The Thinking Tree

Damien relaxed atop his perch high in a tree as he pondered the recent events in his life. He was a creature driven mostly by instinct, but he could be thoughtful at times. This was one of those rare times. Damien knew that things had changed when he injured himself on the streets and couldn’t make it home on his own. He knew how the elders felt about him going out of the forest but once he had made the decision to explore the streets, something compelled him to keep going back. A smaller animal may have been detained at the park, but Damien had a reputation of being strong-willed and unpredictable. That, along with his size and strength, made him a formidable opponent under the best of circumstances. During a temper tantrum, he was unapproachable. Damien tried to relax and focus on the warmth of the sun on his back. Needing an escape, he had climbed high enough to be alone.


Damien’s claws suddenly dug into the branch upon which he was laying.


“You may be fully grown, but you are not yet an adult!”


The words of the elders rang in his ears. He could not escape these words, even near the top of the highest tree in the forest. Damien had been the target of a lot of harsh words from the elders since he woke up from his ordeal. He disagreed with the elders on more things than he could count. He did not want to do things their way. He was not a fan of tradition and refused to follow tradition unless it made sense to him. Damien knew he was a part of this community guided by the elders, but he also felt like an outsider. Perhaps this was why he resented their rules and outdated ideas so much. His biggest disagreement centered around people. He did not believe they had fully severed ties to the Dowchee. They certainly did not cultivate their connection to the life force, but he did not think they shunned it. That one person he visited with had a weak connection to the Dowchee, although she probably didn’t realize it. If there was one, there must be others too. Maybe the teachings of the Dowchee had been lost to the people. They couldn’t possibly have forsaken it, as the elders would have him believe. How would they know anyway? They were just a bunch of old fogies who locked themselves away in the forest.


Damien pushed those thoughts from his mind and again focused on the warmth of the sun on his back. He wanted to relax and regain his strength, but thoughts of the elders kept creeping into his mind.


“Old enough to know the proper way to behave…” Damien scoffed as his claws again dug into the tree. Just how was he supposed to know the proper way to behave? There were many clans in the forest and each had their own “right way” of doing things. He didn’t really fit in with any of the clans, so just how did they expect him to figure this out? No one understood him, except maybe Te. Damien hadn’t come across another creature like Te in the forest.


Damien thought back to his first meeting with Te. He had been a cub, alone in a remote part of the forest. He couldn’t remember his parents. He had been alone as long as he could remember. He learned to forage for food and defend himself on his own. He had been playing at a pond when Te approached him. Damien was fascinated by the pond. He could see another creature just like himself in the pond. It mirrored his every move. He loved to play with it, chase it, dart this way and that. The other creature always kept up with him. He would swipe his paw at the creature in the water and it would disappear. It was fascinating to him. He was playing in this way when he heard Te. The sounds coming from Te were interesting enough to catch his attention. Damien had never heard anything like it. Later, he would learn that it was speech. Te motioned, and Damien followed. He did not know where they were going, but this little red creature was intriguing, so he kept following.


After many hours of walking through the forest, Damien found himself in the company of more creatures than he could ever imagine. There were all different kinds of creatures, most of which he’d never seen before during his short existence. Te brought Damien before a small but diverse group of creatures, all very old. They made the same sounds as Te. Damien heard “orphan” a lot. It was decided that Damien would be placed with the Grizzles because he was about the same size as their cubs. He was happy with the Grizzles at first. He learned how to talk and enjoyed playing with the other cubs. But they grew much faster than he did, and when they got bigger, they got slower. Damien loved to play rough with the cubs, but he got faster as he grew and became bored and disinterested. When it became clear that he was not fitting in with the Grizzles, Damien was taken before the elders and placed with another clan.


Damien spent the rest of his life bouncing from clan to clan and never felt at home with any of them. After many failed matches, the elders had stopped trying to place Damien in a clan and just let him wander among the clans that would take him in. He fit in best with the Vilkas and the bigger groups of Kattes, so he spent most of his time with those clans. The clans were so different that Damien never really developed a solid foundation on which he could build his life. The one thing Damien did learn is that there is no one right way to do anything. The Vilkas did most everything in large groups, which they called packs. Their way of life was defined by teamwork, cooperation and order. The Kattes were more solitary creatures, spending most of their time alone. Their way of life was defined by self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Damien spent most of his childhood divided equally among these two groups, making sure to spend some time visiting with the Grizzles, who were the first to take him in.


As Damien pondered his childhood, he grew angry. How could the elders expect him to know what was right? Each clan had its own idea of right and wrong, and he didn’t really belong to any of them. Sure, the Grizzles and the Vilkas and the Kattes would all say he was a part of their clan, but he always felt like an outsider. He knew he was different. He wasn’t like any of them. Without the structure that others had while they grew up as part of a single clan, Damien was left with a jumble of values and practices to sort through on his own. Damien had developed his own way of life with bits and pieces from the various codes of conduct used by the different clans. He was doing the best he could with what he had. Why wasn’t that good enough for the elders? Damien decided that the elders’ expectations of him were unreasonable. He was his own being, with his own ideas and values.


Damien realized that he would never conform or fit in anywhere. Even though the creatures had welcomed him as one of their own, he would always be an outsider. Suddenly, he felt very small and alone. Damien felt a mix of defeat and determination. He certainly owed this community something for raising him, but at the same time he did not belong. He knew he was right and the elders were wrong, especially when it came to people. He made up his mind that he was leaving the forest when he felt better. The elders were unreasonable and inflexible. Maybe he wouldn’t return. Damien was unsure about his future. He had a lot to think about. Maybe he’d talk the matter over with Te. Damien knew for sure that he wanted to find that person connected to the Dowchee. Of that much, he was certain. He would prove the elders wrong. Beyond that, he just didn’t know.


With an action in mind, his next step being to find the person connected to the Dowchee, Damien was finally able to relax. Slowly, his mind cleared and his claws loosened their grip on the tree. Soon, Damien was asleep.


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