by Brooklynn Newberry
It was Spring of 2004 and I just woke up from a short nap. I rub my eyes and stumble over to the kitchen where my mom is stirring cooked mac n cheese. She turns her head to see me making my way down the hallway. Before I could even say hello, mother was rushing to my side to grab my arm. "I have a surprise for you", she exclaimed. My heart started beating 1,000 mph and chills ran down my spine. At the age of 6, surprises were my favorite and I couldn't be more excited to find out what kind of gift she had for me. Mother pulled my arm and drug me to the garage.
My little legs could barely keep up with her swift pace. Once we arrived at our dark, dusty garage, I began to question my mother. "What are we doing in here, mom?", I asked "It's dark and scary and makes me sneezy!". She quickly directed my attention to a bag on the counter near the far corner of the garage. I couldn't see exactly what was in the bag, so I slowly moved closer. I had to watch each step carefully in order to avoid piercing my foot on a rusty nail. Once I arrived at the bag, I could see it. A tiny goldfish was looking up at me, that I would go on to name Stanley.
Stanley and I bonded instantly. I had never had something to take care of before and I couldn't be happier. Every day, I would watch him swim and play a game where he would chase my finger around the bowl. It was nice to have someone to play with considering my parents lived in the middle of Roxborough National Park.
Stanley's life was short. He passed away not too long after we first got him. I was devastated. As I walked to the bus stop with tears in my eyes, my father looked down at me and grabbed my hand, tight. He knelt down to be eye-level with me. Father took his other hand and wiped my tears with his thumb. He said, "Listen Boo, sometimes when one life ends, another one begins. I'll bury him outside next to the pond, so you can see what I mean when you get home from school". Father stood up and watched as I boarded the bus and rode away.
When I got home from school, I walked to the backyard where my pond was. My father was standing there with a shovel. I ran over and tightly grabbed his leg. "Dad? Is Stanley here?" I asked. He peeled my body off of him and pointed to the ground. "Look!", he said. I rubbed my eyes and followed his hand. Right before me, there it was! There was a tiny aspen tree about as tall as I was. I was confused at first, but then I remembered what my dad had said before I left this morning. When one life ends, another begins. Could this be true? Did my Stanley grow into a little tree? I smiled from ear to ear as tears kept streaming down my cheeks. I looked up at my dad and thanked him for burying Stanley because now he is a tree and I can still see him grow in a new life.
The tree became my new friend. I watched as it grew taller each year. Aspen trees grow about 25 inches each year, which is an incredibly fast rate for a tree. The tree will start changing colors in October as the temperature cools down. The leaves would be a beautiful yellow and orange color. I'd watch as they fell during late October and came back in the spring. During winter, I'd make sure Stanley's tree was always the brightest by wrapping the prettiest lights on his tree. I would take my books outside and read aloud next to the pond, hoping Stanley may still hear.
All through middle school and high school I did my homework next to that tree. I'd notice each change and smile at remembering my little fish, Stanley. As I grew up, so did my tree. Time never seems to slow down but, with older age also comes knowledge. I returned from college after a year of studying for summer break. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed my dad out of the corner of my eye. He was next to Stanley's tree, working on the pond. I sprung out of my car and ran over to surprise him. He glanced up and immediately smiled. "Hey, what are you working on?", I asked. "Just pulling some weeds", he responded.
I looked up at the tree and noticed how big it's gotten. I started remembering the tree when it was the same size as me. "Remember when this tree appeared here right after you buried Stanley?", I asked my dad. There was a long moment of silence. My father dropped his tools and looked up at me. I couldn't tell what he was doing. He looked nervous. I quickly asked, "what is wrong?". That was the moment that my dad told me the real story about the Stanley tree. When he got home from the bus stop that day, he flushed Stanley down the toilet and planted a tree next to the pond (as he planned to do all week). When Stanley died, he didn't have the heart to tell me that Stanley was gone. He knew how much I loved my fish and seeing me sad broke his heart. He also told me, he didn't want me to find the fish bones because it would have made it worse. So, Stanley had a first-class ticket to the sewer system. Father kept this secret for years. Although Stanley did not turn into a tree, I will still always call my tree The Stanley Tree.
When I returned to school for my second year, I changed my major to Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I began to have a deep interest in the environment and plants in the Rocky Mountains. I've continued to grow an interest in aspen trees and think of Stanley whenever passing through colorful aspen forests. Recently I visited my tree at my parent's house. Now that I study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, I've had a better understanding of the environment. I noticed that the Stanley Tree didn't have many leaves on it. Some Branches were empty while other branches thrived. I realized that this is due to our hot summers and droughts near the national park. When aspen trees are exposed to hot or dry conditions, it makes it difficult for them to get the nutrients they need. Through climate change, Colorado has turned into a drier state. The lack of water is affecting aspen trees state-wide. When I was younger, I was able to closely watch the aspen tree grow. I noticed many changing details including growth patterns. I believe it is important to pay attention to the environment because it is quickly changing. We need to learn to grow with the world around us just as I grew up with my tree.
Brooklyn is a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is 22 years old and live in Superior, CO. Learn more about Brooklyn's work at her website, Brooklyn's Biology.
Photos of Aspen by Doug Dolde and goldfish by Bjwebb at Wikimedia.