Sunday 7 June 2020

GREEN STORIES: 'The Birch Translator' by Andrea Reisenauer

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

First Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

The Birch Translator
by Andrea Reisenauer

“How long have you known you could speak to bees?”

The orange yolk of the sun was beginning to sink below the skyline. They sat on a small mound of grass in the corner of a park. The tulips were slowly folding their yellow cloaks as the warm hum of electric cars strummed in the distance.

A smile came to the side of her eyes. “As long as I can remember, really. One summer, when I was five, my mother uncovered a hive in the bush next to our driveway. She was just about to spray it when I came running. I had heard yells, screams…I thought she could hear them, too.”

“Were you able to save them?” He asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes,” she grinned. “They helped me move them. A fat little worker came and sat on my thumb and we found a new place. Luckily, my mother had read about the work they were doing in interspecies translation – you know, that there were people like me. By the time I was 15, I was already sending transcripts to parliament detailing the best places for new rooftop meadows.”

She twirled the tall grass between her fingers as the final glints of day played over distant solar panels. Then she turned to him.

“What about you?”

He hesitated.

“It wasn’t as easy for me. Trees are tricky, you know. For a while, I remember hearing things when I passed the neighbor’s garden. Whispers, really. It took me years to realize that it only happened when I was near the silver ones. But I was too afraid to say anything. One year, at Christmas, just when all the stories were coming out about the Finns who had started translating for pines, I finally said something. My parents must’ve thought I was insane. But my uncle knew a woman who worked with willows, so he took me to visit her.”

 “But isn’t it difficult? I mean – what can they even say? The poor things can hardly move!”

He chuckled. “A lot, really. I started with simple things, like finding places to replant trees that were about to be taken out. Now we’re working on air quality. The thing about birches is that they’re great at filtering out the old pollution. They want to help. I can hardly pass by Thunberg Street without hearing some new voice shouting out advice.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Meanwhile, night had tip-toed over the city. As little insect orchestras began to play from the nearby rain reservoir, the two translators slowly stood.

“You know,” he mused, “sometimes I feel as if we were silly children who’ve made a great mess, and they've been just waiting to teach us how to pick it up. They must have been calling out for centuries before we noticed them.”

She reached for his hand.

"But now we're listening." 

As they walked back towards the great sea of green-covered glass, he could hear a little silver sapling nearby, whistling.


  1. This is a lovely story - I'm so taken by the premise.

  2. Thanks! It was so enjoyable to write. I can't pass a birch tree to this day without imagining I hear it whistling!


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