You’ve probably never heard of Ned Theodore Ed, the mild-mannered skeleton who tended acres of pines and wrote out everything he wanted to say. No, this fine individual, our protagonist for the hour, never had a voice, whisper, or hum. He lived once upon a world much like ours – or maybe it was ours, but I can’t remember, for I have many worlds to keep track of – but we visit him now to hear about the way he came to take care of the pines.
To the few friends who knew Ned well, he went by the nickname N.T. And all who knew N.T. well liked him well, as well. N.T. was a quiet fellow, because he had no voice box in his sparse skeleton body, and so growing up, not only was he the only skeleton in his class, but the only mute, to boot! When he turned eighteen, he moved out of his foster family’s home and bought a little cabin on the edge of the woods, thirty miles from the town he was raised. The cabin sat on a little plot of land beside a beautiful pine grove by the mountains, and the greens were densely saturated and the browns were deep and N.T. felt so peaceful there.
Since N.T. couldn’t speak, he had to write down on paper everything he wanted to say and pass the note to communicate. Over the years, N.T. had become quite skilled at this process, and brought with him a pencil everywhere he went and paper in his messenger bag. But conceivably, N.T. went through using an excess of paper, so he wanted to start making his own. He wanted to make paper in his basement and plant a new tree for every one he chopped down.
Now, his new neighbor’s house was a cabin as well, but one far larger than his. His neighbor’s cabin was just up the road and made his look more like a shed. But grandeur didn’t matter to sweet little N.T., and he was amazed at the house without envy, and since N.T. was such a good-natured pal, he went to greet his new neighbor with a strawberry cake.
With his satchel and cake, N.T. hit the road, and made his way walking alongside the street, which was cut through the forest of pines. It was an uphill trek, and the breeze was cooler that late summer evening, and the shade from the trees darkened the sky. He approached the house, which was built from oak logs and warmly lit from inside, and stepped up to the front porch, giving a knock to the door.
The porch light flashed on, and N.T. took a step back, as an older woman with unkempt gray hair peered out the front door window. Despite the smile N.T. displayed, the woman gave one look before shrieking and dashing away from the door. N.T. felt panicked and set the cake down on the wooden bench beside him, then pulling a paper from his bag.
IT’S OKAY! I’M YOUR NEW NEIGHBOR! I BROUGHT YOU A CAKE! he jotted quickly, then held it up to the window, and knocked again on her door to draw her eyesight back. He heard more screams from the house and knocked harder, desperate for her to calm down and realize he meant no harm at all. As his worries started forming, he feared she was going to call the sheriff, and he wanted to run away. On account that he was a living skeleton, the sheriff already knew of his existence and was incredibly suspicious of N.T. – he thought N.T. was an evil sorcerer – but N.T. had never done anything in violation of law, so the sheriff begrudgingly let N.T. free… N.T. feared, until now?
But as quick as that terror entered his mind, he saw that the woman returned to the door, and was reading his message with apparent skepticism. Encouraged, he wrote more, I JUST WANT TO BE POLITE. DO YOU LIKE STRAWBERRY CAKE?
“Who are you?” she shouted through the door, still frowning and crossing her arms.
I’M N.T. I’M YOUR NEIGHBOR! … WILL YOU PLEASE ACCEPT MY CAKE? IT’S GETTING KIND OF DARK OUT HERE.
The woman sighed with her whole body and rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she said, and unlocked the door to N.T., motioning him inside.
Delighted, N.T. brought the cake inside and looked around at her beautiful wooden abode as he stepped in.
“I’m Margaret,” the woman said, pulling her bathrobe tighter around her. She apologized for her rather uncool reaction, and invited N.T. to take a seat on the couch in the living room, which had a grand fire place and large, dim lamps. She asked N.T. a few questions about himself, and he told her how nice her home was.
After a little while of chatting, Margaret chuckled to herself. “You know, part of the reason I was so startled by your presence was that my husband passed away a few weeks ago, and I thought you were his ghost!” Margaret laughed from her chest for a moment, and then fell as quiet as N.T. She looked down at her lap and shook her head, and N.T. felt a flare of sadness. He looked down at the strawberry cake sitting, untouched, between them on the coffee table, and N.T. nudged it closer to Margaret.
She smiled, and with that, they began to be friends. Through their visits, N.T. learned that the pines belonged to Margaret. Pines in every direction! Her family had owned the land on that side of the mountain for a hundred years, and in the last fifty, Margaret had merely let the land grow. She was a very thoughtful woman and often spoke for hours to N.T. about philosophies she’d contemplated during all her years journaling among the pines, and she would tell of her husband and their travels, and how she missed him and his voice. Since N.T. was not much of a “talker,” he had grown to be a very good listener, and the friendship worked well for the two.
One day, N.T. came to Margaret with somewhat of a business proposition, requesting permission to use her land to begin his paper-making pursuit. Included with his request was a check for a considerable amount of money and a promise to take care of the pines as best he could. N.T. promised the land would still be Margaret’s on legal paper, but he would be granted access to its resources as he needed, so long as he upkeep its ecological balance. Margaret laughed at first, until she saw the number on the check and confirmed it was real.
I’VE BEEN INVESTING IN CRYPTOCURRENCIES SINCE I WAS SIXTEEN, N.T. explained when she asked how he had obtained such a large sum of money. BUT I’M A SIMPLE PERSON WHO ALREADY HAS EVERYTHING I NEED.
Margaret agreed to the deal because she couldn’t see a reason to turn it down, as she mostly stayed indoors these days yet had so much land indeed. N.T. happily left immediately, setting to work on a tree that bordered his land, and hauling pieces of it down to his basement where he had been building a paper making machine.
I’ve never described N.T.’s home to you, but I’ll tell you it was so charming to see. It had only a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a living room on one floor, but N.T. loved to doodle and write, and the walls in his whole house were covered floor-to-ceiling with taped-up paper creations by him or his friends. Some of the papers formed a larger image together, and others were individual drawings collaged together. Others were noteworthy conversations, or favorite ideas, or enjoyable stories. He also had a hammock in his living room, which he often swung in, and a few plants in the corners of the room, and a colorful rug. All the appliances in his kitchen were red, and his bedroom had art supplies scattered about and a large recycling bin. He lived with his friend Talia, who was a lavender butterfly that followed him home one day while he walked along the river and who had kept him company ever since. Talia didn’t speak, but she couldn’t read or write, and so mostly they coexisted and made the other feel less lonely.
The visits between Margaret and N.T. always took place at Margaret’s house, and one day she surprised N.T. by showing up at his door. She had never been to visit him before, and he jumped up to let her in.
Understandably, she was awed by his quirky décor, and after complimenting his home, and asking how the paper-making was going, explained why she had dropped by.
“I’ve been thinking a lot, and a few months ago when you gave me that money to use my land, I shouldn’t have accepted it. I’m an old woman, I don’t need riches like I used to think I did.” She sat on a bean bag chair in N.T.’s living room while he sat on the hammock, nodding.
“So, I was going to give it back to you, but I knew you wouldn’t accept it. Instead, with that money, I want to turn part of my property into a park for people to use for hikes and nature walks.” Margaret smiled and tucked some of her grayish flyaway hairs behind her ear.
N.T. enthusiastically nodded his head. Talia fluttered around them, but not because she knew what was transpiring—fluttering was just her thing. Margaret added that she wanted N.T. to help her with this project because she predicted one day they would become his pines. N.T. was overjoyed by this idea and thanked Margaret for her friendship and generosity.
And that, more or less, is how N.T. Ed became somewhat of a keeper of the Pines. Margaret’s land became a community resource and many individuals and families enjoyed the beauty of the evergreen forest.
Our friend N.T. had many other adventures in his life—this is just one among his biography—but the story of his pines was always his favorite. He loved the pine trees with a special fondness, for their fascinating pine needles, their resilient greenness, and the memories he had meditating among them. Certainly, Ned Theodore Ed was a wholehearted dude, and he had such a love for those pines.
And now we return to our world, or what we know of our world, for now.