This story is by Zoe Ramey and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A mysterious thrill always swept through Ellie whenever she skipped through the woods with her sister. It left her breathless. The leaves waved down at her and the birds greeted her. She felt like the princess of the forest, the one who took care of any animal or plant that needed it. To her, this place always felt magical, and she wanted to share that feeling with other people, too.
But this trip to the woods was different.
She had not planned on finding her favorite birch tree sprawled out against the nearby trees, hovering only a few inches above the ground. Neither had she planned on finding her flower garden that surrounded the tree torn and smashed. It was a perfect fall day after all. Brown, gold, and crimson leaves piled up around her and water trickled through the small creek beside them.
Ellie stood frozen next to her older sister, Rose, and stared at the tree. She had the strange feeling that it must all be a dream. Her tree couldn’t have fallen down. Not her tree.
The girl walked to the base of the white, ashy trunk and brushed her fingers across its soft bark. It was slightly damp, as if it had been soaked only a few hours ago, and it hadn’t dried out yet.
“What happened?” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. “Why did the tree fall?”
Rose walked up next to her. “I guess it died. I knew it was old, and the storm last night must have been too much for it… I’m sorry.” She wrapped her arms around Ellie, but it didn’t make her feel any better.
“I loved this tree though!”
“I know.” Rose met her eyes. “Do you know who planted it?”
Ellie shook her head numbly.
“Grandma did. She planted it many years ago, watched it grow and shape into the tree you know and love. Then you took care of it.”
“Yes. She planted it with the intention of others enjoying it. You could do the same thing. Instead of this being the end of a tree, it could be the beginning of a dream.”
Ellie watched the tree. It swayed slightly in the wind. Crumpled petals broke off their plants and drifted to the wood’s floor. Despite her sister’s attempt to comfort her, tears started to roll down her cheeks. “But the tree still fell. And I don’t know how to grow a tree. They can be harder than other plants.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You’re the best at taking care of plants. Whenever I try to grow anything, it always dies.”
Ellie paused a second to think about that. She still wasn’t sure about the idea.
Rose squeezed her and then let go. “Just give it a try, Ellie.”
She nodded slowly. Her sister was right. She could plant another tree and keep it alive, as long as she worked hard to care for it. She had never done that before, but the idea of it made her heart jump a little.
It wasn’t impossible.
The girl wiped her tears away, and then walked over to the dangling tree. She reached up to grab the nearest limb and hoisted herself up onto the trunk. It rocked gently from her weight.
“Be careful,” Rose warned.
Ellie looked out over the woods, as far as she could see. There were many places she could imagine starting a new garden with the tree in the middle. It would have dozens of different colored flowers. There would be so many kinds that Ellie would have to spend ten minutes or so naming the flowers for anyone who came to see them.
She smiled. “All right. I’ll plant a tree, just like Grandma.”
Rose looked around. “Do you have an idea for where to do it?”
“Hmm… I’m still thinking about that.”
Her sister’s eyes lit up. “No, wait. I have an idea. You should plant it in the city! Then you can share the woods with a bunch of other people, like you wanted.”
In her mind, the picture of her garden changed from sitting around dozens of trees to standing proudly in the middle of a park, with other kids running and playing games next to it.
She beamed at Rose. “Great idea! I’ll try it.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a monarch flitting through the air, not far from where she sat. She slipped off the tree and hit the ground, then skipped after the small creature. Rose followed.
Ellie giggled as she caught up to it. Butterflies were one of her favorite animals, and she always loved it when she glimpsed one in nature.
“Hey, sis,” Rose said. “Have you ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?”
She shook her head. “What is it?”
“They say that if a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the ocean, a hurricane will hit the other side.”
Ellie’s eyes widened. “Is it true?”
“Well, that’s something you will have to find out yourself. If you plant one flower at a time, the world will become a more colorful place!” Rose threw her hands up to indicate all the vivid colors around them.
“Ooh. I like that plan.” Ellie watched the butterfly flit into the sky, too high for the sisters to follow.
“What are you waiting for?” Rose asked. She took Ellie’s hand and steered her around to head back home. “You have a lot of work to do. You should get started as soon as possible, don’t you think?”
Ellie nodded. As they passed her fallen birch tree, she whispered a farewell to it. Maybe one day, when the tree she planted grew old and fell, someone else would miss it and decide to grow a new tree. Maybe it would happen again and again, and many people would get to enjoy the beautiful birch trees, all because of Ellie and her Grandma, and of course Rose too.
She looked up at her older sister, curious to hear what she would say. “Rose, how do you change the world?”
Her eyes squinted in concentration. “Hmm. That’s a big question. How about… one seed at a time?”
Ellie smiled. “I love it.”