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First Runner-up: Birch by Jonatan I. Walton

“Palabras de Mormón” is a Spanish-language Mormon literature contest, which was a collaboration between the incredible organization, Cofradía de Letras Mormonas, and the Mormon Lit Lab. The winners received cash prizes and will be published in the Spanish-language magazine, El Pregonero, as well as here on the Mormon Lit Blitz.

We are pleased to present the first runner-up of the contest, the story “Birch” by Jonatan I. Walton.

Birch

Jonatan I. Walton Translation by Dan Call

She fell like all the others. She tumbled between weeds, dry leaves, and humid earth until arriving at the base of the valley, where she had grown together with her sisters. The wind in that region carried her a little further, separating her even more from her family; nature’s cycle gave her the chance to carve out a spot in the rich earth and grow. Time wrought upon her the same as on anything. The seed sprouted, and as she saw the sun, was able to recognize who had shone upon her all that warmth she felt prior to birth.

She felt happy. She was alive. She understood that life was hard, and that only a few manage to overcome, with help, the earthen and clay barrier.  In her case, the invisible wind had carried her toward the light and warmth of the sun; and placed her in a wide space so she could freely rise up.

But many questions intruded on her existence, doubts she couldn’t answer on her own: why her and not some other seed? If everyone met the requirements, and they all had the same shot. She’d grown together with her siblings in the same bouquet until she had become a seed. If they were all the same, why had only a few made it? Why her?

An emerald moth told her that we all have reasons for growing and living; everyone and everything has a fundamental purpose in life, a cycle to complete and a mission. “I, for example, eat your leaves and you provide me with sustenance,” he told her while biting into one of her leaves with his mandibles. “Perhaps you think I’m hurting you, but your leaves will soon grow back, you’ll go on living and I’ll go on my mothy way.”

As she kept growing, the anxiety made her tense. To what end was she born? Why was she so far from her siblings? The seasons dressed and undressed her, and she grew into a robust, strong tree. Thousands of insects and hundreds of birds lived between her leaves and bark for ages.

Painted men, with clothing made of animal skins and feathers passed by her, and she witnessed colonizing wars. She thought that perhaps one of them would burn her to death, or some arrow or bullet would go right through her. But none of that happened; only a young soldier with a strange accent laid down beneath her to recover some strength, before going on his way. “Maybe I’ll end up as pulp for paper, or printer’s ink, o part of a shovel or a rifle, or some doll, maybe. Maybe an herbologist will take and turn me into part of some cure.” She thought like this while the earth spun, aging her bit by bit.

Now she was an adult but couldn’t (for some unknown reason) have offspring. She saw that her siblings were growing, and that some were being used as firewood and fences: a group of settlers had invaded those parts, and cabins sprung up as forests were cut down. But she went on unnoticed. The English arrived and the climate turned colder and colder, and her tree-heart felt heavier.

The birds told her that in other regions her species was held as sacred and that her distant relatives, able to withstand the great frosts, formed vast expanses of forest. But there, she was just another tree, looking like any other tree, not standing out in any way.

The sun came and went, the wind shook her from time to time, when she felt depressed. Her dreams of being someone important disappeared, like her autumn leaves. Time passed; she was old and large.

It was night or day, she couldn’t recall. It rained hard. All was so dark that it wasn’t possible to make out the stars or anything else. The furious wind blew, strong and threatening. The frightened birch asked the wind to calm down, but it couldn’t hear her and seemed to rain down even more copiously. Suddenly she heard a crack; her trunk, her support, had split, causing her to noisily fall to the earth. The birds flew off, avoiding being crushed, towards the safety of closer trees. She knew her roots would die. A drop of syrupy sap fell, a tear and reproach. She cried.

The sun kept coming out, drying her out. Many times the children from nearby farms flashed smile after smile as they played hide and seek around her dry trunk. The years went by, and her trunk dried to the point where it was nothing more than hollow bark. No saplings, no belonging to anything useful. Far from her family. She was born without motives, lived without motives, now she was dying without motives.

Months later she heard hurried footsteps. A young man with light brown hair knelt frightfully before her, in the hollow part. He seemed tired, but certain about what he was about to do. He carried with him something large, rectangular, and heavy, covered in a thin, worn out brown leather. It was a beautiful day, still morning. A light gust of wind lifted the leather just enough to let her see what the young man was bearing, as the sunlight revealed golden sparkles: they were thin sheets of gold, beautiful and held together by three rings, also made of gold. It looked like a huge book with engravings carved on its pages.

In her own way, the birch smiled like she hadn’t smiled in ages. She knew that everything which had happened, everything she had suffered, all that longing brought her to this shard of fleeting time.

The young man carefully hid the golden plates in the body of the tree, and, stroking the coarse birch, said, “Hide them well, so that they don’t find them.”

The birch smiled happily and died.

[Note: “Joseph soon learned why Moroni had charged him so strictly to guard the record taken from the hill. No sooner was it rumored that he had the plates, than efforts were made to seize them from him. To preserve them, he first carefully hid them in a hollow birch log.” (Hinckley, Gordon B. [1979], Truth Restored, 2002, p. 13)]

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