Chicken Pie

Naomi Tilley / 4 min read / Cli-Fi Imaginarium
29 April 2024

Hank half-walked, half-ran along the familiar paths. Droplets of water rained down on him as he brushed against the dripping wet branches of the old holly that framed the entrance to the woods.

Without pausing, he flicked his soaking hair from his eyes and hurried forward. This was the long way round, but he knew he could get home before anyone started to worry if he didn’t dawdle.

The forest smelt of the recent rain. Birds squawked. Not the deafeningly beautiful song of spring, but the chatter of those that stayed the year-round.

The carpet of crisp, rusty autumn leaves from that morning had turned soggy and brown. The forest felt heavy with the weight of water dripping from the treetops.

The path forked and Hank turned left. This, he knew, would take him into the old growth forest. At first glance you might not notice the difference. But Hank knew.

The old growth forest (plus 50 metres all the way round) was protected in law. Not that it really needed a law… Hank didn’t know of anyone who didn’t love the forest. He’d been told that in the past they used to destroy old forests. He couldn’t understand it at all. Why would you want to lose the bit of the forest where the best mushrooms grew?

The path narrowed.

A couple of times branches whipped his face. He thought of his mum. She always carefully held back the branches to let them pass. He had no time for that.

Hank continued his walking, skipping down the winding path. He nearly fell on his face after tripping on tree roots on multiple occasions, and mis-judged the depth of a muddy puddle at least twice.

And then he saw it. His prize.

Chicken of the woods.

Bracketed to the tree ahead, just out reach was the unmistakable fungi. His favourite.

He carefully picked way his off the path towards the tree, taking care to avoid disturbing a toad glaring at him suspiciously from the undergrowth. Once among the tree’s roots, he discovered he was far too short to reach the bracket. He tried jumping a few times, but it was too high up.

The tree was wider than he was, but it wasn’t as big as a house, like some of the others. It had deep, grooved bark, softer than you’d imagine because it was wet, but strong enough for him to cling onto. Hugging the tree like a koala, he inched his way upwards.

As he reached up, his foot slipped and he tumbled to the ground. Ouch. He was bleeding.

He picked himself up and examined his reward, a good-sized chunk of mushroom. Yum.

His tummy growled. Time to go home.

15 minutes later Hank barrelled in through the front door, a bundle of excited energy.

‘Where on earth have you been?’ His mother’s voice stopped him dead.

He paused for a moment, considering his options. He was covered in mud, knew he had twigs in his hair, and his leg was still bleeding. He decided it was safest not to say anything at all. Instead, he deposited the mushroom onto the table and arranged his face into an innocent, hopeful smile. She visibly softened before almost singing the familiar words: ‘When we look after the forest, the forest looks after us.’ Hank breathed a sigh of relief, and inwardly thanked the forest too. He sidled out of the room to clean himself up before she remembered to be cross.

Not long afterwards, the tantalising scent of ‘chicken’ pie wafted in from the kitchen.

Credit: Phil Gates – The Guardian

Avatar photo Naomi Tilley UK Naomi is an environmental campaigner and wrote this story as part of the Innervism Programme which, alongside With Many Roots, she delivered for her colleagues at the Woodland Trust, where she was Campaign Lead. Naomi is now Oil and Gas Campaign Lead at Oceana. View all posts
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