DISCLAIMER: Buffy, Willow, Warren, Giles, Xander, Lilah Morgan, Wolfram and Hart, Anya, and the general mythos belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. WB and UPN just rent them. I claim no ownership of anything other than the plot. The New Year of Trees
By Sam James
The first time Willow saw the green poster shaped like a tree was out of the corner of her eye as she rushed to avoid being late to her ten AM Political Theory class. She did not read it after class either, since she hurried to the science center to work on a program for her Advanced Computing class. It was not until after lunch, as she leisurely walked though the campus, that she finally slowed down long enough to read its text. “SAVE THE TREES” demanded the poster, using 12 different fonts. “Rally for the Redwoods. Bus trip to Festil Forrest. Tomorrow 10 am.”
Something about the date of the trip struck Willow as especially significant, but nothing came to her until she checked her calendar. Tomorrow was Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish New Year of Trees. No wonder the UC Sunnydale Hillel was one of sponsors of the rally. Willow smiled as she rushed to the grocery store, health food store, and even the Magic Box to get supplies.
“New Year of Trees?” Tara asked when the redhead explained why they were going on the trip. “Don’t trees have the same New Year as everyone else?”
Willow smiled at her love. “Actually, the Jewish religion has *four* New Years. Don’t ask me why. There’s the regular new year that is the birthday of the world called Rosh Hashanah. There’s the start of the calendar at the first month – Nisan.”
“Wait,” Tara interrupted. “You mean Rosh Hashanah isn’t the start of the Jewish year?”
Willow thought for a moment. “Well, sort of. It’s the start of the year, but not the start of the calendar. It’s like the way the academic year goes from September to June even though the Christian new year is right in the middle of it. It’s sort of ironic that the school schedule seems to follow the Jewish calendar in terms of when to start.”
“The other two new years?” Tara stopped Willow’s babbling.
“Oh, right. There’s a new year for animals and this one for trees.”
“Why do you need a new year for trees?”
“Well back when the Jews had a temple and priests and everything, the farmers had to give a tithe of what they owned to support the priests. So for purposes of the tax on fruit trees, Tu B'Shevat marked the dividing point between the years. Fruit picked before Tu B'Shevat counted for one year and fruit picked after counted for the next.”
“I’ll stick to Goddess worship,” the statuesque blond laughed. “Much less complicated.”
“Oh, if you think that’s complicated, wait till I start studying the Kabbalah. That’s really complicated.”
“Hmm,” Tara acquired a wicked glint in her eye. “Let me show you something rather simple.” She waved her hand and the light went out.
About 80 miles from Sunnydale, inside a converted warehouse two men were making complicated arrangements of their own.
“Everything is in readiness then?” the taller of the two asked.
“Yes, sir,” Porter replied. “Posters for this rally have been distributed all over California. College campuses, health food stores, nature preserves, hikers’ rest stops. They’ll certainly see them. They’ll come.”
The tall man laughed. “It is gloriously ironic. Their connection to trees. That which gives them their immortality, their power, will be their undoing. And the power we will take for ours.”
Behind the men was a weird device with huge tubes extending seven feet into the air, chains, and wires leading to a metal chair equipped with a helmet. As the two walked by, the tall man stroked the helmet suggestively. “Soon, ah soon. The power will flow and the magic of the trees will be mine.” Oblivious to the device’s ominous aura, he walked away. Porter simply shuddered. He knew better, but he followed the tall man for the promise of power.
The next day Willow and Tara boarded the bus to Festil Forrest, careful to sit as far away from the remnants of the magicless coven as they could. Tara made a joke about the way they also were fulfilling the nature loving stereotype of the modern witch, but Willow answered simply, “Not in this case, Tu B'Shevat, remember.” Both laughed. “Oh, that reminds me,” Willow said, and handed Tara a bag.
“What’s in it?” Tara asked.
“Lunch, special for Tu B'Shevat.”
Tara didn’t say anything, but grew slightly alarmed. She was the only one among the Scoobies who could actually cook anything more elaborate than Willow’s cookies from a mix. Cautiously, she peeked into the bag. “It’s fruit,” she said, surprised.
“Yep,” Willow answered. “The fruits of ancient Israel -- wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates mixed with some almonds. Eating these foods is traditional for Tu B'Shevat.”
“What else do you do?”
“It’s traditional to plant trees in Israel. Those of us living a distance away collect money. My mother had a pushka box into which she put all the money she found doing laundry or behind seat cushions. Every Tu B'Shevat we would empty it out and send a check for that amount to the Jewish National Fund. She did that every year. They probably have a whole Rosenberg forest by now.”
The two traded reminisces for the remainder of the ride, swapping stories of their very different worlds. Idly, Willow worried about how easy it would have been for them never to have met if Tara had not had the strength to leave home while Tara shuddered at the casual way Willow dismissed her countless near-brushes with death.
Finally the bus arrived. Willow marveled at the number of people. She thought it would just be a few dozen from local schools but there must have been nearly a thousand people. New Age music wafted from speakers set up on trucks. In front, two survivors of the 60’s, wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and baseball hats with the peace logo for an emblem, were trying to organize the crowd into a semblance of marching order. In all the crowd, it did not take long for Willow and Tara to become separated from the rest of the UC Sunnydale crowd.
Willow and Tara clasped their hands tightly together to avoid being separated themselves and simply enjoyed the music, the carnival atmosphere, and the feeling of togetherness. They drifted on the edges of various clumps of people until Tara found her attention drawn to a group of four girls who looked around their age. One of them, a dark haired girl in a forest green dress tried to speak with them. “Hello, I think we are… I mean… um… Are you two together?”
Willow and Tara shared a smile. Since coming out among their friends, they had occasionally encountered these awkward moments with others of a similar persuasion who had not yet gone public. Still, the other girls seemed a close knit foursome. “Their auras,” Tara whispered to Willow, who lacked her love’s gift for this. “They’re magical.”
Willow made a snap decision. “I’m Willow Rosenberg,” she said. “This is Tara Maclay.” The other girls looked at each other and smiled, as if the names meant something significant. “I’m Sunny,” the leader declared. “Robin” came a shy voice. “Violet” and “Daisy” similarly identified themselves.
“We had not thought of last names,” Sunny continued. “We’re so rarely out of our trees.” She paused and looked at Willow and Tara. “Do you find them necessary for a gathering like this?”
Willow and Tara looked at each other. “Out of your trees?” Willow repeated.
“Yes, we’re from the Northwood forest. Where’s yours?”
Sunny nodded. “Heard of it of course. Are there many dryads there to control the hellmouth or are you two it?”
“Dryads?” Willow and Tara repeated.
“Of course, Willow of the Roses and Earth Made of Clay. Dryads like us.”
From the top of a metal platform built into the fence, Porter looked at the crowd through what looked like high tech binoculars. The typical observer could hardly know that these had been enchanted to look for magical beings. Spotting Willow’s clump he zoomed in to get readings. Something seemed a bit off but well within parameters. He pulled out a cell phone, pressed autodial, and spoke. “Three pairs, north by northwest grid 25. Nice strong readings. They’re off by themselves, we can grab them quickly. Begin extraction now.”