The Straight Pine, or "Strathpine" as it was known in the old language, lived true to its name. The grain was straight vertical, the bark split and curled, but always in vertical lines. It was an even twelve metres around. The knots where its branches grew were perfect circles. It housed an entire colony of hippies who were always having to protect the tree from some developer or natural disaster or termite infestation. The tree held great magic, and someone or something was always trying to tap into it or take it away.
The bulldozers parked at the base of the tree, and the foreman of the work crew called up to the hippies on the high branches. Those branches were six stories up, and were some of the lowest on the tree.
"You can't stay there forever!" called the foreman.
After a short pause, a voice called back down, "We've been here for four years so far, and we're self sufficient now. You can't take this tree! It's our home!"
"I mean you have to come down, legally! The land and the tree have been sold! It's coming down!"
"It is NEVER coming down, and neither are we!" A chorus of cheers followed the proclamation down the tall, straight trunk.
"There must be something you want that you can't get up there, right?" called the foreman.
There was a long apparent silence while the tree-hippies conferred among themselves.
"Moonlight says she broke her last sitar string a year ago," called the voice from the tree. "Could you get us a new set?"
"If you come down, sure, I'll get you a whole new instrument!" The foreman wasn't sure what a "sitar" was, exactly, but the only stringed things he knew were instruments, and he took a guess.
"We're not coming down. You get us what we want as a sign of good faith to the wise old Strathpine!"
Oh, good, thought the foreman sarcastically. They're worshipping it now. He called one of his apprentice boys over and whispered some instructions in his ear, not willing to risk the hippies overhearing anything. The boy gave a quizzical look in response, and the foreman shooed him along.
"We're getting your sitar," called the foreman up to the tree. There was no response.
About two and a half hours later, the boy returned with the sitar, wrapped carefully in hessian. The foreman wondered briefly whether the hippies would be offended by the use of plant fibres to wrap the gift, then remembered that the sitar itself was made of wood, so it probably wasn't a big deal. He left the package at the base of the tree and pulled the bulldozers back far enough that they posed no immediate threat.
Then they waited. And waited. It wasn't until the night had fully fallen and the moon has lighting the way that one of the hippies crawled down the trunk, apparently tied to a harness held from above. She looked around for hidden men from the bulldozer crew and, seeing nothing, checked the package.
Don't look too closely, the foreman wished at her. She didn't. Strapping the sitar to her back, she started ascending the tree again, assisted by the rope harness. A quiet cheer was heard from the branches a few minutes later, then the soft sounds of plucked strings started tinkling after them.
Gradually, though, the sound grew fainter, less certain, with more gaps. It faded slowly to rest and silence. The sitar, freed and played, produced a magical combination of music and scents that could put anyone to sleep, and it had done so here. The effect wouldn't last, though. The foreman called in the fire engines with their long ladders to remove the hippies so he could begin felling the tree in the morning.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - I'm thinking of ending the Brisbane Suburbs collection in the new year.
PPS - Maybe I'll pick it up again later.