Harry and Julius the tree elemental

Tank Green/ December 2, 2023/ Writing Walking

Photo of an oak tree, with winding, mossy boughs. There are other trees behind it. On the trunk of the oak tree is a splash of turquoise.

Photo of an oak tree, with winding, mossy boughs. There are other trees behind it. On the trunk of the oak tree is a splash of turquoise.

Harry was electric, at least, that’s how he liked to think about himself. Sometimes he felt himself sizzle up to the sky, like the devil had stuck a fork in his roots. Other times he fizzled and popped with energy like a disco ball in the centre of a room. He was the centre too, even though most of the humans walking in Hackhurst Downs didn’t notice. Somewhere a snigger: ‘it’s not only the humans, you know.’ A side-eye of lichen; Harry concentrated on his ray beam curled boughs thrusting upwards to the sky. There was no-one pointing as hard as he was to the heavens. He’d got the power!

Julius the tree spirit sighed. It was just like Harry to forget about him, forget about the bargain they had made long ago. It was his own fault: he’d known Harry was an egomaniac when he made the pact. He’d just been as mesmerised by Harry’s branches as Harry was, and couldn’t help himself but to aid Harry in growing.

Was Julius to remind Harry that the sizzle and pop was him? That the fizzle was a consequence of the fact that Julius half-lived in the Eternal Turquoise? The place where the sun always shined and the waters were always pure and free-flowing. The Eternal Turquoise, where everything drifted on the most perfectly calibrated anti-stagnation breeze. Shall I point out, again, that my presence is the link which nourishes him, Julius wondered?

Julius was 26,471,325,003 years old; OG for short. In other words, you could say he’d been around for a long time, all of it actually, and so his ego had somewhat dissipated. Therefore, it wasn’t that he needed to remind Harry for his own sake, it was more about maintaining equilibrium. These things mattered.

Julius thought back to the beginning, when he and the other elementals swarmed in darkness. It was this memory he drew on most frequently for Harry, as it seemed best to match the innate tendencies of Harry’s rather majestic boughs. As he lived in the memory, Julius felt Harry draw his rememberings up through his sap and into the tips of his smallest branches and leaves. Julius cautioned himself to not get lost in amongst that gentle circling and flowing and turning; ahh, but it felt so good! No wonder Harry preened in pride.

After the Dark Swarming, or perhaps because of the Dark Swarming (no one was ever quite sure), worlds began to grow and the elementals branched off from each other into different solar systems, universes, and dimensions. They never bothered or needed to say goodbye as it was the nature of their being to always live in all times. Except, of course, the times which hadn’t yet been born. The past was present, the present was now, the future was the dream of others. So whenever Julius missed a long gone sibling, he simply re-focussed his attention to the time of the Dark Swarming before worlds arose.

But worlds had arisen and here was Julius on one which had once been far greater than it currently was. One where he had once had more space to roam, more trees to visit, more forests to call home, more flowers and fruit to call forth. When this world had first begun, Geb, Aja, Tonantzin, Asintmah, Aranyani and all their siblings each had a species to inhabit, to get down deep with and truly know.

In those days, Julius who had always been one with the trees, was spread across the whole of the earth. There were times, perhaps, when one forest in particular occupied his attention. Periods when great choruses of boughs and branches would sing in one part of the world, after which he would move on to shower his attention onto another woodland, gently coaxing it into a forest. When Julius needed a rest, one of his favourite things to do was to sit with a lone tree on a modest hill, and watch his siblings of the air and the fields at work. He had done that for a millennia once, before the other elementals warned him of a great loss occurring in another part of the world.

They called it a loss, but it was really a devastation. In Julius’ absence, great land beasts had arisen and run rampant through his first forests. Deserts were forming which was great for the junior elemental of the razor-legged beetle and the alchemists who turned the sand into gold, but not for anyone else. Moisture, canopy, and green were instrumental to the elementals of flight, sound, and vegetation.

Julius felt chagrin. If he had been there, his siblings had said, the trees would have known how to resist the overzealous chomping of the great land beasts. Julius looked hard at Vernon, the land beast elemental, who was conspicuously quiet in the corner. It was Vernon’s excitement which had allowed the beasts to overrun the forests, so he was at least partially responsible for the destruction. Vernon acquiesced to Julius’ glare, rubbed his teats together in apology, and in the waterfall which followed, he voiced an idea.

What if, Vernon suggested, what if we make a new world, one like the Dark Swarming but different. One where we can combine all the wet parts of our being and then smother the earth for some time? That may help to roll back the drying? Stop it taking any more of the forests and the plains. It was a risk, they felt, and a fair few were resolutely opposed to the sogginess, but eventually it was decided: all the elementals, no matter their specialism, would take time out from the land and focus on the rivers, seas, and sky. Together they joined in unified energy, collecting all the wet things of the earth above the land. Then they stilled themselves so completely that the Great Ice was formed, and locked inside that, the Eternal Turquoise.

It had been many millennia since the Great Ice had formed. The Great Ice had long since melted and in its wake, new land beings had developed. They were not as large as the last lot, but after some time, it seemed that these beasts were as destructive as the earlier ones. Their smaller stature only delayed what was apparently inevitable. That Vernon, the other elementals muttered, how had he managed to do it again? Should they banish him?

The elemental world had been shrinking for some time now – a consequence of the sterile paucity of dreams these last few centuries. These new land beasts had a three-fold problem: not only did they raze through the forests and the plains, not only did they pollute and destroy, but they also severed their link with the skies and the earth so that they no longer even remembered that the elementals existed.

As a consequence, a great many of Julius’ siblings had lost their homes and were therefore un-becoming. Vernon was one of the first to go: these land beasts were his last link with the earth, and their forgetting saw him fade before the banishment could be enacted. The unbecome elementals had at first returned to the Dark Swarming, but many found it difficult to remain there when they had known the snows and the rivers, the mountains and the skies. A council had therefore been formed, and it was decided that, for those who wanted it, the memory of the Great Ice could serve as a new home. This suited those who had grown used to glittering, glinting, and gleaming, and so now there were two elemental homelands: the Dark Swarming and the Great Ice.

The trouble was, it was chilly in the Great Ice. Whilst this suited the snow, mist, and river elementals, the bird and the butterfly elementals who had lost their earth home were finding it hard to exist. They wanted the crisp glittering of the Great Ice, but without all the frost. Another council was formed and it was decided to call forth the Eternal Turquoise from deep within the Great Ice and fill it with the movement of a thousand tiny wings. The Eternal Turquoise grew and grew until it shattered the Great Ice into all of the numbers of pieces, which now hung like microscopic diamonds in the pool of Eternal Turquoise. Those fragments of the Great Ice scattered and refracted the sunlight elementals who subsequently bounced from edge to edge, creating the warmth, the breeze, and the glow which came to symbolise the Eternal Turquoise.

If they were humans, they might have called the Eternal Turquoise heaven, but they weren’t and they didn’t – they were elementals. Still, they loved it there and so now almost all the elementals had one foot in the Eternal Turquoise, including those, like Julius, who still had a fragment of homeland on earth. The Eternal Turquoise nourished as well as the Dark Swarming, but in very different ways. Together the light and the dark powers gave to the elementals what space, reverence, and actions had once conferred.

Those stoic and brave elementals who had remained on earth decided to divide up the earth by land, not by species as they had done before, and somehow Julius had ended up with a small collection of islands off the shore of Diana. As a consequence, Julius was concentrated, squeezed into such a small space, that this meant he was present more often with the trees of the few woodlands left. In turn, this almost constant presence meant those trees with egos often forgot that Julius was there, and drew on his power as if it were their own. Hello, Harry. We meet again.

To be fair to Harry, the pact dear Julius made with him so long ago was for Julius to stay inside Harry for 23 minutes a day, which was substantially more time than Julius spent with other trees. So why wouldn’t Harry’s ego grow? During this overtime, Julius was able to feed more of the elemental homelands into Harry. As such, Harry had a perfectly calibrated amount of light, water, and deep dark power from which to draw, and which sizzled, fizzled, and popped through him like electricity; or, to use Harry’s metaphor, like the devil had stuck a fork in his roots.

That is the story of how this particular oak tree, on that particular walk along the North Downs Way, came to look quite so beautiful. It is why the moss clings to Harry just so, it is why his boughs have their own wind, and it is why he wears his own crown. If you are lucky, you too will walk past Harry during a moment when Julius is present, and you too will stop still for a moment and gasp.

Listen to me read Harry and Julius the tree elemental: