Not far from here, there once stood a frightfully beautiful forest, quivering perpetually with life. Some say that the trees came alive at night, as subtly as the twinkling of the stars above them.
The forest teemed with creatures great and small. They were sustained by a mix of sunlight, grass, and the fruits the trees dropped every morning without fail. The creatures were happy together, provided as they were with an abundance of food to eat and an abundance of company to share their days with. The eating of meals was, for as long as any of the creatures could remember, an event that they shared together, slowly and quietly, in a clearing in the middle of the forest—an event in which they all enjoyed fully the sweetness of the grass and the juiciness of the trees’ fruit. Aside from the occasional squabbles that you will observe within any family, the creatures did not harm one another, at least not ever out of malice.
It is true, though, what they say: that a certain fox, named Foster, once tried eating some grass while he walked during lunchtime and that a hapless little ant got stuck in the crease of a grass strand he had scooped up. The rustling of the leaves beneath Foster’s paws, you see, muffled the little ant’s yelps of terror. The unfamiliar crunch in Foster’s mouth stopped him dead in his tracks. “I’ve done a horrible thing!” Foster thought. “A little life is no more, and I’m to blame. And now that little life is inside me! That sort of thing has got to be deadly…oh no!”
Foster just knew he would keel over any minute. But as an hour passed, all Foster felt was a slight grumble in his belly. Oddly enough, he felt full longer than usual, and he realized he ate less than usual at dinner that day. Foster made a mental note of this, though he thought the sensation of fullness must have been a coincidence. As had become his habit, Foster still occasionally walked and ate, when no one else was watching. And, on one fateful day, the now slightly less foreign ‘crunch’ came again -- and (“Ahh!”) in the same bite, a second! Foster’s almond-shaped eyes widened to walnuts in dismay. The gravity of taking two precious lives was too much for Foster to bear. He wept and crumpled to the ground. “I’ll never walk and eat again! Never!” Foster half resolved, half lamented. He lay there an hour before he willed himself to rise. This time it was unmistakable: he felt just as full when he arose as when he had finished his murderous meal. “How can this be?” Foster wondered. “If something catastrophic doesn’t happen by dinner time…” Foster’s thoughts paused in a confused haze, “then, well…then maybe this isn’t so bad.”
Foster could hardly believe what he was telling himself, could hardly accept that such a thought had entered his mind. But something in him allowed it to stick around, to cross, and even crisscross, his mind as he waited, on pins and pine needles, till dinner. To Foster’s surprise and almost to his chagrin, the only thing awry at dinnertime was that he didn’t feel hungry. He went for a walk instead and this time at no danger of gobbling up an ant in the meantime.
As was his habit, he walked by the trees, those majestic trees, to look at them; to gaze upon their beauty; to get away from the hustle and bustle at the center of the forest. This was grand. Here, he felt grand! Anything that gave him more time here, more walking beside these giants, must be good. After all, could there be anything better? Yes, the other foxes and creatures were aware of the trees and their beauty; after all, neither tree nor creature could thrive without the other. But in what way were they aware? Did they experience this same sort of thirst that Foster felt? Foster needed to know more about the trees, about how exactly they formed their fruit during the forest’s short nights, about what caused the sheen of their green leaves to be so brilliant, about the processes that allowed the trees to grow so tall. And the way to that knowledge was all too apparent now: having ants for food. Filling ant-meals would mean more time alone with the trees, while the other creatures were busy eating, slowly and quietly. “It’s true that lives will be lost in the process,” thought Foster, “but they are only ant-lives after all; have the ants ever done anything meaningful anyway?” Foster certainly couldn’t think of something they’d done that was big enough to matter. The other creatures made the forest more beautiful. But no one would miss the ants or hear their complaints.
He was convinced, if only just barely. Foster’s manner of eating slowly changed. He started out by being less careful to avoid the ants when they got stuck in the sweet grass; then, without telling himself he was doing so, he looked for patches of grass in his peripheral vision that trembled more with what would likely be ants; and then, after a long while, he unabashedly pursued them in the grass. Eventually, Foster only needed one ant-meal a day, and the yelps and crunches that perturbed him before came at last to seem almost like a familiar jingle. He had much more time to be with the trees. He studied them. He understood more about them. The little pieces of bark he nibbled off of the trees and kept helped him always feel a little closer to them. Foster noticed that while he was alone with the trees at the edge of the forest, he began feeling oddly itchy. In what he thought must have been a coincidence, he would often scratch at the itch and find that an ant or two was scrambling through his thick fur, usually near his ears. How sweet it was when his new food source came to him, when he could eat the source of his itch and be energized to keep doing what he wanted: to be with the trees. Though it wasn’t his meal time, Foster never stopped to consider why the ants kept approaching his ears or why their yelps seemed more shrill. He had more time for what mattered to him — for studying the beauty of his world, of the trees that were just as beautiful as ever.
Some say that Foster ate a beetle once, and that, after a while, other creatures no longer felt safe near him. They say that when Foster walked about, his eyes glinted in a way they hadn’t seen; but no one could definitively say whether it was the flecks of wisdom or something else. When his fellow foxes caught on to what he was doing, he persuaded some, with genuine intensity, that his way was good; for, he had more time and more understanding now; he could be with beauty in a special way. Others could not bring themselves to see things the way Foster had come to see them. The forest was beautiful. It was very much alive. And some of the creatures experienced its beauty in new ways, and more often.
It’s true though, about the trees; few said that they came alive at night any more.