“Sixteen years of persistence.” His old eyes scanned the horizon: treeline, lab coats, and punchy fingers poking at handheld devices.
“The first tree, over there, it’s a maple. Only one in the park.” He smiles, “We had the very same one in our yard. As a boy, it seemed larger than life. And just like life for little boys, we climbed it, got scraped up by it, tamed it, stuck it with nails and plywood, and claimed it our own.”
“Did you have such a tree, growing up?” His eyes never leave the trees. Periodically, he taps his leg with one finger, as if recalling something in those memories he’d rather keep buried.
“Sixteen years. Hard to believe all that time has passed. But we’ve done well enough. A lake, trails, wildflowers, 1,776 trees—a coincidence. By the time we’ve opened, we’ll have doubled that number.”
He surveys his trees, his lake, and his trails.
“Look! Over there!” He points to a frozen deer. “We’ve done well enough.” One of the labcoats rushes towards it, arms outstretched, and the deer turns and gallops through a tree. He laughs and applauds the spectacle.
“I suppose that’s one issue we’ve yet to figure out. Certainly a fence should fix it. See that though? We’ve even fooled the animals.”
He picks up a stick and draws a line in the dirt.
“The ground, that’s real. We’ve shipped earth from all corners of the United States. Even buried some arrowheads here and there for added authenticity—er, they’re real, too. Well, crafted in a factory, but real stone.”
“Thinking of taking a stroll? It calls to you, doesn’t it? It does, me. Have you ever walked a trail in the rain? Snow? Would you like to? Just a turn of the dial. Temperature, too. On these trails, cold and snow aren’t correlative. You won’t even get wet when it rains, if you’d like it to. Wonderful, really.”
“I know what you’re thinking. The point is moot. These trees don’t give off oxygen, they can’t make more—we do. But the experience, the experience is total—a digital arboretum. Don’t you see? The real trails, they’ll be smoothed over. They’ll get paved. They’ll fell the real trees, replace them with cement walls, and those inside will wish they weren’t. This place? It can’t be paved. It can’t be built upon. If you so wish to leave, you need simply choose one direction and run through it all. If the land is sold, we simply move it all to the left some, or to the right. You understand my point.”
“People long for escape, yes? Whether it be in the wilderness, or the internet. We need a place to go, to be understood, to be silent, heard, to hear. Our experience is a strange one, wouldn’t you say? We may not offer seeds, or fresh air, but we can give our visitors the illusion they long for. It’s only as deceptive as any other escape.”
“And in 100 years, it’s possible these are the only trees to immerse oneself in anymore. It could very well be that, by then, we’ve all moved to Mars. I only wish I could see that far into the future, to prove myself wrong. But our trees will welcome whatever unfortunate souls come here looking for life.”
“It sounds almost sinister. I sound defensive, my apologies.” He taps at his pants. “I’ve dealt with many investors, businesspeople. I’ve had to state my case to people who look to bottom lines, profits. It leaves a bad taste. Imagine, this experience for free? One day I hope to allow true freedom, but the investors insist an entrance fee.”
“Once opened, it’ll be twice the size it is now; over 4,000 trees. I’m personally designing over 10 trails. Our engineers are working wonders, and we’re only limited by our imagination. I’d love to have the bees up-and-running by then, but they’ll likely come as an update.”
“Four nations have already shown interest in what we’re doing here. In 100 years, we could have parks all over the world—when we’re all on Mars. Incredible. The businesses can keep taking what they will, and we’ll still have preserved our natural world in some form.” His smile slipped, his eyes slid to this shiny square-tipped black shoes, and he lost himself for a moment to a head full of digital trees.
“It’s not perfect. I mean, it’s not the perfect solution. But it’s the best I’ve got. I truly love the outdoors, you should know. I loathe what’s coming. Do you read poetry?
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats. I think of these lines often.”
“Tell me, what do you think when you look upon all this? Does it unsettle you? Are you moved instead by what may become? That this may very well be what remains of our natural splendor? Pre-emptive, and hopefully for nothing.”
The sun begins to set over the trees, some tips glitch and appear to the left of their trees. Labcoats gather in these areas and take notes, punch figures into their devices, and carry on into the night.
In silence, the two men sit and watch the last crystals reflect off a lake. Recorded crickets begin their symphony, and the labcoats walk the trail, single-file, with their eyes scanning for inconsistencies.
Out of the darkness, light shoots into the sky and bursts to color.
“This was not my idea, I should tell you. The investors thought it’d offer a little something more to guests. I find it tacky and outside the scope of our work here.”
Halfway through the display, the fireworks freeze in the sky. A loud boom stretches into the night, stuck in explosion, and pierces the ears. After a moment, they disappear from the sky.
“The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.”
“Same poem.” He smiles.
“Part of me hopes this exists only here, as an oasis; maybe as a cautionary tale. Though I fear I may be asked to build many, many more.”
He draws circles in the dirt with a stick.
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
“I must leave you now. I suppose I should get some work done today. Six months until we open. There’s much to be done. Investors to please. That sort of thing. Would you like some free passes? Leave your email address and they’ll send them to you.”
He kicks up dust as he walks, his shoes now in need of a shine. Just as darkness overtakes him, he turns around once more with a smile that pierces the night, “Six months! Remember! And twice as big! It’s not at all as complicated as I’ve made it, you’ll see. A true marvel. A real experience. You won’t believe your eyes!”
“After all, what’s left to do but enjoy what should rise in the wake?”