Over The Years
By Gabrielle Rogers
(c) Copyright 2010
The dryad had been there since before man arrived.
In the early days, after her creation, the only thing a plant spirit needed to be concerned about was caring for the area surrounding her home vegetation. In those days there were very few plants in her area, so she usually stayed close to one. It was safer, especially after the dinosaurs came into existence. She lost count of the number of times she had been corporeal and almost trod on by the careless creatures. Secretly she was relieved when they disappeared, although the extinction of a living being was always a sad event.
The time from the extinction of the dinosaurs seemed to go past quickly. The animals grew smaller and some disappeared altogether. As they shrank the dryad found that she could remain corporeal for larger periods of time, and instead of staying in a single plant for most of the time she would walk around her dedicated area of care, which grew larger as she explored more. Eventually she met another dryad. They spent a few centuries living closer together – the kinship was a nice change – but eventually each had to tend the further parts of their area of care, and they drifted apart, and time wore on.
One day, after many thousands of years, though it seemed but a moment to the dryad, a strange being appeared in the part of the forest the dryad was tending to. It looked like nothing she had seen before. She followed it a little way, flitting from tree to tree. It stood upright and walked on its hind legs, instead of on all fours like her customary companions. Its skin looked almost as dark as that of the trees’ bark after a fire. It stopped at the tree the dryad was in and made strange noises, then walked away. The dryad watched it go with some puzzlement. New species of animal were always interesting and exciting, but this one seemed different. The way it walked was with more purpose than the animals that surrounded her, almost as if it was capable of conscious thought.
A few weeks passed, and the dryad had almost forgotten about the strange creature when it appeared again. She had barely enough time to hide in a tree before it walked into the clearing, followed by many others. She watched as they set up strange looking wood structures against the trees and cleared the ground from underneath. They seemed to be communicating with each other in a strange language. There were little ones as well as large ones, and the dryad concluded that some were female and others male. She knew that the animals multiplied through an odd dance; perhaps these strange creatures were the same.
Wanting a closer look, the dryad slipped out of the tree and into another that was closer to the first creature she had seen – a male, she decided. He was inspecting the bark on the tree, and she was able to get a good look in his eyes. She was surprised to see intelligence in them, something she hadn’t seen in creatures that usually inhabited the forest. He turned to a smaller male standing near him and said something to him in a language she couldn’t understand. The smaller male nodded and ran into the forest, they way they’d come, then returned a after a moment, carrying a large stone. He gave it to the first man and stepped back. The dryad leaned forward, curious, then jumped out of the tree when he began to hit cut into the bark with the sharp side of the stone. Horrified, the dryad fled further into the forest, resolving not to return.
Many years later she gathered her courage and returned to that corner the forest, only to find the people had left. In fact, there was almost no sign of their being there, except for a large scar on one of the trees, where the bark was younger than that of the rest of the tree. She wondered what the creatures had used the bark for, and felt a little guilty for abandoning her trees like she did. It could have healed much more wholly if she had stayed.
A couple of months later the creatures returned, but this time the dryad stayed to observe them. The longer she was around them she gradually lost her fear and instead became fascinated by how they interacted. It became obvious that they communicated through the sounds that came out of their mouths. After a few months she began to distinguish words from each other. She found that they called themselves the Jagara tribe, the first male, or mari as they called their adult males, went ahead and looked for suitable places to camp. The other mari, the older females, or yinarr, and the younger creatures, gaayili, followed behind after he returned to tell them it was safe. The dryad found that they even had a name for her. They called her kind wandabaa, a spirit. She thought this amusing, as she was nothing like the spirits of the plants and trees. She was more of a caretaker than a spirit.
She also found that they did indeed reproduce the same way many of the other animals did after stumbling upon a pair copulating a little way into the forest. She watched for a while, then when they didn’t show any signs of stopping, moved on. She expected there to be a new addition to the tribe soon enough; however, when the yinarr showed no signs of pregnancy she figured out instead that the pair she had stumbled on were doing it for the enjoyment, rather than specifically to recreate, as most of her animal friends did. This surprised her a little as that was how it was with dryads. In fact, the more she observed the tribe the more she found that they were very like the dryad people.
After many years, the dryad found that she herself had become a character in their lore. It seemed that one of the young females, or miyay, had seen her corporeal when she had been tending to a sick tree, and then disappear into the tree to check the inside. She had become known as maruma-li, which meant to heal. She let them see her a little more after this. The knowledge that she would be preserved in their lore made her feel somewhat attached to and protective of what she thought of her tribe.
Some thousand years passed and the cycle continued; the Jagara would migrate further north for the dry season and then return to her in the wet. Her grove became a sacred ground for the tribe, as what they thought was her dwelling place. Occasionally she would visit the dryad she had lived near just to catch up, and found that he, too, had become a part of his tribe’s lore, as almost the same thing. They shared a few laughs over this, then again drifted their own ways.
One day, around forty thousand years after the dryad saw the first Jagara, a new creature came into her forest. It looked almost the same as the Jagara people, but its skin was very light, and it wore animal skins of strange colours that covered its whole body, unlike the Jagara who wore little more than a strip around their waists to cover their private parts, especially in the height of the wet season. She found it difficult to tell if this new person was yinarr or mari, with it covered the way is was. There was a lack of hair on its head and face that made it look like a yinarr, but she reasoned that it could also be an older gabinya, the word for a young male.
This new creature walked around her grove, as if inspecting it, then walked back the way it had come. She wondered what new creatures she would meet when it returned, and waited eagerly near her grove in anticipation. After only a day the first white creature returned, this time with fifty more like it, many holding large, strangely shaped tree limbs. She hid in a tree and watched the new tribe with interest. Her interest turned to horror very soon after when they began using sticks with sharp things at the end to cut into the tree. She almost lost control and attacked them, but she held herself and could only watch and cry as she watched the oldest tree – her sacred tree – was felled. The white people brought more cutting tools and put them to other trees, and so within a day her grove was almost bare.
Not long after this, the Jagara people returned to find that their sacred site had been turned into a collection of huts in which the new white tribe was living. The Jagara mari launched an attack on the white tribe, but they were easily defeated by the white mari holding the tree branches. The dryad watched in horror as the remaining mari and older gabinya were slaughtered and burned and the yinarr and gaayili were taken into captivity and marched off. The dryad fled her grove and ran to the neighbouring dryad. He said that he’d seen the white tribe but had thought nothing of it. He was horrified to hear what had happened to her tribe and after comforting her, ran off to warn his own tribe of the danger.
The dryad wandered for many years, trying to find a place in her territory the white tribe had not touched, but they seemed to poison every inch of her home. As the years wore on, the farms that had been originally set up were abandoned for larger settlements of white people. After a while the dryad no longer worried about all her precious plants that were being killed, or the countless species of her animal friends which disappeared, killed by the animals and diseases the white people had brought with them from their home land over the sea. She instead concentrated on trying to keep the remaining animals healthy and alive, however as the settlement grew into a town and then into a city she began to lose hope. Her grove was abandoned after a storm turned it into a gully, and she was able to live there again in relative peace for some years. Then an estate was built and half her grove filled in to make way for more houses and roads. The white people brought their own plants and animals, which further destroyed her home.
One day, while she was sleeping in a tree she had adopted as a substitute for her sacred tree of old, machines came and began to demolish what was left of her grove. She was woken by the sounds of her trees screaming for help, and finally, after nearly two hundred years of the destruction of her home, the dryad snapped. She lost control of herself, became corporeal and attacked the drivers of the machines. She hurled stones and tree branches at then, injuring one or two, but there were too many and one machine swung around, clipping her, as she was leaping for another worker. She was thrown back into a tree and fell to the ground, unable to move. She blinked a few times and looked around in surprise as the workers who were uninjured rushed over to her.
“Leave this place,” she breathed in the language of the Jagara people, now long forgotten. She saw the workers look at each other in bewilderment before her vision began to darken. They began to yell, but the voices grew quieter and then disappeared as the world faded out of existence.