The Tree That Went Walking

One of the articles in Economics In An Intellegent Universe (IC#2)
Originally published in Spring 1983 on page 57
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

One of the strategy suggestions in the last issue of IN CONTEXT was writing children’s stories that communicated values related to a humane sustainable culture. I’m certainly delighted with this first response, and look forward to more storytelling wonders from our rich network. Thelma lives on Guemes Island in western Washington.

THE YOUNG CEDAR stood alone at the edge of the high bank overlooking Samish Bay. It was a beautiful place to live. Across the blue water could be seen Mount Baker white with snow all year long and hot with secret fires that sent tall steam plumes far into the Northwest sky.

Serena had loved the tree very much ever since she was a little girl. Because she had no playmates on the small island, she would often go to the tree and sit hidden under the low graceful branches that swept to the ground. There in the small green room fresh with the fragrance of cedar, she would play imaginary games with imaginary playmates, and shelter from rain and sun.

As Serena grew older and taller, however, she began to climb into the limbs of the cedar. At first she would just sit and hold tight to the trunk and look across the water for sea birds and whales and name the names of islands in the distance. One morning she sat so still, hidden among the feathery limbs, that a great blue heron flew in across the bay and perched there, too. It was then for the first time that the tree seemed alive to Serena. It ruffled itself ever so slightly in a light embrace as though it liked having Serena and Blue Heron perched within her limbs.

As the years went by Serena climbed higher and higher into the cedar tree. Sometimes she would take a book with her and stay for hours reading and watching across the water. Once a great pod of black and white whales swam along the shore below her high perch and blew their Orca songs up into the limbs of the tree. It was a mighty and mysterious music. Often, in the distance, flotillas of grebe peppered the blue water to black, and flocks of snipes flashed their feathers to shimmer of silver against the dark islands. And all the while as Serena watched, it was as though the tree she loved was watching, too.

Life was not always easy for the tree growing as it did on the high bank of north shore, for in winter, great storms often blew in from the ocean. Then the tree would toss and moan in the fury of icy winds, but because the wood of cedar is so strong and the limbs of cedar so flexible, the half-grown tree seldom lost more than a small branch.

During a wild and bitter storm one winter night, the wind howled at the girl’s window high under the eaves and tore furiously at her beloved tree. In her troubled sleep Serena dreamed she was running across the field toward the tree that was in danger of being blasted away by the screaming wind. Her dream feet sank into the earth as she struggled toward the bank and she could scarcely move though she tried with all her strength. At last, as she neared the tree, she saw the dream truth: the tree was no longer a tree but a tall and beautiful woman shining and wet, her long green coat blowing in the winter storm. She was calling to Serena.

"My name is Dryad," called the tree-woman. "I have lived on the earth longer than human beings. My roots grow deep in the earth and my limbs lift high into the heavens. Do not fear for me, Serena. I will survive the storms. It is only man’s axe that I fear."

When Serena wakened in the morning, the storm had passed and a light rain was falling. She ran to her window to see if the storm had done any damage. There were many branches of firs and other trees scattered across the field but not a limb lost from the cedar tree that called herself Dryad. And though Serena had felt for many months that the tree was a living being, as she ran to her that morning, she was certain.

"Adie, Adie," the girl called to the tree. "You’re safe, you’re safe!" and Serena scrambled into the branches beaded with rain and hugged her until she, herself, was as wet as the tree.

On warm spring nights when the moon was bright, Serena often climbed into Adie’s arms and Adie would whisper stories to her. Stories she knew through her roots that grew far into the earth: stories of pure dark rivers that flowed deep inside and nourished earth spirits of all kinds. Stories of serpents who, when they were tired of slithering, took their tails in their mouths and rolled like hoops along underground caverns. Stories of an earth creature named Golden Goshen who glittered as he magicked spring roots to life and only came out of the earth in dreams to delight children who loved gardens and woods.

Adie told Serena stories of birds and their nests; stories of wild storms and gentle breezes that helped trees know what it was like to move because, after all, trees had to stay where they were. They could not go out walking, even though they sometimes longed to move about like other living creatures.

Not long after Serena’s dream, a small owl with very large eyes began spending many of his nights in Adie’s branches. Adie liked having him there very much because, somehow, she could see through his eyes too, and her night vision was greatly improved. Drifting off to sleep in her bedroom, Serena could often hear Owl’s soft hooting throbs high in Adie’s limbs, and instead of sleeping it was as though Serena flew into another world of wings and voices and wonderful gardens that she could never quite recall when she wakened in the morning.

It was a morning after such dreaming that Serena first heard her father mention the sale of the land where Adie stood.

"Brockman wants me to cut down that cedar on the bank because when he builds his house the tree will block his view of the mountain," Father was saying to the girl’s mother.

"Well, yes, I suppose the tree will have to go though it is a pity. It is such a lovely tree. So perfectly shaped and all," Mother said.

"Father, you can’t cut down Adie … you can’t," Serena cried.

But there was no use in crying or begging. Father had promised the man that he would cut down the cedar the next week, and Father would keep his word.

Serena ran across the field and climbed high into her beloved tree. She did not tell Adie what she had heard. She did not need to for, somehow, Adie already knew. Some secret vein had brought the news to the tree, and the child and the tree grieved in silence for each other.

Now, Serena’s dreams became nightmares and each night she cried out in her sleep as axes and saws chopped and snarled at living woods. On the last night before Adie was to be cut down, a storm blew in from the ocean, and Serena could bear it no longer. She was somewhere in a place between waking and dreaming when she ran across the field to Adie.

"Adie, Adie," she cried up to the tree tossing in the wind. "We can’t give up like this. You must come away with me. I know a place on the mountain in the middle of the island where no axe will ever bother you."

The tree was whipping hard and Owl, spending the last night with Adie, had to hang on very tightly as he called down.

"You know perfectly well that Adie can’t go away from this place. She’s a tree and trees can’t walk," he hooted.

"Adie is no ordinary tree," Serena called back. "She is a Dryad and Dryads have been known to walk, Owl. I have read about them."

The tree began to speak in great whispering sighs, "I don’t think it is any use, Serena. In order to survive on this high bank, I have had to send my roots extra deep into the earth. I don’t think I could ever pull them out."

"Oh, try, Adie…please try. Begin wiggling them so they loosen one at a time and pull hard. If you can just break loose, Owl and I will guide you through the woods to the mountain."

"I will try," the tree woman said, "but I don’t think it will work. I have been here too long."

At that, Serena dropped to her knees and began pulling soil away from Adie’s roots and Owl came down and began helping, too. Then it seemed the whole woods came awake and birds and raccoons and deer to whom Adie had given shelter came to help in her escape.

As the creatures carefully uncovered Adie’s roots, Adie began to feel hope and strained hard to loosen herself. One by one her great roots came free of the bank until it was just the longest and deepest root holding her in place.

"Use all your strength now, Adie" called Serena. "Pull as hard as you can, and we will push and lift with you."

All of the animals gathered around her trunk and the birds hovered lifting up on her branches, and when Owl hooted "Now", everyone strained as hard as they could. Little or nothing. Adie didn’t seem to budge.

"Again," cried Serena getting more and more frightened as the night wore on. "Come on, let’s try again."

But it was of no use. Adie’s last root went so deep into the earth, that even with all her other roots loosened she could not move.

At last Serena cried openly and the other animals stood sad and helpless around the tree. And then it happened! Adie shuddered a shudder that was not from the wind and she uttered a little cry of amazement. "Oh, friends," she gasped, "The earth spirit, Golden Goshen, has come to help me. He magics blossoms up through stems and now deep in the earth he is making magic to free me."

At that instant Adie curled her last root up from the earth, and she was free! The animals cheered but then stopped suddenly as Adie tipped back and forth because she was not used to standing free. Everyone rallied around her: birds held branch tips in their bills and flew hard to keep her upright; deer took the ends of limbs in their mouths; and Serena steadied her trunk.

"Oh, my," cried Adie. "I feel as though I could walk if you will all help me."

And the strange parade started slowly and clumsily across the open field. The tree-woman was not a graceful walker but she got better as she went along shuffling and sliding, steadied by her friends and guided by Owl who perched in her topmost branches.

The journey to the mountain along a narrow road took most of the night. If anyone had seen them, they would have gasped in disbelief: a tree woman walking through the woods with the help of a small girl, a large owl and dozens of other birds and creatures.

When, at last, they arrived high on the mountain Adie turned herself around and searched for a safe spot with a good view of the snowy mountains far in the distance, and all of her friends helped her settle in. They loosened the soil as she wiggled her roots down into crevices where she could hold on tightly. Then they packed fresh moss all round her like a lovely carpet.

It was almost dawn when the work was finished. Birds began flying home and the deer ran off to settle down for a few hours sleep. Owl said he wanted to stay on with Adie so she wouldn’t feel so lonely in this strange place.

Adie was very tired and so was Serena, but the girl knew she would have to return home before her parents missed her.

"Goodbye, Adie. I’ll come everyday to visit you just as I did when you lived on the bank," said Serena.

"How can I ever thank you, Serena? You have saved my life," the tree-woman said, embracing her in fragrant green arms.

When Serena reached home, her parents were already in the kitchen preparing breakfast.

"Strangest thing I’ve ever seen," her father was saying. "I didn’t think the storm last night was fierce enough to blow down the cedar tree. But the tree is gone. Must have blown down the bank and been washed out to sea."

"Hmmmm," said Mother. "That tree has stood through much worse storms and just hours before you were to cut it down … it disappears. Never mind! It saved you a big job."

"Oh, here’s our girl," Father said. "Did you have a good night, Serena?"

"Yes, thank you, Father. I had a wonderful night." Serena said wistfully as she looked out the back window.

On the mountain the sun was just beginning to rise on a very beautiful cedar tree called Adie.

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