ROOTS OF CHANGE
The forest celebrated every time a new tree took root and survived its first few years. It wasnt that there werent enough trees and shrubs and plantlife, it was simply that the community of life understood the finiteness of their existence. All understood that the seeds and nuts that fell to the ground were not just needed to grow; the animals depended on them for food. The young shoots and trees were equally at risk, for the very same reason.
It took a combination of luck, timing and sheer serendipity for a new tree to survive, even where man did not come to despoil what nature gave with a free hand.
So it was that when the youngest ash tree in the forest woke from its winters sleep in its tenth year that it found the surrounding forest celebrating its survival. It was too tall now to be nibbled out of existence, too deeply rooted to be blown over easily by any but the most horrific winds; the first small animals were coming up to it to escape larger predators, and they too celebrated its growth.
The ash tree was proud of its status, happy in its ongoing existence, and deaf to the stories the rest of the forest tried to tell it to teach it what it would need to know to be part of the ongoing world around it. It lifted its branches up to the sun and spread itself widely to catch the rain, hoping to enhance its growth faster. It ignored the gentle amusement of the spruce trees nearby, the oaks a little farther away. The ash tree put down their stories and laughter to jealousy.
In its twentieth year, two families of sparrows made their nests in its branches. The ash tree was so proud of this that it lost sight of the progression of the seasons, ignoring the rules of nature that dictated what a tree must do when. The other trees grew concerned at this and tried in vain to reason with the ash tree, to no avail. Late summer and early fall came close together that year, and as the other trees started to drop their leaves and prepare to sleep during the cold cruelty that was winter, the ash kept its leaves green and tight on its branches; the sparrow families saw no dropping leaves and saw no reason to leave their nest to fly south to warmer places. The other trees pleaded with the ash, but it was adamant; it saw no good reason to drop its leaves in such mild weather. It enjoyed the songs and antics of the birds and didnt want to lose their company.
In October, an early cold spell caught the forest unaware. It moved from the north without warning, with a blistering ice storm that caused many trees pain as their limbs snapped under their frozen burden. None of them, however, hurt as cruelly as the ash, who saw in the grey dawn the bodies of the birds who had sheltered in its branches. Their little frozen bodies lay on the ground by its roots, and the ash was horrified; the corpses lay on the ground as an indictment to its stubborn refusal to accept life as it was, not as it wished to shape it. Mourning, the tree finally dropped its leaves, which drifted down to cover the sad sight of the lifeless birds.
One by one, the trees drifted into their winter slumber, dreaming of spring and the renewal to be found there.
Spring came, and the trees again gained their leaves, all except the ash. It had grieved the winter through, and now it tried not to become enticingly green lest it attract another family of birds that it might kill. Of course it could not stop time, and its leaves pushed out, almost painfully. Still, the ash tree gave itself no help, no aid, no forgiveness.
At length, an elderly spruce at the far side of the clearing near the ash tree was consulted about what had happened, and how best to help the ash tree recover. It thought for almost the whole summer before it gave any answer, and when it did, the simplicity of its response echoed for the next 3 decades. It spoke one late summer twilight, and the whole forest quieted to hear what it would say.
Sometimes pain is the only way we learn to grow beyond our roots, said the spruce. We learn as much or more from death as we do from living.
But I killed, replied the ash tree, by my refusal to be like everyone else.
You made a choice. The spruce corrected the ash tree firmly. All things have a choice. The sparrows chose not to look at the other trees. Maybe they were lazy. Maybe they were fools. Whatever they were or were not, they made a choice to look at a young tree for wisdom. Just as you chose incorrectly, so did they.
The ash tree saw a few leaves drift off its branches, harbingers of the cold to come in just a few weeks, and felt oddly comforted. When all the leaves were gone, it would sleep again, this time without nightmares to torment its nature.
by Maggie Voggelsong