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Topic: hope (03/29/04)
TITLE: The good tree
By Mary C Legg
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The hemlock leaned from his lofty spire to listen to their gossip. The young larches lifted their heads to hear stories of by-gone times, catching tidbits of wisdom from the stately firs, gathered along the ridge. Beneath the toes of the aging oak trees, woodmice and rabbits leapt quickly, searching food among the scattered acorns. Hedgehogs, indifferent to time, crawled along slowly, complaining about fallen arches and joint aches. Squirrels chattered from the highest rafters, quarrelling with the roseate-breasted jays about nuts stolen from their caches. The jays, a flightly group of bandits, renown for thievery, screeched objections and scattered to another stand of trees. Blue tits fluttered by, landing delicately on twigs. They called to their cousins, inviting them for breakfast at a freshly filled feeder. Whereupon the sparrows appeared and began tossing everything upon the ground. "Never mind," the great tits chided, "we can eat our dinner on the floor." Hopping down, they pecked at barley, rice and oatmeal. The sloe-eyed doves, who wear wedding rings, fluttered onto the ground.
Across the the wood, the yeffler was laughing over a joke he heard several years ago at a party. Sheepishly, he glanced about to see if anyone was looking, before he continued cackling, and busied himself once more with drumming on an ancient pear.
The black woodpecker, appeared after a particularly doleful morning. Solemnly, he announced the cat had caught the blackbird's fledgelings and was on the prowl for any available titmice. The sparrows chattered noisily before hiding in the yew. The blue tits hastily arose, mortified. Disconcerted, the doves took flight while the parson inspected the remaining morning offering.
The English robin, shyly stole a crumb before hopping into the undergrowth. The bullfinch croaked, impersonating a frog, to announce that he had finally arrived, while the sparrows gathered once more in the branches. "Don't scare us like that," they chided, "just because you want our breakfast." Ashamed, the parson flew off to the top of a tall dying oak.
This went on and about our tree, speading its gnarled arms out to greet the sun and offer shelter to wayfaring animals. True, it was not noble like the cedars or royal like the oaks; but had its selected place amongst the crowd who enjoyed its company. Its worn limbs collected scars through years, offering hollows where the yeffler had a nest and the tree-creepers loved to feed on it. The great spotted often came to visit, wishing to have an apartment in it for his wife, but went away disappointed. In winter, the long-tailed snow tits fluttered about it like graceful butterflies and squirrels scrambled up it scolding the passserby. A center for activity, he enjoyed the great community of animals. His wood was too old to be valuable since various insects had taken up residence. Some had gnawed away his bark. Lightning had split a branch, hanging desperately to the trunk, covering a dense growth of blueberries and dogrose. The shattered limb became the sunbathing plank for yellow-spotted salamanders in summer. Deer hounded by unleashed dogs, trembling in fear, found refuge there. A family of voles had established a new colony under his feet, tickling him when he slept and making him sneeze. He seemed to be allergic to their fur. "Never mind," he said, knowing that tolerance of others was important to community harmony—"after all, they are very useful animals, cleaning up the unwanted litter."
Many of his friends had toppled through years or inexplicably disappeared. He didn't comprehend the world outside and didn't he pretend to be filled with wisdom like the hemlock who could see miles around. His had impaired visibility, seeing only the crowd of bristly scotch pines. They attracted green finches who fought incessantly. The chaffinch who appeared but rarely with his dull wife.
He had few demands and many pleasures in a world of constant change. Occassionally, exotic guests stopped on their to foreign places. The grey crane had perched upon his crown one late spring evening on her way to the far north. A majestic grey hawk had condescended to rest there for an hour of silent meditation. The black grouse had raised a brood beneath his feet, drumming frantically whenever danger lurked. The marsh hawk and kite perched on the upper limbs, ravenously devouring their breakfasts.
Through storms and fires, he had survived. Wars had tossed bombs into the thickets when he was young. He had endured the inferno that had devoured many animals. The ravages of time had not by-passed him: his bark was scaly in places. More often than not he grew less leaves, but still he thrived with the bustle of animals and bees that depended on his presence. "Old age isn't so bad after all," he often thought, secretly smiling at the his younger friends, "now I can just stretch out my time-weary limbs."
Someone stopped by to paint a red mark,. Proudly, the tree wore it, thinking it a medal of bravery and loyalty in the line of duty.
A truck rolled up—men got out. The animals scattered suddenly, abandoning their young and their homes. A deafening roar broke through the early morning.
At night, nothing was left, except a raw stump.
The parson appeared to say his prayers. The jays sent the loud message, announcing the loss. The tits disconcerted, tittered and sparrows shocked, scolded. Not one of them understood. "Scandalous," they chattered in rage, for so many had lost their homes and fine friend.
From out the group, a squirrel emerged, still shaking with terror. He carried a nut to plant where the fine old tree had bravely withstood a century of wars and calamities.