. Isla didn’t want to admit they were on their own.
“Isla, is something the matter?” asked their mother.
“No one can go on the march. Their parents won’t let them go,” Isla said sadly.
“Why?” asked their father.
“They think it too dangerous. That’s just stupid! I’m so mad at them. They’re cowards! “ Isla cried out.
Moose jumped up from his seat in front of the fire alarmed at Isla’s loud voice.
“It’s all right Moose,” Isla’s mother assured him as she petted him behind the ears.
“You’re pretty upset, Isla,” their mother acknowledged. “But you know people don’t always agree with each other. What we think is best might seem scary to some of your classmates. For example, your grandparents think it would be nice to put puzzles together but you don’t like puzzles. You agree to disagree.”
“Those are just games. This was a plan to save trees and keep them alive. That’s more serious. People should pay attention,” Isla answered.
“Okay, but if we do it ourselves, then, your classmates and their parents can see how safe and successful we it can be,” their father explained. “And, the next time we want to do something for the trees, they might want to participate.”
“Well,” Isla said, “they are going to give me the poster’s they’ve made. We could take them to stores and see if they can be displayed. That’s helping, I guess.”
Saturday morning, Isla, their father, their mother and Moose went to Warren Street. They had 10 posters to distribute in Hudson. First, they to the Spotty Dog Book Store. Isla loved this store. Not only did it have books but it also had toys and art supplies.
“Isla, you go inside and talk to a bookseller. This is your project. We’ll wait outside with Moose,” their mother said.
Isla looked at their parents anxiously. They were afraid they couldn’t manage on their own. Their parents smiled encouragingly. Isla turned away, made it through the front door, and looked around for someone to approach. When they spotted a person putting away books, they quickly walked over to her. The sales person noticed Isla and asked if she could help them. Isla nodded yes and asked her if they could put a poster in the window.
“What kind of poster?” the salesperson asked.
“It’s about saving ash trees. They’re being infected by an insect called the Emerald Ash Borer and they’re dying. I want to alert people, so they can help the trees,” Isla explained and pulled out their poster.
“That’s pretty good. The trees are lucky to have a friend like you,” she said. “Let’s get this poster up in the front window.”
A few minutes later, their parents watched Isla’s poster proudly displayed for all of Warren Street to see.
“Do you have anymore?” she asked. “I can put one up on the announcement board.”
Isla nodded yes and handed over one of their classmate’s posters.
They were all smiles as they left the store. Then, they noticed that their parents were talking to someone they didn’t know.
“Isla,” their father said. “I’d like you to meet someone, Stella Mitchell. She’s a reporter for the Register-Star, the Hudson newspaper. She saw your poster and wanted to know about your project.”
“Hello, Isla,” said the reporter reaching out to shake Isla’s hand.
Isla felt a little shy with so much attention but shook her hand and smiled.
“Can you tell me about your project? I’d like to write about it. And if it’s okay with you, I’d like to take a photo of you and your poster, right here in front of the store.”
“Really?” Isla asked. They could hardly believe their luck.
“Really. If your parents agree, I’ll tag along with you this morning, take some photos, and put the story in Monday’s paper”
“Mom, Dad? Is it okay,” Isla asked
They nodded yes. The rest of the morning, the group visited coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, and antique stores. They ran out of posters. Almost every merchant wanted one except for the owner of a fancy furniture store. He said it would ruin the view. Instead of getting angry, they all laughed. They agreed he was being ridiculous.
Later that afternoon, Isla visited O.M. and told the tree about putting up the posters on Warren Street. Isla was pleased but worried it might not be enough to save many trees.
“My grandmother gives medicine to her ash trees but it’s very expensive. I’ll bet some people can’t afford to help their trees,” Isla told O.M.
“Maybe we need some special help from Ash. Thousands of years ago in Ireland, people, believed trees were sacred, especially ash trees,” O.M. explained.
“Some of my ancestors were Irish, but I never heard that they worshiped trees.”
“They did and the ash tree is known for its wisdom. It can, also, be a fairy tree which means fairies can live in ash trees and, like you, travel between places. Maybe you need to visit Ash and see if he can advise you.
“How about after my riding lesson tomorrow? Only, this time I want to take Moose, just in case we run into something mysterious like a tree fairy.
Isla was looking forward to having Moose on their next trip through the trees, but they weren’t sure how it would work. Because Moose barks and jumps when he gets excited, Isla worried that someone might hear him, that he might frighten Skiouros the squirrel or other beings that lived in the tree. He might fall through the roots. Was taking him a bad idea? They decided to consult O.M. before they went to their riding lesson.
“Hello O.M.,” Isla called to the tree, gently leaning against it’s trunk.
“Hi Isla. Is it time to go?” the tree asked.
“Not yet. I wanted to talk with you about taking Moose along. I’m worried he might cause problems with his barking and jumping,” Isla explained. “I do want him to come especially as Croquet seems to be away on a trip and can’t go with me.”
“Those are reasonable concerns. However, with your permission, I can help Moose travel safely. I could hypnotize him.”
“What is hypnotizing?”
“It’s a way of helping someone relax so deeply that they’re almost asleep.
I have a few words I can whisper to him in dog language that should do the trick,” O.M. assured Isla.
“That sounds great. Maybe some day you could teach me how to talk to Moose. It would make life easier and more interesting.”
After riding lessons and lunch, Isla told their mother that they were going to play outside with Moose who eagerly followed Isla out to the tree.
“We’re here,” they told O.M.
“Well, this is exciting,” O.M. replied.
Immediately, Moose and Isla were inside the tree. O.M. murmured something that was incomprehensible to Isla. However, Moose looked like he was in a daze and wasn’t making his usual snarls when he found himself in a new situation.
“Is he all right?” asked Isla.
“He’s fine. Just very relaxed,” O.M. answered.
Just then, Skiouros appeared, curious to see the new occupant. He got very close and Moose started to twitch.
“I better get you two going before Moose comes to,” O.M. said nervously.
With that familiar swoosh behind their backs, they found themselves inside a tree, not Ash, but another tree. Isla started to get very worried. But a second later they heard a familiar voice, a musical voice. It was Croquet!
“Hello Isla. I’m surprised to see you here,” Croquet said.
“Where am I?” Isla asked a bit scared and anxious.
“You’re in Ireland. Inside an ash tree which is sacred in this country.”
Moose started to move his paws and ears. He was coming around. They had to get outside. Isla asked Croquet if she could help.
“I can. Noble tree can you put us outside?”
And out they were.
Isla was not reassured: Moose looked like he was ready to bolt. Isla held his leash tightly but he was stronger and got loose. He ran around the tree sniffing and barking and growling. Isla felt like crying, but, then, they felt something soft and comforting on their shoulder- Croquet’s hand.
“We’re in this together Isla. We’ll get him settled.”
“How? He’s uncontrollable when he’s like this.”
“I have some friends who can calm him down, “ Croquet assured Isla and let out a sweet almost sad sound like a whistle.
Out of the tree popped a group of whirling feathers until they settled down and Isla saw they were surrounded by tiny beings.
“Isla, I’d like you to meet my friends, the little folk or fairies.
“Please to meet you, “Isla said turning their head around the circle to greet each one. The fairies twittered in welcome and seemed to calm down Moose immediately. Among them was a familiar face. Lavender was here too.
“You looked a bit overwhelmed Isla,” Lavender remarked.
Isla nodded their head in agreement and said their stomach felt funny,
“That sometimes happens when people communicate with the fairies for the first time. Croquet and I are their friends, so once we learned how important the ash tree was to this country, we decided to visit. Did you know that the ash tree is admired for its strength, flexibility, and it’s healing properties. A walking stick made from it’s branches will protect the owner from evil. And sometimes it is called the sacred tree of Medb, the first queen of Ireland.
“That’s my mother’s name,” Isla said.
“You do seem to have a real connection to Ireland so we thought their ash trees might be able to help you, but we didn’t expect to see you. How did you end up here?”
“I think that O.M. got a bit taxed when Moose and I were in the tree. Skiouros showed up and Moose started getting antsy, so instead of sending us to Princeton, he sent us here. Where is here? Where in Ireland are we?”
“You’re in Roscommon,” Croquet answered.
“I know that name. My great great grandmother is from here. How curious.”
“Roscommon is important to the little folk. Supposedly, their world is entered through a cave that’s close by. Also, there is a magical well is in this county. A sacred ash known in Old Irish as Onn grows next to it.”
“Maybe Onn can help me save the ash trees in Hudson. Can we go and talk to him?” Isla suggested. “Is the tree close by? Can the fairies direct us?”
Croquet and Lavender nodded yes and asked the fairies to take them to Onn. They agreed, and Croquet, Lavender, Isla and Moose found themselves flying above the clouds. Several minutes later, they were placed carefully on the ground next to an ancient ash tree.
Croquet told Isla that according to Irish tradition, a human needed to walk around the tree once before making contact. Isla did as was told with Moose at their heels sniffing the ground. Before they had finished circling the tree, he started jumping and barking. Then, he disappeared.
“Where’s Moose?” Isla cried out in panic.
There was total silence. The fairies had disappeared too.
“Moose, Moose, come back,” Isla called.
“Uh oh,” Croquet and Lavender sang out.
“What’s the matter? What’s happening?” Isla asked, their voice shaking.
“Moose startled the fairies and made them angry. When they’re get annoyed, they aren’t always nice,” Croquet explained.
They heard small bursts of laughter in their ears like a swarm of buzzing mosquitos.
“They think it’s funny that we’re scared. We have to make amends in order to get Moose back, “ Lavander insisted.
“How?” asked Isla.
“Well, they like it when food or water is left out for them. Do you have anything?”
Isla dug into the pockets of their jeans. They often had a granola bar stowed away when they had riding lessons.
“Yes,” they cried out.
“Okay. Some water has collected at the base of the tree. Let’s put the food over there. We’ll sing to them sweetly. Keep your finger crossed,” Lavender replied.
Croquet and Lavender began to hum softly. Their singing made Isla feel like they were floating on a cloud. But no fairies and no Moose. Isla frowned worridly. Croquet put her arm around Isla and told them to be patient. They began to sing again. Still no Moose.
Isla felt tears sliding down their face. Just as they opened their mouth to scream for Moose, they felt a warm wet tongue licking away their tears. They turned and hugged their drother afraid to let him go. They wanted to yell at the fairies but knew they might make Moose disappear again. Isla started to walk around the tree one more time. Moose didn’t follow but sat down, exhausted.
Then, they touched the tree and asked to speak to it. There was no answer. Croquet suggested saying “dia dhuit” the Irish word for hello. Isla tried to say the words exactly. Suddenly, the tree started talking but it sounded like gibberish to Isla.
“I don’t understand what is being said,” Isla told Lavender and Croquet.
They consulted with the fairies.
“The tree is speaking in Irish, not English. That’s the language it learned hundreds of years ago. The fairies agreed to be your translator.”
Isla tried again and asked the tree to advise them about saving the ash trees.
Onn explained that the history of trees in Ireland might be a lesson Isla could take back home.
“Before Ireland was invaded by the Normans over a thousand years ago, the Irish had laws that protected trees. Humans were limited to the amount of trees they could cut down. However, England took control of Ireland for 800 years and used the trees for building and for fuel. Now very few of it’s trees of origin are left. And they are in danger because they are isolated and not part of a supporting community.”
Isla felt sad and angry and confused. They still didn’t know what to do. They told Onn that they felt frustrated because they needed specific directions or maybe magical intervention.
“Isla, you have a generous spirit and an inventive mind. I know you will take this history and use it to save the trees in your homeland. But I think it’s time for you and your friends to go home. You’ve been in Ireland for quite awhile.””
Lavender and Croquet nodded in agreement. Isla shrugged their shoulders in defeat.
“Time to go home Moose,” she whispered in his ear.
“Thank you Onn. We’re ready,” they said as they waved good bye to the little people.