Short stories The tree story

A short story by Juliette Owens

Have you ever walked past a very old gnarled looking tree and wondered what it would say to you if it could talk? Have you ever looked at a tree on a rainy day and seen a funny face on the trunk staring back at you? I’ve always noticed things like faces on trees, rocks and stones and always wondered how old they are and what stories and wisdom they could share if they could talk to you.

I guess I am fortunate in where I live. There is a small woodland at the back of the estate I live on which has a definite air of magic about it. I’m not sure whether its because the area is relatively untouched, or whether the fact it’s owned by the Priests who inhabit the college at the other side of the woods gives it that touch of enchantment, or whether its because a lot of the trees are evidently very old but there is definitely something very magical about the place. Some of the trees have fallen and where they fell not only are there now big root holes for all manner of wildlife to live but also there are now a lot of long straight coppiced trees growing.

What makes the place even more special is the river running alongside the woods. There seems to be all kinds of fish in the river and to my surprise I have even been fortunate enough to sit and watch as kingfishers flash past, their blue wings dazzling in the summer sun.

Not least, this woodland special is because it’s where I had my first encounter with tree spirits.

Let me take you on a journey, the journey began a few years ago during a time where I was estranged from my partner and soul-mate and didn’t know whether the distance between us (he lived in California, and I lived in Surrey) would ever bring us together again.

On this particular day I needed to get out. The last few months without Phil, my beautiful soul-mate had been so hard. Trying to keep a relationship alive over so many miles was proving difficult. I met Phil in California and we had spent two years going back and forth between the USA and the UK. I couldn’t live in the States, I had no citizenship and could only stay for three months at a time. Phil was born in England and had a British passport but had moved to the USA as a child. Unfortunately he found life in the UK too hard without his family. So, we had separated and Phil had made the decision to go back home. After months of expensive phone calls, never being able to resolve which country we should be in we had both given up trying. Daily mundane life had taken over and we both had settled back into living in our relative countries. There was no solution to this situation and only time would tell whether our love was strong enough to pull us back together again. I was hopelessly lost without him, the last couple of years since we first met had been a wild adventure and we were so good together that being apart really did feel as though my heart had been ripped out.

Today I just needed to be alone in the woods. I needed to gain some perspective away from the phone ringing and doorbell going and endless chores that take up so much time. My job as a Secretary taking complaint calls was also getting me down and I needed to just get out and find some peace and quiet. Fortunately the woods behind the estate are minutes away and almost immediately the hustle and bustle of daily life stops and the calm envelopes you like a warm blanket.

The sun was shining and throwing patterns of shade and light through the leaves of the trees as I entered the woods. I headed straight for my special place, next to the river where there is a rock to sit on and a gap in the trees where the sun touches your face. It wasn’t long before I found myself starting to go into a familiar trance like state, at peace with the world, at peace with myself. I decided to perch my back against one of the older looking trees and see if I could feel its energy course through my body. I asked the tree if it would mind helping my aching back for a few minutes and closed my eyes relaxing into this special moment. Tuning into the vibrations of the tree I was surprised to find that the tree spirit wanted to communicate with me. It sounded like a voice from a very old man and said that he wanted to share his teachings with a child of the universe.

He asked me if I thought he was a beautiful tree and if I could feel his power. I looked up and saw the magnificence of this ancient wise one and replied that I indeed did see its beauty and power. He then told me a story in an ancient crackled voice like the sound of a voice coming through dead leaves trampled underfoot. This was the story he gave me.

“Once upon a time there was a little boy who used to roam these woods. This little boy used to love to swing from one of my branches. It put pressure on my limbs holding his weight but I loved that little boy and I loved to see the pleasure that playing with me gave him. As the little boy grew older he didn't visit me so often, he had other games to play and although I missed seeing him I knew that I wouldn't be able to hold his weight forever and that one day the pressure would break me. One day after many years of standing alone here I spotted my friend coming through the bushes. He remembered how much pleasure he used to get as a child from swinging off my branches and ran up to me and leapt into the air grabbing at my limbs for all he was worth. The pressure from his weight was too much and my limb snapped off. The boy thoughtlessly had broken a part of me and just shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

I suffered much pain from my injury and I tried not to blame the boy, after all he was just looking to something tried and tested that he knew had given him pleasure in the past. He had wanted to find the joy that he had experienced as a child. He wasn't to know that his thoughtless actions would cause me pain. He didn't even know I could feel so how could I blame him.

I grieved the part of me that was missing. I missed the squirrel that used to run up and down my branch. I missed the bird that used to hop and skip and sing to me there. I saw that part of me that was once very much alive, die to the forest floor, no longer in its glory with all its leaves but now just a stick that people stepped on. I stood here for years grieving until one day while I was caught up in thinking about how much I had suffered and what pain I had been through as a result of one little boy's thoughtless actions, something happened to me. There was a bad storm. The wind blew and it shook me and it shook my branches and rustled my leaves. I am a strong tree and I held my own in that storm, I let the wind bend me and pull me and I moved with the rhythm of the wind allowing her to shake off my dead growth and allowing her to test my strength to its limits. It was a long night, a night I never thought I would survive but as the early morning dawn began and I realised that I was still standing, I also realised that upon many of my other branches there were birds singing. There were squirrels running and there were acorns growing and sustaining other life. I felt the totality of my being that day and rejoiced in the sun shining through my leaves and rejoiced in the wildlife scurrying through my branches.

I realised something very important after that stormy night. I realised that I had spent so long grieving the part of me that was broken that I had forgotten how majestic I truly was. I knew that the missing part of me would never return but the wound had healed and suddenly it no longer seemed so important.

I looked within myself and found that every part of my being was alive. I felt the energy coursing through my branches and I felt that I had indeed learned a good lesson that stormy night. As I stood that day in my power, feeling the love of all the wildlife around me something happened. The little boy returned, except now he was a man with a small boy of his own. He ran to me and remembered who I was and with so much joy he told the little boy just how he had loved this tree and how sorry he was that he had broken my branch that day. The little boy was preoccupied, he had found the remains of a very old and withered stick on the forest floor and was busy examining it and pulling off the dead bark. The little boy returned every day to that spot and sat underneath my branches while he busily went about sanding down the stick and whittling into a shape. One day he stopped and looked at his stick and he looked at me and said. “This is a part of you. It existed as part of you. Look at this and tell me, is it any less beautiful now that it is a carved stick than it was as a branch? The beauty of who you are will always live on no matter how much you think that part of you is lost. Look at the grain, look at the history running through these knots and veins here” and he showed it to the heavens and he kissed it and held it to his heart.

Later that day the boy returned with his father and pointed to me and gave him the stick that he had so lovingly carved. The man held it to his heart as the memories of himself as a child swinging off this very same branch came flooding back to him. He looked down at his son with such love and such respect and told the boy that it would take pride of place in his heart and remain with him always. The boy smiled and turned to me and gave me a wink.

If I could have cried tears of joy then that day I would have. That little boy taught me that no matter how much we think we have lost parts of ourselves forever and think we are broken beyond repair. No matter how much we may hurt, the beauty of who we are remains in the totality of our being. Even the parts that we feel are lost to us remain in our memory, our spirit and in the hearts of others. The part of us that we once felt was beautiful and lost still exists in some form. It may have changed and become something else. It may not be physically attached to us any longer but it still remains in some form. Even the memory of my own branch dancing with life became the carved spirit friend of a little boy and the joy that branch gave will always remain with his father.

The pain we suffer although real can become so distorted that we forget to look at the whole picture. We forget that before we got so caught up in feeling broken the joy we gave to others was tremendous. We forget that with every storm there is a blue sky to follow. We forget the powers of transformation and lose the message that transformation brings if we hold on to the pain of what is broken instead of seeing the beauty and power we have within our own spirits. We forget how beautiful we are and what we have to give the world if we dwell in pain and sadness.

The old tree then rustled his branches at me and I felt inclined to go look at the other side of it. As I felt my way around its trunk I found something incredible. There was indeed a huge wound from a broken branch from that tree that had healed over but growing out of it was another branch, tiny and green and fresh but very much alive. The tree rustled his branches again and told me that “he had waited many years to give that teaching to someone who would listen”. Enthused with the power of my journey and the energy of the tree I sat by the river in awe at the story and the teaching it had given me. To my sheer delight a kingfisher whizzed straight past me, its blue wings flashing against the clear sky and with it came the message. “New warmth, sunshine, prosperity and love”. In that moment I had a vision of a beam of light reflecting out of my forehead and as I looked into the light I saw a very vivid picture of where my future was heading and after months of being alone and directionless I smiled.

On that warm summers day a few years ago, this was the journey my own life took and my first communication with a tree spirit. The message the tree gave me that day was for me to stop being a victim and dwelling in loss. Life is beautiful and whatever you lose, no matter how hard it is and how much it hurts there are always lessons to be learned, things to be gained and so much you can give if your heart remains open.

You will be pleased to hear that eventually Phil and I did reunite, the tale of which is a story in itself. We now reside, for the time being at least, in the UK. After years of yearning to be out in nature I gave up my secretarial job and went to work with trees and plants and have never regretted it for a minute. In my spare time I write stories and make crystal wands.

So, next time you feel life getting you down and problems weighing heavy on your shoulders, take a tip from me. Go out into the woods, lean your back against a tree, close your eyes and let yourself be taken into a different reality for a while. Let the tree tell its story to you.

And if you find a twig on the forest floor, why not pick it up take it home and craft it into something special. After all part of that tree’s spirit remains to some degree in that twig and may be awoken with a little song or a bit of enchantment.

An old Estonian legend tells us that trees used to talk. The reason they don’t talk to us any more according to the legend is whenever a human tried to take a branch to use for wood for his fire, the tree would cry out in pain. Eventually the tree was silenced because it became too difficult for us humans to survive without it but too hard for us to cut its branches with the tree shouting in pain. So the trees lost their voice and could only talk in a whisper. (Have you never heard them rustle the leaves in their branches when you approach them?).

So, they can hear you. Give them a chance to let them tell you their story and who knows, the story they tell you may just help you with your own troubles.