Lisa Lipkind Leibow and Russ McIntosh

Russ McIntosh

Digital Composition
Inspiration piece

Rooted In the Heights
By Lisa Lipkind Leibow


Phoenix of the Sequoias interlaced his branch tips with Scarlett’s, tapped his roots in rhythm to the song the forest howled, and stirred the wind. The trees of Redwood Forest swayed to the north and south with each gust of wind. They whipped their branches in wide circles with each moan. Phoenix loved dark hours during the festival. Dancing would continue until sunrise, when all trees would settle into comfortable positions, relax in the sun, and make sweet syrup, an age old sequoia treat.

Strange vibrations made soil shimmy against Phoenix’s roots. “Stop! That tickles.”

Scarlett snatched away her branch. “I didn’t do anything.”

Golden needles resting on the forest floor stood upright as if they were quills on a threatened porcupine. Every single needle on Phoenix pointed skyward too. “What the—”

That’s when he saw the moon with its entourage. The sandy soil of Redwood Forest scurried from Phoenix’s root cluster like worker ants rushing food to the queen. Helpless to resist the lunar force Phoenix rocketed to the sky. The magnetic circuit captured Phoenix and pulled him west.

Phoenix drilled one root down as far into the earth’s crust as he could. Maybe he could use it to pull himself back to his location-of-germination. Up, up, up he went. The tethered root stretched as thin as a silk worm thread. As Phoenix soared from Redwood Forest his heartwood thumped harder than a beaver tail on a mud dam.

Scarlett…. How did she hang on? He couldn’t live without Scarlett. After all, they’d sprouted the same spring, grown side by side in the nursery. Their roots coiled together, connecting them no matter how far Phoenix’s powers allowed him to jump from his location-of-germination.

This isn’t the first time he’d jumped. He’d been banished for accidentally starting a forest fire and he’d hopped from one place to another, seeking honor as a key to return home. Along the way, he’d battled a three-headed termite army, lumberjacks, and an orchard of cloned apple trees out for revenge. Phoenix had reclaimed his location-of-germination only after saving Redwood Forest from a devastating drought.

A rush of frigid vapors jolted Phoenix’s focus to his new surroundings. He’d never jumped over the ocean before. Having no place to touch down and rest made his bark clatter with fear. They soared over tiny islands sprinkled like autumn leaves in the ocean below.

Beyond the moon, sunlight perched on a black hole, rays stretched wide. Phoenix focused his needles toward the glow, trying to decipher the signal. Nothing.

Each ring Phoenix gained in his trunk-circumference opened new knowledge of the world. He was another ring older since the last time he soared through the skies. He’d never given much thought to the bright flecks fixed in the sky. Tonight, the sun, moon, planets, and stars swirled around him.

Phoenix tapped a branch against the diamond shaped tree knot on his trunk. “Come on. Help me understand what they’re trying to tell me!”

Six cosmic orbs whistled, whooshed, and spiraled around Phoenix, guiding him through the galaxy. The celestial ballet danced around him.

Phoenix’s tree knot vibrated. Ping! Phoenix suddenly understood the planetary lingo.

The Moon swooped in so close the raised rim of a crater brushed against Phoenix’s soft needles. “Follow us.”

A small planet raced circles around Phoenix. “I’m Mercury. You need to deliver a message? I’m your orb!”

The brightest globe floated near and spoke in a voice like a mountain lion purr. “Venus here, darling. Normally I go for beautiful plants with large, lush flowers. But with stars twinkling around your strong limbs – irresistible.”

A cardinal-colored planet butted against Phoenix’s root ball as it rounded the bend. “One wrong move, buddy, and I’ll knock you into that black hole. Nobody crosses Mars.”

Phoenix leaked chlorophyll. “Yes, sir.”

Another cosmic sphere accelerated straight toward Phoenix, hissing. “Don’t worry about Mars. He must answer to me!”

Phoenix clenched every twig, needle, and branch, bracing for collision when the hissing sphere passed through him like a manure-laced windstorm.

A ringed planet teetered over. “Don’t be scared. Jupiter might be our king, but he’s full of gas. I’m Saturn. I’ll show you exactly where you need to be.”

Phoenix swayed, a little woozy from the stink of gaseous Jupiter. “Thanks, Saturn. Can you please tell me where we’re going?”

Saturn spun its rings. “To your namesake constellation.”

Phoenix was about to ask if constellation meant prison, when the one root clinging to home stretched to a wisp and snapped. He flailed, trying to catch a branch on the loose end as he floated free in the atmosphere. “No! Now I’ll never get back to Scarlett!”

The moon rotated away from the sun, transforming to crescent. “No worries, my friend. Once we arrive, you’ll absorb the stars’ navigational powers.”

Drawn to lunar magnetism, Phoenix trusted the moon. As he soared through the stratosphere, past the Milky Way, Phoenix’s roots streaked behind him like a comet’s tail.

Saturn’s rings screeched to a halt while the planet kept rotating, causing Saturn to hover next to a cluster of stars. “Here we are!”

The moon sidled close to Phoenix. “It’s a heavenly retreat at your disposal.”

Mercury zoomed laps so fast that persistence of vision left an outline connecting the stars. Saturn’s rings sounded like a honking flock of geese as it revved back up. “Phoenix, those are the boundaries of your constellation. They run from that orange giant over there to the eclipsing binary star system there, and then to the barred spiral galaxy in the distance.”

Venus shined down on Phoenix like a spotlight. “Head over there, handsome. Let’s see how you look in your holiday constellation.”

Phoenix’s sap raced through his trunk as the force pulled him toward the constellation. When he reached the boundary, every star within his territory twinkled in sync. Every worry of Scarlett and the others in Redwood Forest melted away. Phoenix swayed his branches and crown in gentle circles as he took in the view of the Earth. “It’s beautiful.”

The moon and her entourage orbited Phoenix. “I knew you’d see it. We needed to show you the broader view, a few steps beyond forest for the trees.”

Phoenix gazed at the distant blue marble. A supercharge surged through his trunk and he could see the details of the globe. “Home looks so different from up here.”

The moon bounced up and down in agreement. “That’s the point, Phoenix. The stars tell us you’re destined to change the course of treestory. Access to a cosmic view of the Earth will aid you. From here on in, you just think of where you wish to go and you’ll transport.”

Phoenix focused on the west coast of North America. “You mean I can come and go from here to home anytime I want?”

The moon changed her phase to gibbous. “Anyplace from here, not just home. You come up here, pinpoint your destination, and go.”

Mars puffed out all red and stern. “You thinkin’ of where you want to go?”

Phoenix’s bark tightened around his wood. “Yes, sir.”

“Brace yourself!” Mars butted Phoenix into the black hole.


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