The budding sapling emerged from the soil and took its first breath of air. Sunshine! That bright, glorious sunshine.
Direct light barely reached the forest bed, but its glowing warmth showered the sapling. Her fragile, arched stem gently began to gain strength; it would be days before she would be strong enough to stand erect and carry the weight of her tiny leaves.
Life is so helplessly fragile in its early, blossoming stages.
Profoundly amazed, the majestically tall tree watched this metamorphosis of life. He marveled how that fragile sprout lived through its burial in earth and was now breathing free.
‘Hi’, the sapling looked up to the tree and gave him an energetic, enthusiastic smile.
‘Welcome to the forest, sweetheart’, the tree smiled back. ‘How’s it going with you?’
‘Oh, it’s lots of fun. It is such a beautiful place out here.’
‘Yes, life is beautiful.’ The tree looked at her patronizingly.
‘I just can’t wait to grow up to be big and strong like you.’ He heard her chirp from deep within the undergrowth.
The sapling never noticed the shadow of hollowed, reflective look in the eyes of the tree.
She was so innocent, yet so unprepared, for the life that lay ahead.
The sun started to set.
The underbush was the first part of the forest to experience imminent darkness.
The sapling noticed the deepening shadows and felt emotions that she never knew; confusion, vulnerability, fear of the unknown.
“What’s happening here? Where is the light gone?’ Her bewildered voice echoed.
‘Don’t worry sweetheart,’ the tree assured her, ‘The sun never remains, the nights set in too. It grows dark and silent during the nights.’
‘I am scared.’ Her muffled voice reflected the rising panic.
‘Don’t worry dear, I am here for you.’ The tree lowered a fresh green branch and hugged her. ‘As surely as the nights set in, the sun will rise again. You just have to wait it out.’
The sapling got her first lesson on life.
A bird started chirping long before sunrise.
The once ominous and silent forest gradually sprung into activity.
Those nocturnal creatures that prowled the nights were gone. Soon it was sun time.
The sapling rose from her sleep and pushed the trees’ agile branch away from herself. She felt the heat of energy seep into her, she sensed the rejuvenated life around her.
‘Thank you so much,’ She looked up at the tree, ‘I don’t know how I could have survived the night without you.’
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ the tree smiled back, ‘Wouldn’t you have done the same for me if I needed you?’
‘You are so wise and strong,’ she chuckled, ‘how could you ever need me?’
‘One day I might.’
‘Then I would guard you with my life. I’ll always be there for you.’ Her confident voice echoed in the forest.
She was so ignorant, so naïve, of the claim she made.
The sapling never found out that the fresh branch of the tree that gave her the comforting hug during the night was no longer capable of standing erect again.
It would soon dry out, and the tree would have to shed a part of itself.
A price he knowingly paid.
A lonely shepherd walked leisurely into the forest.
The tree was alarmed. His uneasiness was not because of the man but the herd that he goaded into the woodland; a flock of sheep that fed on the juicy blades of fresh wild grass, and the budding sprouts that were just as succulent under their coarse, salivating tongues.
Through his many years, he had observed that the sheep always changed their direction away from his unpalatable leaves.
He looked down at the sapling, who curiously examined those fluffs of wool in fascination.
Aware of the danger, he began shedding his leaves over the sapling to cover her.
‘Hey!!,’ the sapling shouted with indignity. ‘Stop throwing your dirt on me!’
It was all a matter of perspective, but the tree knew why he did what he did.
The sapling was stronger now.
During the silent, gloomy nights of the preceding weeks, the sapling would gently tell the tree that she no longer needed his green, flexible branches to protect her.
‘It’s ok, I may not be able to see you at night, but I still feel secure in the presence of my mentor.’ She reassured the tree.
In-fact her nights were still dark and petrifying, but she had seen his crippled, shed branches and knew it was too heavy a price for the tree to pay.
In her soft silent way, she had learnt to deal with darkness and learnt to care in return.
Autumn gave way to the winters.
As his leaves shed faster, the tree felt apprehension seep into him.
It was not the loss of the leaves that worried him but the realization that during winters, the forest faced grave dangers.
He knew that he would get battered but he would survive. But would she? Could she?
She had to be prepared on what was ominous, before the first flakes of snow lazily glided down the landscape.
‘Listen, sweetheart,’ he gingerly opened up the subject. “The winters are almost here, and we need to talk about what to expect…’
‘Yes…?’ She sensed his anxiety. ‘Something very serious?’
‘Well, though it’s not dark during the day, the sun rarely shines.’
She silently absorbed what he said. He grew more confident.
‘In winters, snow covers everything. First the leaves dry out, then the weaker branches give way. As the season sets in, people with axes come to get firewood. And that’s where the real danger lies.’ He paused. ‘You see, unlike us, humans need to keep warm and they need our wood to keep their fires burning.’
‘But there is plenty of dead wood in the forest,’ she commented, ‘why should we be afraid?’
‘When the snow blankets the ground’, he continued, ‘they cut down branches from the trees.’
She felt rising anguish, ‘What can we do? How will I survive this?’
“Don’t worry, I will protect you,’ his soothing voice echoed, ‘You are fragile, but I have a strong trunk and many branches.’
With time, the bond between the tree and sapling grew.
She was getting physically stronger and mentally mature.
‘When will I be able to see beyond my current line of sight?’ She asked.
The honesty of her question touched his heart.
She was ready to look past the tree now. His worldview was no longer sufficient for her.
‘Soon enough you will,’ he replied, ‘I can tell you all, but you need the experience.’
Years later, she grew almost as tall as the tree.
She began encountering budding desires, and growing realizations.
Her vision was partially blocked by the towering presence of the tree.
And she grew aware of her natural need for pollination, her personal continuation of life. Now a grown up, she wanted a life of her own. Their relation grew passive.
Lost within herself, she felt it harder to communicate with him. As much as she denied it, her need to be pollinated grew urgent. Once in a while, she had sneaked hidden glances at her mentor, the only male she actually knew.
With almost ruthless realism, she concluded that her need was for younger, stronger trees. She appreciated him, yes, but she needed better.
Her mentor was now, in her way.
The next winter was arid. The expected snow never came.
And then those winds began to blow.
His leaves were now aging and dry. They shed easily, and he began to feel exposed.
With the rising wind speed, he could feel his stem weaken, his once strong roots, give way. He furtively glanced at the sapling that had now grown into a tree, his longtime companion; her fresh green leaves fluttered in the air, clingingly strongly to her young green branches. Unlike his dry stem, her lithe trunk waved gracefully with the winds.
The winds grew harsher. Even for her, the next gust was intensely strong. Her swaying trunk crashed into his, and with a sharp stab of pain, he felt his stem crack.
As he fell towards the ground, he looked at her and cried out loud, 'Why did you do this to me??’
Ridden with remorse, or the realization of the inevitable, she kept silent.
But it wasn’t her fault. It never mattered who caused the final fall, the winds always tore down the trees that were no longer needed.
It was a lovely, blossoming spring.
She took a deep breath of fresh air and looked at the magnificent view.
A soft breeze gently touched her body, mesmerizing her, almost caressing her. With the breeze came pollen too; her hidden desires now finally fulfilled.
She smiled and looked towards those young, strong trees that sprayed their seeds for her.
Yes, life was beautiful.