This forest, nestled between two mountain ranges in the northwest, is characterized by the trees that are unique to the place. The trees look much like oaks, with rough bark and simple lobed leaves. They can grow up to one hundred feet tall, with a canopy to match, and a trunk three to four feet in diameter. The leaves are pale green in spring, darkening during the summer. In the fall they turn a brilliant red. They have a waxy coating which gives them a wet look, earning them the name blood oak.
When other trees are dropping their leaves, the blood oaks hold on. Long past the time other trees have gone dormant the blood oaks are still active. The sap contains a chemical which acts as an anti-freeze, allowing the tree to stay awake long into the winter. Not until daytime temperatures are consistently below freezing do the trees finally drop their leaves. At this time, the tree also sheds its outer layer of bark, which bleaches to white and peels in thick sheets. The trees wake again very early in spring, sprouting new leaves before the sap in other trees begins to rise.
The animals of the Blood Forest take advantage of the sap, which is not toxic. They eat the leaves, bark, and acorns, and gain some of the same protections against the cold that the trees enjoy. It also tinges their fur red, turning ordinary brown coats to stunning auburn. Animals that have white winter coats, like some foxes and hares, will have brilliant red coats instead.
There is a tribe of Gnomes native to the Blood Forest, and it’s possible all Gnomes are descended from them. They make their homes beneath the trees, burrowing below and around the roots. The roots are carefully integrated into their homes, and the Gnomes tend the rootlets like gardens. The Gnomes make all of their clothes from the bark and leaves of the blood oaks, including little pointed hats sown from the blood red leaves.
This work by Jean Headley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.