When he was a sapling, Gerald was still tolerable. He was blessed with a sunny spot in the forest, with good irrigation and no older trees to crowd him. Ernie sprouted about the same time, and they communicated as nature does, in the calm between breezes and in the wave of simultaneous shivers the wind brought. Ernie even felt sorry for Gerald that first winter when he lost all his leaves.
But as Gerald grew, so did his ego, and the oak’s belief that his good fortune was somehow due to him became tiresome. By the time they were mature, Gerald towered over every tree in the vicinity. He lorded over new tree growth, shading them into an early demise. The squirrels nested in his highest branches for a while, until after a few months his bragging drove them out. Ernie was sorry to see them go. He shook a few pinecones down, hoping to entice them back.
Ernie was wise, even back when his trunk was the circumference of a rat’s tail. He knew there was no escaping his permanent neighbor, not while he was attached to the ground. So he grew, quietly. He was the only Douglas Fir he could see, although through his root system he sensed relatives nearby. He aimed his branches, year by year to face away from Gerald and his insufferable personality, and focused on an internal dialog through the fungus at his roots to his wider kinship.
“Why do they choose to grow here?” Gerald asked, when he saw a new shoot within a few feet of his great trunk. “Don’t they sense my majesty? I am the ruler here. Are they stupid?”
Ernie tried to tune him out, blissing out in the warmth of the sun on his needles.
“You knew better, you grew over there on the sandy hillock. Why can’t they?” Gerald persisted. Ernie did not take the bait. He looked for the squirrels, wishing they would come back and scamper again.
Winter came. Gerald, oblivious to his own ridiculous baldness, continued to crow about his superiority, his mighty breed, even his acorns and their elevated quality. When one of his own seeds became a sapling, he ridiculed it for falling so close to him and it withered after two seasons of effort.
With his back to Gerald, Ernie did not notice when, that spring, Gerald’s leaves grew back imperfectly. A whole patch on the north face did not come in at all. A bird cawed out a comment, and Gerald shook his remaining leaves at it angrily. “You know nothing about my sense of style!” he said.
The next year, none of the leaves grew back. The bare branches poked into the spring sky and Gerald continued his bluff. Ernie went deeper inside and began sending and receiving messages from his relatives in a copse a mile away. He did not notice when Gerald went quiet. Another year passed. Gerald’s branches dried. A storm came and rotted his roots. He said nothing and Ernie kept his mind to himself.
One day, the wind kicked up and Gerald, frail with rotted roots, succumbed. He fell slowly at first, but his pride kept him from crying out. As luck would have it, the wind sent his gigantic form directly on top of Ernie. The wall of Gerald’s base and roots lay exposed as his body crushed Ernie’s. Ernie had time for one last communication to his aunt.
They’d all seen it coming but were too polite to mention it.