Once there were four trees: an apple, an oak, a pine and a tree no one knows the name of – so I have called it the Strange-Tree.
Every spring the apple tree was decked with white blossom, as a bride, beautiful and splendid, and the bees gathered in droves around her delicate white-cupped flowers to draw from the sweet nectar. As the months passed by, the tree’s branches began to sag under the magnificent crop of shiny green apples that it bore. People came from far and wide to admire the beauty and the fruit of the tree.
And the tree boasted: “Am I not the greatest of trees? For to what other tree do people come each year with their baskets in order that they may fill them with such wonderful fruit?”
And the majestic oak stood proudly on a hilltop. The tips of its branches towered above all the other trees; many birds made their nests amongst its foliage and a multitude of insects made their homes in the crevices of its bark. And in the hot summer months people came and sat in its shade and wondered at the strength of the magnificent tree. In the autumn showers of acorns fell, as deadly ammunition, from the branches of the tree and all feared to come near such a dangerous arsenal.
And the tree boasted: “Am I not the greatest of trees? Am I not taller than all the other trees of the forest? Am I not stronger than they? Am I not more deadly and fearsome than all the other trees?”
Down in the valley, by a raging river, stood a tall pine tree, cloaked with pine cones. Its trunk was long and straight and it stood erect and sure-footed as it straddled the mountainside.
And the tree boasted: “I am not as tall as the oak, neither do I bear fruit for people to eat like the apple tree and yet surely I am the greatest of trees for my beauty is constant. I never lose all my leaves like the other trees; my colour adds greenery to this bleak valley every month of the year. And my cones bring warmth and light as they burn on home-fires during the long cold winter months? Surely I am more beautiful and more useful than they?”
And another tree stood off, in a distant place, where the soil was poor and not much rain fell. The tree was squat and its branches were straggly and many thought what an ungainly tree it was. No one really knew what this tree was, for it was different from all the other trees; its fruit was oddly–shaped, red and gold and small and no one in the shops wanted to buy it. And when people walked by the tree, many of them sniffed at it and turned away. But the poor creatures came and ate of the fruit, the fruit which no one wanted and found themselves strangely nourished for the long winter months when no other fruit could be found.
And this tree made no boast at all but year after year continued to bear its strange looking fruit, to the dismay of some and the delight of others.
One day some men came to look at the tree.” Let us cut this strange tree down and use its branches for wood,” they said. “Its fruit is no use except to the poor creatures and they can find something else to eat. We can use this land for better things than to grow this strange tree on,” and they chopped off its branches. And the poor creatures howled and cried; some scampered away whilst others hugged the tree’s desolate trunk.
And that night there was a terrible storm; such a storm had never been seen before. Fierce lightning flashed across the dark sky and thunder peals shook the very foundations of the earth. A great wind came, howling and mighty, and tore at everything in its path.
The apple tree tried to hold onto its fruit in vain. Like a carpet the apples were spread upon the ground, bruised and battered, unfit to eat.
And the great oak lost many of its branches. Its top was felled and it was no longer the tallest tree for miles around. And the fir, which boasted of its eternal leaves, lost every leaf that night in that terrible storm.
But the strange tree, growing as it did out of the dry ground, grew branches from its stunted trunk that spread far and wide. And the fruit that had been lost when its branches were felled sank deep into the ground and grew up overnight into other smaller trees, all bearing that strange, odd-shaped fruit, the fruit that is red and gold. And the poor birds and beasts and many people gathered to pick its fruit once more, which tasted even better than before.
And in time the strange tree filled the earth and became the greatest of trees – far higher, far more beautiful and more fruitful than all the other trees. But still, it never boasted; it just stood and stood and stood, providing food and shelter and warmth to any that took refuge under its sprawling branches.