I remember the small boy named John who used to visit me in the summer. He planted me here one day when he came with his Grandfather. They were exploring and ended up in this small valley so far out of the way. I overheard John’s Grandfather say that he had come to this same spot with his own Grandfather many years before.
I was planted by them beside this slow moving stream that drifts lazily by, tossing light into my branches like confetti. I’ve long ago given up trying to work out what there might be to celebrate. The stream itself babbles constantly but cannot hold much of a conversation, speaking instead over and over of rocks and sand, fish and frogs, of eddies and flows. However, I am grateful for the stream for my roots found it long ago and much of the surrounding land is parched in summer. If I had not been laid down so carefully to grow on its banks I might have withered long ago.
“Let’s see what happens”, said John’s Grandfather slowly, and through the soil that they placed on me I heard their footsteps retreating. I cannot tell you much about the next few years as I emerged from seed to leaf to small tree. John returned during the summer and pruned me as I grew larger. He would often just sit there beside me, or lean against me as I grew. Only a few times did his Grandfather join him and I watched as he grew older more quickly than John and I grew up. They had long talks there, sitting beneath me, and I listened in to each one. They talked of the past, the present, the future. I recall the final time I saw John’s Grandfather he struggled up, leaning on a walking stick, to sit down a last time under my shade. When John came the next summer he seemed to be even more reflective than he had been and sat there, just watching the water flow by. He was thinking, throwing small stones and listening to their sound. Being still and silent.
The last time John came he was no longer a boy. I was proud because I had started to produce some apples and I saw him grab one and eat it. Then I noticed that he had in his hands an axe and I shivered as he drew even closer and raised it. He used it to hack at me and after several deep cuts he took off the branch that was growing out and away from the stream leaving me only to droop over the water. I felt like he had cut off an arm and I resented it. The apples that had been on the branch lay scattered on the ground. Even then, I knew that this was going to determine my destiny in some way. John cut away at the branch lying there, unattached and yet so intimately connected to me, until he had fashioned the straightest part into a walking stick. Was that all I was useful for? I felt a great sense of betrayal. Yet before he left he stood up before me and the wind went quiet, the birds in my branches stopped singing and the sun shone brighter. All he said was, “I take a piece of you to guide me”. He addressed me so formally that despite my indignity, I bowed to him, as best I could. Then he was gone, to live his life, leaving me alone.
As time went by the seasons were my only companions. They stayed long enough to feel comfortable with each other, not like the small birds who flew in and out so quickly that I couldn’t even focus on them. In winter the snow that fell chilled me deep but the serene silence that resulted was worth it. Spring saw me grow again and push out new blossoms, each one representing a possible future. In summer my apples grew and grew larger in the sun. I was proud of them and as the days grew shorter they began to fall from me.
Autumn is when I was most upset for by taking part of me away John had left only one place for the apples I produced to fall. The stream gratefully received each of them making a sound as they slipped into the water like divers. All I could do was watch them drift away downstream and around the curve. It made me sad to see them leave.
At that time of year I resented John greatly for though he had given me life and looked after me he had also destroyed my chances for a friend since no tree could grow there with me. All those possible companions were swept downstream to nothingness. I kept asking myself why this had happened to me, The passing of the years did not help and I found myself thinking on it more and more. I felt like my life was futile for why had I been given such potential and yet it was left so wasted. My only comfort became those little birds that I envied for their ability to fly here and there without being rooted in one place. Their nests in my arms and long fingers were at least the source of much new life, unlike me.
The years began to roll by and each year my resentment grew with my height. My bark had become knobbled and rough. I was old now. Yet still I produced fruit each season, hoping that one day they might land beside me and grow there. I towered high above the stream and yet my wish was not granted. Still my apples dropped into the water to float away. I could feel within myself a coldness and the dark began to take over as I questioned all I stood for.
Then one day an old man came walking into the valley with a small girl. Something stirred in me as they drew near. A memory of long ago. For it had been several decades since I had last seen a person in these parts. This man reminded me of John’s Grandfather for he walked slowly yet purposefully. They sat under my branches with their backs against my trunk and watched the water. I listened to them talk of the past, the present, the future.
Then the little girl asked, “Is this really the source of them all, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather nodded. “Yes”, he replied, “And the thing is that this old tree probably doesn’t even know”. He smiled wistfully.
“What do you mean?” asked the little girl. I too leaned in closer, listening hard.
“Well, look at the bend over there”, he said. “You see, this tree has no way of looking beyond this valley, seeing past its own limited view. It has no way of knowing that for miles and miles down from here the stream is lined with apple trees and that they all have came from this one source. For years the tree has been faithfully dropping its apples into the stream and the water has washed them up to places far beyond the realm of what this tree could have ever thought possible.”
They were quiet then. I was too as I reflected on what was said. This brief conversation had opened up a new perspective and healed something within.
They had brought a lunch with them and when they were done the small girl dug two holes along the bank, one upstream from me and one a little ways down. I saw her place something in them and cover them up. Then she came back to sit beside her Grandfather, who said slowly, “Let’s see what happens”.
As they got up to leave I saw the old man struggle to stand and the girl reached out to help. She handed him something and I recognised the walking stick then. I made my leaves move in the wind and bent closer as the years of resentment fell away. I smiled down at John and he also looked up and smiled at me and tipped his hat, then he took his granddaughter’s hand and I watched them walk away.