The Beet

A Witness Tree Carol

Ethan “Dickens” Gotsch

The site of future “New Old Town”

Stave One: A Stern Warning

The T.C. Williams Witness Tree was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. It had lived for more than 100 years, but now it was as dead as a dead daffodil. The Mayor of Alexandria knew it was dead? Of course, he did. How could it be otherwise? He and the City Council had been working for years to eliminate that tree. Despite months of pleading and petitioning by Alexandria citizens to save the tree, all Mayor Justinezer Schmooze had to say was, “Bah Humbug!” After all, trees make paper, and paper makes money, and there was nothing in the world Schmooze loved more than money.

But the Witness Tree was just the beginning, for it was the night before the big City Council vote. You see, Taylor Run was the site of a lush landscape of flora known as Chinquapin Trail, but Schmooze had other plans. Old Town was a major moneymaker for the City of Alexandria, but it was getting a little overcrowded, and there wasn’t enough space for more hotels, yoga studios, and ice cream parlors. His solution: a new, profitable neighborhood on the former Chinquapin Trail that would be called “New Old Town.” If all went according to plan, the council would vote to demolish the forest the next day.

After a long day of work, Mayor Schmooze left his office and headed back to his house located at the center of the soulless, vapid wasteland known as Del Ray. It was a cold and windy night, but the frigid breeze was not as cold as the mayor’s wicked heart. As he was biking to his house, he almost collided with the former mayor of Alexandria, Alison Marleyberg. Mayor Schmooze stopped his bike and glared at his predecessor.

“Oh, if it isn’t my old colleague Justinezer,” exclaimed Marleyberg. “Or should I call you the Taylor Run grim reaper…”

“How now!” said Schmooze, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“Much!” – Marleyberg’s voice, no doubt about it.

“Mercy! Dreadful administrator, why do you trouble me? Why do former politicians walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”

“O blind man, blind man! Not to know that ages of environmental growth has led to a sustainable ecosystem where the trees form the bedrock for all life to thrive upon. And here you are, thinking you have godlike powers to alter the very foundation of this great city! I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping a terrible fate. Vote no tomorrow. Save Taylor Run, and save our city. We built this city on rock and roll.”

As quickly as she appeared, Marleyberg disappeared into the night. A slightly nervous Schmooze picked up his bike and headed home. Once he got home, he went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep on the instant. Short of some divine intervention, Schmooze’s plans were unchanged.

Stave Two: The First of Three Trees

When Schmooze awoke, it was so dark that, looking out of bed, he could scarcely see where he was. Suddenly, a light flashed up upon the instant, and Mayor Schmooze realized he was in the middle of T.C. Williams Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium. It had been a while since Mayor Schmooze was here, so he took a moment to look around. There was no one else in sight. The sun radiated off the metal bleachers, and Mayor Schmooze was heating up. 

If there were only a source of shade in close proximity, Schmooze thought to himself.

It was then when he looked across the field and spotted a mighty oak with branches reaching out to embrace him. Like a desert traveler in search of water, he rushed over to the grand tree. Eventually, he reached the tree and took a moment to observe its natural beauty.

“I’ve been expecting you,” said an unfamiliar voice from behind. Justinezer spun around.

“Who and what are you?” Schmooze asked.

“I am the Ghost of Trees Past.”

“Long past?”

“No, not that long ago. Under your orders, this tree was callously chopped down last summer.”

“I am a mortal, and liable to fall.”

“You can say that again. In an ever-changing and unforgiving world, this tree had been a reminder of our city’s history. It has provided shade to countless Titans who sought shelter during sporting events or while smoking pot. It is no small matter that you would have such a beautiful piece of nature destroyed, especially as climate change ravages our fair planet.”

“It matters little! I think the new concession stand in the tree’s place will be a real ‘treat!’ Get it, it’s a tree with an added ‘t!’”

The spirit did not laugh. In an instant, the tree was gone, and Schmooze was schvitzing.

“Spirit! Remove me from this place,” Schmooze ordered.

“I told you these were shadows of things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

As he struggled with the Spirit he was conscious of being over-exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his bedroom. He had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.

Stave Three: The Second of Three Trees

Schmooze awoke not in his bed, but a lush landscape of forest. He was surrounded by trees from all angles, and their leaves were greener than the greenest dollar bill. All of a sudden, it occurred to Schmooze that he was in the Taylor Run forest he hoped to bulldoze to make way for new developments.

This sure is prettier than I expected, Schmooze thought to himself. Schmooze had never been to Taylor Run or any forest for that matter. In fact, the mere presence of Schmooze was known to make nearby plants and flowers instantly wilt. In the distance, Schmooze noticed a large throne carved into a sycamore tree, with a large and mysterious figure laying atop of it. He figured he should introduce himself to this strange figure, as the next mayoral election wasn’t too far away.

“I don’t believe we have met before,” said Mayor Schmooze, who was certainly living up to his name. “I am Mayor Justinezer Schmooze, and I am here to serve this great eco-city of Alexandria.”

“Eco-city?” the figure chortled. “That’s a mighty fine joke! I sure hope your mayoral skills are as good as your sense of humor.” The large beast-man stood up from his throne and extended his colossal hand to Mayor Schmooze.

“You have never seen the likes of me before,” exclaimed the thing.

“Never,” Schmooze responded.

“Well allow me to introduce myself. I am the Ghost of Trees Present! I watch over the beautiful flora here in Taylor Run. I know you have big plans for this area, but let me show you something.” The Ghost of Trees Present walked off, with each step lifting Schmooze off the ground.

“Follow me,” the ghost said. Schmooze did what he was told.

“I’m afraid I have never seen trees so large,” Schmooze said as his wide eyes scanned the forest.

“These are old-growth trees. You see, they were here long before you arrived in Alexandria. You will not find these precious tree canopies in any other part of the city. These trees keep Alexandria’s air clean, and they give our blessed wildlife a home. This is where our people come to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Do you want to destroy all of that?”

“No, no! We will not destroy a thing,” insisted Schmooze. “We will restore this area.” 

“There you are with that sense of humor again! But enough with the jokes; this is what I wanted to show you.” The ghost and Schmooze approached a cluster of trees.

“What’s this?” exclaimed Schmooze. “All I see are trees, no more noteworthy than any other trees. Spirit, why did you bring me here?”

“This is no ordinary group of trees,” the ghost said. “This is a family of trees. Let me introduce you to Bark Chloroplast, his wife Maple, and their son Tiny Thyme.”

Schmooze looked at the family and paid particular attention to Tiny Thyme. It seemed so small, delicate, and innocent. The ghost noticed this and elaborated further.

“I see you have taken a liking to Tiny Thyme,” the ghost said. “He’s quite a young lad, and he has some health problems, too.”

“Spirit,” said Schmooze, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Thyme will live.”

“I see a vacant forest,” replied the ghost. “The forest is bulldozed over and no tree survives, including Tiny Thyme. He will die.”

“No, no!” said Schmooze. “Oh kind Spirit, say he will be spared.”

“That is not something I can control,” said the spirit. “This is up to you and the city council, Mayor Schmooze. Everything comes at a cost, and now you see the cost of your actions. You have a grand vote tomorrow. Choose wisely.”

Schmooze looked about him for the ghost and saw it no more. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the words of old Alison Marleyberg, and, lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground towards him.

Stave Four: The Last of the Trees

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Schmooze bent down upon his knee; for in the air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and misery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Trees Yet to Come?” Schmooze said nervously. “Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good. Will you not speak to me?”

The spirit gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

“Lead on! Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”

The ghost began moving forward in a cloud of black smoke. Schmooze closely followed him, anxious about what he might see. As they moved into the city, Schmooze saw a version of Alexandria, unlike anything he had seen before.

The sky was gloomy and gray, and there was not a tree or even a splash of green in sight. Before him stood a large industrial complex. Schmooze squinted to read the words scrolled across the buildings: T.T. High School. While Schmooze knew that Alexandria’s only high school was to be renamed, he was unfamiliar with the initials “T.T.” 

Who might the initials “T.T.” belong to? thought Schmooze. Is it Tina Turner? Tim Tebow? Tila Tequila? Oh no, could it be Tiffany Trump High School? 

His thinking was interrupted by a large group of students walking onto the football field in a zombie-like fashion. Each student wore a red, white, and blue umbrella hat with the initials T.T. on top. Schmooze noticed a bronze statue in front of the school and walked over to read the plaque. In small lettering, the plaque read: 

Welcome to Tiny Thyme High School, home of the Tiny Thyme Titans. We remember Tiny Thyme and the thousands of other trees we lost in the Talyor Run massacre. 

Screw you, Justinezer Schmooze.     

Schmooze was shaken to his core. It was clear that history did not look back upon him fondly. He was a tree killer, plain and simple. The Ghost of Trees Yet to Come stood by him, eerie as ever. Schmooze glanced back at the ghost.

“Spectre?” Schmooze asked. “What do you think of this? Do you have anything to say? Anything at all?”

The ghost did not reply, but rather extended a bony hand that motioned Schmooze towards the stadium. In the distance, Schmooze noticed the new snack bar, a crowning achievement of his time as a mayor. Schmooze was awestruck, and he had to take a closer look. 

“Look at that new snack bar,” Schmooze told the ghost. “Isn’t it a beauty? The situation here may not be ideal, but this remains a monument of my mayoral legacy.” As Schmooze and the Spirit approached the shack, Schmooze could not believe what he saw – a wide array of fountain drinks and every chip known to man. It was perfect! It was until Schmooze noticed a plaque on the side of the building. As he got closer, he read the inscription: 

Dedicated to the memory of Mayor Justinezer Schmooze. 

We may not have oxygen or shade, we may have floodwaters running through our streets, and we may have killed every last tree in Alexandria, 

but at least we have an unlimited supply of Dorritos and Sprite here at the snack bar. 

Schmooze gasped in horror. He felt the sun beating down on him and his heart pounding at a breakneck pace. His face turned redder and redder as he looked back at the ghost.

“No, spirit!” Oh no, no! Spirit! Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why would you show me this, if I am past all hope? Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life.”

The Ghost remained still as usual and Schmooze was spiraling further down.

“I will honor the trees in my heart, and try to preserve them all year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”

Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

Stave Five: The End of It

Yes! And the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the time before him was his own to make amends in. He jumped out of bed and opened up his curtains, looking out into his neighborhood. Del Ray shined brighter than ever before.

Mayor Schmooze quickly dressed and sprinted out the door. He would walk to City Hall for the big vote today, and hug every tree he met along the way. 

“Good day, Madam Marleyberg,” he cheerfully exclaimed as their paths crossed. “I’ll tell you what, my friend. I will plan a new park filled with trees, and we will call it Marleyberg Sanctuary. I’ll endeavor to assist you with every tree you want to plant in our fine city!”

Marleyberg barely had time to reply before Schmooze dashed off to cast his vote to save the Taylor Run forest. As the days and months followed, Schmooze was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Thyme, who did NOT die, he was a second father. Every dish he served was garnished with thyme. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him. May that be truly said of us, and all of us. As so, as Tiny Thyme observed, God Bless Every Tree in Alexandria, Everyone!