Monday, March 24, 2014

The Golden Oak

Illustration commissioned from Tze-Chiang Lim

When Azri was seven years old, his family came to the plains of Anatolia on the fringe of the Sar’pan Emirate to start a farm.  His father brought with him a single golden oak seed and handed it to Azri.

“This will be your tree, Azri,” he said, pressing the seed into his hand.  “Each new limb that grows from its trunk will mark a year of your life.  It will be a monument to our memories here, long after we have passed.”

So with great seriousness, Azri planted the tree in the fresh, fertile soil of Anatolia.  As the hot summer bore on, he watched as a tiny shoot pushed up through the soil.  Sprouted tiny, delicate leaves.  Azri hauled water from the river every day to keep its roots moist.  He guarded the tree carefully and on more occasions than one, chased away hares or herds of bison that threatened to devour or trample the sapling.  As the years went by, the farm flourished into broad rows of golden wheat.  The tree flourished too, climbing above the fields, an auric mentor to the crops around it.  Azri returned to the tree every day when he needed a moment of contemplation.  And when he needed a confidant.

It was lonely on the plains of Anatolia at first, but not for long.  Soon, news of the farm spread and many more families came.  The farmstead and the tree grew with every season.  When Azri was 16, he met a young girl, Tamaya, and they spent their evenings in the limbs of the golden oak, now tall enough to climb, and they swayed together in the fragrant boughs until the sun went down.  When the two were married, Azri made a crown of its golden, autumn leaves and placed it atop the head of his betrothed.     

A generation passed, and soon Azri and Tamaya had a family of their own.  Despite the fertility of Anatolia’s plains, there weren’t many landmarks around which to gather, so the golden oak became the center of the community.  Many a Fall Festival and Rite of Spring were celebrated in the shade of the golden oak.  There were dozens of families now, and the place where Azri’s father first built their farmhouse--- the place where the golden oak now stood--- soon became the hub of a budding town.  In the early days, when migrants set off in search of Anatolia, they were told to search for the golden oak that reached toward the clouds.

In time, another generation came to be, and the children of Azri and Tamaya had children as well.  They built stores to supply the sprawling farmsteads and inns to house weary travelers.  It was a happy time for the people of Anatolia, and during long winter nights, Azri’s children and grandchildren, cousins and siblings would all gather around him to listen to the story of the golden oak around which their community was founded. 

Azri and Tamaya died happy lovers and were buried amid the roots of the tree so that they may remain a part of the place they loved, forever.  Azri’s great granddaughter, Tahire, watched from the boughs of the oak as they were lowered into the earth.  This was the place she was meant to be, she felt, and one day she would meet a boy beneath the limbs of the golden oak just as her great grandmother had, live a full life, and be buried by its roots, as well.    

But then the drought came.

The water dried up all through the Sar’pan Emirate.  The fertile soil of Anatolia turned to dust.  The golden oak began to shed its leaves.  Many of the farmers simply left, but the descendants of Azri and Tamaya clung faithfully to the land upon which their family had flourished.  But when grain throughout the Sar’pan Emirate became scarce, a terrible war savaged the land.  Wicked men scoured the countryside.  The town was burned.  The fields were ransacked.  The descendants of Azri and Tamaya fled in the night and scattered to the wind.  Tahire, still a child, looked back at the golden oak as she fled, its silhouette cast against the stars.  All she had in her hand was a firm walking stick which was shed from the golden oak, a season ago.     

For decades, as her family lived in many rugged places amid the mountains, Tahire regretted having never taken a seed of the golden oak with her.  To plant it in some pleasant land where she might meet a kind boy and start her family.  Tahire did eventually meet such a man and with him she had a single son, Sener, but their troublesome alpine life took her husband from her long before his years were spent.  She raised her son as best she could, telling him of the place far away that was once her home.  Telling him of a place where she sat amid the limbs of a golden oak, beneath which she was meant to be buried, one day.  

There were glimmers of happiness in Tahire’s life.  Like when Sener met a girl and was married.  And when she had a grandson and Sener gave her the right to name him, to which Tahire said immediately, “Azri.”  She always clenched tightly to her walking stick, as tightly as she clenched to those moments of happiness and to her memories of Anatolia.  That is, until the day, late in winter, when Tahire took her final breath.  When Sener looked upon his mother, the worm worn piece of the golden oak still lay beneath her hand.

When spring came, Sener, his wife, and Azri set out with Tahire’s ashes in search of Anatolia.  They didn’t know exactly where to find it.  They spent five seasons searching through vacant prairies and sparse scrublands, having only one clue to guide their way; to let them know the way back to home.  One day in early summer, they at last saw from a distance a golden oak that reached toward the clouds. 

They walked through the plains of Anatolia, now emptied.  When they came to the golden oak, they buried Tahire’s ashes amid its roots so that she may become a part of the place that she loved, forever.

Sener and his family began work on a farm and when his son was old enough to understand, he took him to the tree.  Remembering the stories of his mother, Sener took from it a single seed.

“This will be your tree, Azri,” he said, pressing the seed into his hand.  “Each new limb that grows from its trunk will mark a year of your life.  It will be a monument to our memories here, long after we have passed.”

In time, a second golden oak began to grow far into the sky, an auric mentor to swaying fields of golden wheat and generations to come.


  1. This is a wonderful story. Did you write it?

    1. Thank you. Yes, I did. I was inspired to write this one as I watched babies pass in and out of Ellie's POD in the NICU. I felt like she was the only permanent part of the landscape there, kind of like the Golden Oak. Most of the stories that I've written her come from her time here in the NICU. So for instance, The Clockmaker's Daughter was about a parent who will give up everything for their child, who was damaged. The Girl in the Sphere is about a girl living in a bubble and a parent, The Sphere, who has no way to express its love because of a fundamental disjunction between them. When Ellie was really, really little I think my wife and I felt a lot like The Sphere. Anyway, thank you for reading and commenting!

      It will be hard to explain to her at first what it was like here, so I thought it would be better to tell her these stories as she grows up.