“This is a rainforest and even at peak noon only less than 2% of sunlight ever reaches the ground. It’s pretty much dark in day too. What difference it makes in night?” she smirked victoriously. She’d heard that factoid in Planet Earth show. What could her father possibly reply against such a valid argument? She wondered.
“Light doesn’t need to touch the ground to light up the forest. The leaves diffuse and reflect enough to see. And the jaguars and wolves seem to agree as they choose night’s darkness to hunt.” her father explained. She knew jaguars sometime attacked people in forest and they almost always singled out children, so she nodded silently.
But her voice broke down. “I want to be close to mom. We don’t even have a picture. That ugly tree is the only thing still remaining of her.”
“The greatest gift and best memory Tanya left are you Estrela. Every cell in your body was formed in your mom’s womb. She lives on in you.”, her father said as he hugged her and Estrela gave a tearful smile.
“So it’s time to get proper sleep.” he said. Estrela knew he’d be in tears in his room. She wanted to distract him.
“Why did you people chose the ugliest tree in the forest for your tree house?”Estrela had asked this earlier too and she knew the reply her father would say: “Just wait few more months and I’d tell you.”
“Just wait few more months and I’d tell you.” her father said as he turned off the light. Estrela couldn’t hold her laughter. “Goodnight sweety.”
The next day was a holiday and in the noon she ran through the forest and reached the tree, panting and exhausted. It indeed was the ugliest tree in the area.
It was a very old, dying tree. The bark was rotten and full of stinky sap, the tree branches barely had leaves and looked ghostly barren, most of the tree house that her parents had built had fallen off or decayed with only some mold covered bamboos remaining, its trunk was covered with markings of woodpecker it looked as if the tree was full of insects too.
“Your Mother and I’d created a tree house on it when we were of your age” her father’s words echoed in her head. They must have been looking for the ugliest tree in the forest, she concluded as she stared at the torn, soiled flag her mother had designed. The ladder to reach the tree house was no longer there and some of the branches were either broken or too weak to support even her. She sat opposite to the tree longing for that piece of cloth. A memorabilia of her mother. Only 2 more months. Till then I won’t visit here. she thought.
“Please tell na da, why did you two chose this tree? This is old and scarred. It’s infested with fungus and mushrooms. There are ant colonies beneath its bark that it’s shedding and its wood doesn’t seem much strong. All other trees look much better. Why this tree? You’ve been delaying this forever!” She had written down a list of reasons why that tree was so ugly and rotated points when talking to her father so it always sounded new.
They set up a cramped camp in front of that tree and by the time they were done, the diffused sunlight that lights the forest was gone. It was barely 5.
“Now watch closely” his father said as they wrapped themselves in cover and stared at the tree.
After maybe half an hour a little yellow light came flying, it flew around a bit and then settled on the tree bark. “Firefly?” Estrela asked curiously. Her father nodded.
Then another came from opposite direction circumvented the tree a few times and sat on it . “Brace yourself” her father said smiling as a few other fireflies came and sat on that ugly tree.
This was just the beginning. Slowly dozens and dozens of swarms of fireflies started gathering around the tree. “They’re orbiting the tree as if it’s a Sun!” Estrela exclaimed. Her father laughed and said “Yes, they’re looking for the best place to settle.”
It was a spectacle unlike any other young Estrela had seen. Within few hours, hundreds of thousands of fireflies had covered the ugly tree. It was dark everywhere else, as far as she could see. All other trees – with beautiful bark, the ones covered with flowers, the majestically tall ones, the ones with peculiar leaves – all were shrouded by darkness. And the ugly tree glowed alone.
Estrela lay back, so she could see the dance of fireflies in its full fluorescent fervent. Their light went on and off as they breathed, it looked like twinkling of stars. As they wet up and down, around the tree, it resembled a meteor shower. Thousands of shooting stars had covered the night sky, even when the weather was cloudy.
“Why do the fireflies choose this tree?”
“This is the fireflies’ breeding season. This tree with its open bark and ugly sticky sap has pheromones similar to the fireflies secrete so they’re really attracted to it. They confuse it for their mate’s signal but since so many fireflies confuse it, they can always fins a mate and this tree becomes the central breeding ground.” he explained.
“You hate bugs, right? Hold this branch but be very still.” her father said with a mischievous smile. Estrela got up and held it carefully.
Even 5 minutes hadn’t passed and a firefly came sat on it. He wasn’t glowing. It was followed by a few more, some were on Estrela’s hand and fingers. She felt ticklish and funny. “Why aren’t they glowing?” she inquired. Fireflies don’t look so beautiful without their light, she thought. “Don’t move your hand, stay very still.” She tried to ignore the tickling and stayed still. The branch was now covered with bugs.
And then they started glowing as Estrela stilled herself. She felt like she was holding little stars in her hands. It was magical, delightful and she was in complete daze. There were even 2 blue ones among yellow-greenish ones. “This is the most beautiful bouquet ever!” she said. Startled, some fireflies flew away. She stilled herself again. A new firefly sat there. It glowed red. “See I’d told you! There are red ones too!” she said excited and handed the branch to her father. All fireflies flew away.
“We were just teenagers then. I was completely smitten with your Mother. Your mother loved stars. She told me how she longs to see the stars. The forest trees, the thick mist and the rain clouds hide the stars most of the time. We could hardly ever see a few bright stars. It’s either always raining or cloudy. And even when the weather is clear, the tall trees hide most of the night sky view.”
“So I kept on thinking and looking out for some way. Don’t consider me crazy but I even looked for ways to make the clouds disappear.”
“Whoa! That is really crazy da!” she laughed. “But you really did find stars for mom!”
“This was the next best thing I could find for her. And she loved it and I think perhaps even more than how much she’d have loved the stars. She had named you after stars too. We came here to visit every night and then we decided to make a tree house to be enveloped in this light and see this phenomena up close and in all its glory. We’d to make peace with mosquito and other insect bites though.”
“Wow! But how did you find this tree?” Estrela was now more curious than ever.
“I’d asked your mother to come to the hill town to see the stars. She said we could go once and then I’ll want to move there. But she didn’t want to. She loved the forest too much to leave it.” He paused to take a sip of water then continued:
“So. I’d followed fireflies before in forest and sometimes saw them gather in little groups on some shrubs. I thought there must be somewhere the group would be larger. I noted down the points as I saw larger and larger groups then realized there must be one place with most fireflies. And one night I stumbled on this tree! A year later we were engaged!” He finished, laughing.
“The starry bouquet worked!” Estrela said laughing. Again the fireflies had started sitting and glowing. They both could clearly see the red one this time. Estrela finally knew why her parents had chosen the ugly tree. No. It was the most beautiful tree she’d ever seen.
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