Jacks older brothers always gang up on him, taking advantage of the fact they are 5 years his senior and they use poor Jack for their own entertainment. Being twins and doing everything together Jack never stands a chance against his big brothers but he always tries to prove himself to his siblings by accepting their challenges. Regardless of the constant defeat, Jacks determination to stand up to and impress the twins makes him say ‘challenge accepted’ time and time again.
It was the night of Halloween and Jack’s older brothers thought it was the perfect time to set a new challenge. They dare Jack to go deep into the woods and stay there for an hour on this dark, spellbinding evening and if he completes the challenge he will win all the sweets the three boys had collected on their trick or treat round earlier that evening. So as always, Jack bravely accepts the challenge as the twins snigger knowingly that Jacks 100% fail rate probably wouldn't change that night.
Jack prepares for his moonlit challenge by pulling on his green wellington boots over his double-socked feet to prevent the slightly large, 'hand-me-down' wellies rubbing his heels then zips up his duffle coat pulling the fur lined hood close around his neck before adjusting his rucksack over his shoulders.
When he steps out into the late autumn evening his breath was visible on the outbreath and as the chill hits the back of his throat on the in-breath there was a distinctive taste and smell of wood burning fires in the atmosphere. Jack apprehensively set off only to find his brothers were waiting for him on the edge of the dark forest to make sure he goes through with the challenge. After a bit of goading and mocking from his bully-boy siblings, Jack bravely enters the woods.
All his senses were on high alert with only the dazzle from the moonlight as his guide. The roar of rutting deer can be heard from deep in the bracken and a freakish cry from a vixen echoes through the trees. Rustling of fallen leaves where mice and voles are moving hastily over the ground is magnified by the cold, dark air. A break of a twig shocks Jack into holding his breath momentarily and as he turns quickly he sees a flick of a white tail caught by a moon beam, letting out his held breath he says ‘phew, just a deer!’ While watching it bounce away into the darkness of the undergrowth.
Jack then repeats to himself until his heart steadies ‘There is nothing to be scared of, it is only the wildlife, there is nothing to be scared of it is only the wildlife…..’
Just when Jack starts to convince himself of this, a gust of wind lifts the dry, golden leaves from under his feet and up over his head. As the whip of a cold wind and rustling leaves settle he realises something was touching his shoulder. Frozen to the spot with fear, hands shaking and chest pounding with adrenaline, Jack slowly looks over his shoulder wide eyed with terror wondering what in the world he was going to find, then took a sigh of relief when he realises it was just a branch from an old oak tree he was standing under. In the whip of wind it had caught under the strap of his rucksack. Jack tussles to remove the branch as it appears to grip his shoulder. Jack let out a panicked shriek when a big, bellowing voice says ‘Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you.’
Planted by fear and the grip of the branch, Jack looks up to see it was the tree talking. How could this be?
The tree continues….‘I am the spirit of the forest, I have stood here for hundreds of years watching mankind walk these paths and cut down my ancestors in their prime for their own desires with not a thought for the forest. Over the generations they have brought their guns, bows and arrows and I have witnessed them littering these lands with death and destruction of the wildlife that lives amongst us as well as one another. Despite this, I have provided your kind with food, shelter and clean air to breathe all in the name of hope.’
Jack struggles until the spirit of the forest loosens its grip then he runs from the woods as fast as his adrenaline fuelled body will carry him. The heat of his breath was visible on the air before being dispersed by his face as he moves faster than his lungs can breathe. Running is difficult in his oversized and sock filled welly boots and the friction noise of his duffle coat where his arms works hard and fast to quicken his sprint could be heard above the hooting owls as he races through the moonlit woods and out into the open through the clearing in the trees. Suddenly the mocking from his brothers seems insignificant.
For many years Jack was traumatised by the events of that Halloween night. He has never spoken about it, not even to his brothers whose only memory of that night was being physically sick from gorging on sweets after their defeat over Jack once again. He never returned to the forest and lived with the fear of that dark Halloween night, but knew one day he had to face those fears, so began to try to understand the forest. He learnt about the creatures; from the reptiles to the mammals and the insects, butterflies and bees and he learnt about the plants and the trees; from the smallest daisy to the largest oak, the fungi and the foliage. He starts to understand how everything in the forest is connected and supports the life of the everything within it as it becomes his life’s work and a healing process from his terrifying night in the woods.
10 years on from that fearful night, Jack is now a man with great knowledge of the forest so decides it was time to return to the old oak tree to finally lay his fears to rest.
It was the night of Halloween; Jack dares himself to go into the deep, dark woods, so apprehensively he set off on his challenge. Filled with adrenaline he embraces the noises from the woodland creatures but his senses are heightened with just the dazzling moonlight as his guide. He approaches the old oak tree which is still standing deep in the woods tall and proud with its heavy canopy of dried golden leaves supported by gnarly bark and twisted boughs. As he gets closer the dry fallen leaves from beneath his feet lift on a gust of wind up over his head just as they did 10 years before. The whip of a cold wind and golden leaves settle and he feels something on his shoulder. His heart is beating out of his chest as he remembers being that terrified boy. The big, bellowing voice he never forgot says ‘I am the spirit of the forest, don’t be scared.’ Jack took a deep breath and responds. ‘I am not fearful; I am respectful of the forest and all it has to offer.’
The old oaks voice softens. ‘I am old and tired, full of decay. There is no moisture left in the polluted soil for my roots and my branches are breaking. My hope lives on in you Jack.’
With his last whisper there was a flash of light and the old oak starts to fall all around a bemused Jack. Crashing limbs and splitting branches surround him with an ear-piercing sound of hollow timber hitting the forest floor with not a splinter hitting Jack. As the ancient oak tree up-rooted from the ground an intense flash of light left the tree, it was so bright it was momentarily blinding before it travels through Jack with such a force, he collapses alongside the dying old spirit of the forest.
With a bright light from the warm early morning sun, Jack starts to focus through stinging eyes. Initially confused about what had happened, it took a moment for him to realise that the fallen ancient oak tree that surrounds him wasn’t a dream. Jack has been out here all night knocked unconscious by the power of the spirit of the forest. He stumbles to his feet pulling leaves from his hair and brushes down his blue jeans that are now covered in dust created by the mighty crash of limbs. Jack tries to pull his rucksack out from under a branch that has detached from the tree as it collapsed to the ground when he was faced with a stag. Not your average stag, he was half the size again of any stag Jack had ever seen with magnificent antler just gentle bending the branches from the surrounding trees causing a shimmering sound from the dried autumnal leaves before they gently fall onto his pure white coat which drapes over his lean muscular body.
Jack questions himself to whether he should be worried, but when looking in the eyes of this magnificent creature they were full of kindness and hope.
Jack is stunned when the stag starts to speak to him saying in a gentle voice. ‘Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you. The spirit of the forest lives on in you. Go share the message of nature and nurture to all mankind and banish the destructive, evil behaviour that some are known to perform.
From his previous experience in the forest Jack may have been stunned, but not surprised by the talking stag, only surprised by what he was suggesting but before he could question it the stag continues ‘You were the chosen one, when the dear old spirit of the forest reached out to you as a child he possessed your spirit and soul. Not with darkness and fear, but with love, peace and harmony. He saw something in you knowing you will go on to learn about our beautiful forest and all that lives amongst it for the greater good. Now you are the spirit of the forest and we look to you for our survival.’
Jack walks quietly through the forest with the stag for a while asking questions and trying to piece together how and why he was chosen. His new magnificent friend just kept responding to Jacks queries with ‘you have the knowledge and the intuition of the spirit of the woods, so you will know what to do Jack.’
They walk together in deep thought, stepping quietly and mindfully through the carpet of fallen leaves and colourful fungi, for such an immense beast the stag barely makes a sound. Jack can feel the stag’s awareness of all the forest and the positive impact of his gentle actions…..In that moment Jack realises this is the message he should spread and create this awareness in all. He now understands his whole life had been mapped out for this moment, all guided by the spirit of the forest.
As the expression of realisation grows on Jacks face, the stag suggests it is time they part company as he starts to slow his pace to walk behind Jack but Jack tries to stay pace with him in hope he would accompany him a little longer. When turning to wait for his white robed friend Jack realises he has vanished into the trees without a sound! Calling to him for a few moments Jack knew his friend wasn’t returning so starts to make his way through the dappled glade of the trees towards home with a head full of thoughts and inspiration from his eventful Halloween expedition.
He wonders where to start with his new found responsibility. ‘What would the wise old oak tree do?’ Jack said out loud to himself ‘he would have listened to the forest!’
Rather than being lost in his own thoughts Jack decides to become more aware of his surroundings only to notice as he steps along the path every bird, woodland animal, tree and toadstool gently bows their head in his presence.
Jack no longer fears the forest or the trees and feels the presence of the spirit of the forest in his daily decisions, his work and his soul. From this day on Jack spends his days teaching people about nurturing nature. He educates schools with forest classrooms; He helps the sick by giving them the opportunity to spend time in nature. He teaches people from corporate companies that it is important to stop, listen and be aware of your surroundings and with his teachings people start to care more for this beautiful environment. They see they are part of nature and responsible for it. People no longer litter the land and cause destruction, they became more mindful of their actions, nicer and more understanding towards one another, more educated about their environment and community along with the creatures that live within it and because of this; The grass grows greener, the trees grow stronger, the soil becomes more nutritious and the waters flow clearer which make the creatures of the forest grow healthier and eternally grateful to Jack for spreading the word that every one of us has the spirit of the forest in our souls, it’s just that some have to look a little harder to find it. 🌳
Written by Jen Blaxall.