The little tree was frightened. Well maybe not exactly frightened - but terribly perturbed.
Of course there had been other times. There was that time when it had been so comfortably asleep. Well-l-l, not entirely asleep, but dozing in the nice, comfortably warm, dark soil. It had been so grand just to lie there in the friendly soil, stretching once in a while to take the kinks out. But, one day a very ambitious stretch had pushed his head out of the soil, and a luxuriant yawn was changed into a startled screech. The situation, had really been very difficult, Try as he might he could not withdraw his head beneath the friendly soil.
The soil bad been rather unsympathetic, too. Always before it had been very friendly, advising, the little tree to spread its roots outward to make easier the collection of food. And this same soil had been so helpful in storing food and moisture in just the proper place like spreading a banquet table right before one, though of course the little tree did not know about tables. But now the soil only laughed over his awful predicament.
What shall I do?" the little tree whimpered. "It is so strange having my head uncovered."
"Strange, indeed," had scoffed the unfeeling soil. "My goodness gracious, must I support you completely all your life? Just you stop whimpering and absorb all you can of that wonderful sunlight."
"What is sunlight?" the little tree had inquired.
"Silly," the soil had retorted, "just you look over your head and you will see the Sun. No mistaking it.,,
Of course the little tree didn't know it, but as all this happened rather early in the morning, the Sun was just starting his travel across the sky. So when the little tree looked up, there, sure enough, was the Sun. It smiled in the most friendly fashion, so the little tree smiled right back, feeling very good indeed. Why, this condition was excellent when he stopped to think of it.
"Why did you not tell me before of this delightful place?" he had reproached the soil, dropping his gaze to it. "You knew about this all the time," he accused.
The soil made no response save to chuckle heartily. The little tree sighed in contentment. Again he turned his face to the Sun. He gazed so long at this friendly object that he was almost blinded. He finally transferred his gaze back to the soil and blinked and blinked until his sight became normal again. Then he had started looking about on all sides. He was closely surrounded by a veritable forest of little trees just like himself only the little tree had not called it a forest or anything, because he did not know what to call it. And some of his companions were ever so much larger than he.
"Hi, there," he had presently called, addressing the salutation to the nearest one, who was many times taller than he.
"Were you addressing me?" coldly inquired the tall one wth great dignity - only the little tree did not know about dignity, so he just wondered. But it did make him feel funny.
"Yes, sir," the little tree had responded, rapidly recovering himself. "What place is this?"
"This," the taller tree had explained, "is a nursery."
"What is a nursery?" the little tree had wondered.
"It is a place," the taller tree had returned, "where infant trees like you are cared for until it is time to go."
"Go?" The little tree was becoming more and more puzzled. "What is go?"
"Why, it is - er-r, go. The taller tree was evidently in difficulties - maybe he really did not know the answer.
"Don't you know what go is?" the little tree had persisted. But before the taller tree could answer their surrounding fellows had all laughed right out loud, swaying with their merriment, just as the taller tree seemed to sway with chagrin - only of course their swaying might have been because a little prankish breeze came dancing through and pushed each of the trees playfully back and forth.
The other trees had not offered an opinion, and even the soil was no help, for it had advised, "Don't ask so many questions. Just wait, and in time you will find out."
"What is time?" the little tree had wanted to know. But the soil made no answer. After that the little tree had contentedly spent the day alternately looking at the Sun and his fellow trees.
But later he was again perturbed, even more so than when he had stretched his head right out of the soil. He had noticed that the Sun was playing some sort of a game. It seemed to be racing or chasing something or somebody right across the sky, but who or what it was the little tree had been unable to discover. And then, all at once, the Sun had run right out of sight. It surprised the little tree so much he screeched again - a more dignified tree screech this time, however.
"Whatever has happened?" the little tree had timidly inquired of no one in particular.
"It's night, silly," the surrounding trees had chorused.
"What is night?" the' little tree had wordered.
Time for you to go to sleep," said the taller tree who had answered his questions earlier in the day.
Then because he had felt a little ashamed of himself he had added, "The Sun has just gone to sleep so he will be fresh in the morning - and you had best do the same."
The little tree had wanted to know what morning was but concluded he had better not ask. He was still perturbed, but in no time at all he was asleep and did not even dream once through the whole night.
The following morning he bad been much surprised. Of course the Sun was there, and all the other trees and the soil. But the surprising thing was that although he could not remember stretching - and always before he had known when he stretched - stretched he must have because his head was much higher - closer to the Sun, you know - than when he had gone to sleep. Such surprising things happened - and all at once, too.
But the little tree was happy - even with all his scares - and as the days passed he had noted with satisfaction that even during the day his head was getting higher and higher, closer and closer to the Sun. He had taken the soil's advice and scarcely asked a question now. His surroundings did not bother him now; he was so accustomed to them. He knew, without being told, that his body was called a trunk, and was he proud the day a little leaf had come out right on his very own trunk! It stayed there, too, making a very beautiful decoration, the little tree had thought. He did not mention it, however, since he had noticed that some of his companions were adorned with two and even three leaves. But he did not envy them. Not at all. There was, it had seemed to him, a point where too much finery just might not be in good taste. Anyway he had decided he would just wait and see how things turned out. And so time had passed, months of course, only the little tree did not know this because he could not read a calendar.
And something that moved had come among his group and tied something to his trunk. It had felt uncomfortable at first but soon he got used to it. As a decoration it might have had value except that all of his fellows had the same things attached to their trunks, so it had not given him any advantage. These somethings that moved among his group were quite queer. They did not look like trees, that is, not very much. And they made queer sounds when they spoke. The little tree had wondered what it would be like to move as they did, though perhaps he could never move exactly as they did because they had two trunks. He had tried to pull his roots loose so that he might try the experiment, but he had had to give it up because the soil clung to them so stubbornly he could not budge them. And the only answer he had received when he questioned the soil was the admonition, "Don't be silly." He had wondered, rather wistfully, what silly meant, but decided against asking.
After enjoying an untroubled life for another period of months, during which his head kept getting nearer and nearer the Sun, he was again per ..... No, this time he was really frightened. Some of those things that frequently moved among his group had come and looked at the thing tied to his trunk. And one of them had said, "Here is just what you are looking for, a sturdy Golden Glow Peach." This had sounded so funny that the little tree was almost convulsed. One of these things that moved had called him a Golden Glow Peach when he, and all his fellows knew, just as sure as sure, that he was a tree. But his laughter had been choked off when something hard had gone down through the soil very roughly, and had even cut off a portion of one of his roots. And then suddenly his roots were out of the soil and he was moving right through the ranks of his fellows without even touching the soil. He had tried to scream but it got clogged in his sap so that he scarcely had been able to breathe. He had heard faintly the taunting voice of the taller tree, who had answercd so many of his questions, saying, "Now you will know what go is."
If this was go the little tree had decided he did not like it the least little bit. In fact when he had recovered somewhat from his fright he resented it greatly. Just because he had asked about go had not meant that he really wanted to know. He had not been able to understand why he had to be shown merely because he had been inquisitive. Life was certainly becoming complex.
The go was not so bad, as he later discovered, for his roots had been placed back into a friendly soil that immediately closed about them in the most reassuring way. So the little tree had returned to his normal state of inquisitiveness, and looked about this new home eagerly. The Sun was still running races across the sky, which was comforting; and the soil was just as friendly as the old soil had been. Then he had taken a closer view of his surroundings. His companion trees were much farther away from each other, he had discovered, than in the nursery, and apparently he was the only little tree in this strange new place.
A large, grandfatherly tree was quite near and the little tree appealed to him for information.
"Is this a nursery?" he had wanted to know.
The grandfather tree had chuckled in a friendly fashion and then said, "No, this is an orchard."
"What is an orchard?" the little tree had questioned.
"A place where trees live," had been the reply.
"But I thought that place was a nursery; at least that is what the other little trees told me."
"Well," the grandfather tree had explained, "there are places and places. Trees live in both the nursery when they are young, and in the orchard when they are older."
"Oh, "the little tree had excitedly shaken the six limbs he had grown during his stay at the nursery, "a nursery is a nursery, but an orchard is a go."
"A go?" The grandfather tree had been very much puzzled until the little tree had explained about how the taller tree at the nursery had said there would be a time to go.
"I see." The grandfather tree had chuckled. "No, an orchard is not a go. A nursery is a nursery, and an orchard is an orchard, but what happened between the two is go."
This had not really helped the little tree very much, but he decided not to ask any more questions about it then.
"You are quite a big tree," the grandfather tree had approved, which gave the little tree a feeling of importance which was very nice - something like the nice feeling he had felt when stretching. "Next year," the grandfather tree had continued, "you will have fruit."
"What is fruit?" the little tree had demanded
"Wait and see," the grandfather tree had returned, and then, just like the soil had once said, he added, "just wait and in time you will know."
Such queer answers, the little tree had fretted to himself. Why were his questions not answered? It had seemed to him that it would have been just as easy to answer the questions as to tell him to wait. But he soon forgot it in his interest in himself and his surroundings. He had many leaves now, but instead of being on his trunk they were on his limbs. They gave him quite an effect, he had decided.
And so, many more months passed by. More limbs came out, and his older limbs kept growing longer and longer, and more leaves appeared. The little tree really had been thrilled down to his roots. And then one day something began to happen. He was not scared, or even perturbed, but he did wonder when his sap started working down to his roots instead of upward through his trunk and limbs.
"Do not think anything about it," the grandfather tree had counseled. "You are getting ready for the winter sleep."
"But I sleep each night," the little tree had protested. "And if I am to sleep during this winter - what is it? Does winter come between day and night or between night and day?"
"Neither," the grandfather tree had replied. "You have been through it before at the nursery, but you were too young to remember. Just wait, and in time you will find out."
But the little tree had been experiencing such a feeling of drowsiness that he had not resented the answer he had so often heard before. And he kept getting drowsier and drowsier so that he was not aware of it when his leaves fell off. And soon he forgot everything and drifted into a deep sleep.
Later, he had awakened - the grandfather tree told him it was springtime. Of course the little tree - he was bigger now even if he had slept - had really wanted to know what springtime meant, but he was too busy to ask. His sap, he had found, was coursing strongly through his trunk and limbs; the Sun was shining gaily; and his leaves were fairly popping out. Life, it had seemed to him, was very much worth while. This feeling, he had decided, must have some connection with the thing called spring, although he guessed there was no use wondering how this came about since he and all his tree friends had been asleep, so there was no one to answer his questions on such subjects.
And then, one day, he had been terrifically surprised because little white and pink things were suddenly all over his branches. Nothing frightening, of course, and really they wcre quite decorative, even more so than the leaves. He had been rather proud of this addition to his wardrobe. He noticed that the grandfather tree also had the same things on his limbs, only a great many more, of course, so he asked him for an explanation.
"They are blossoms," the grandfather tree had explained. "First the blossoms, then the fruit."
The little tree had decided against asking for information concerning fruit - he had done so once without result. Anyway he was very much occupied with events. Birds and bees were around all the time now. He had secured their names from the grandfather tree. They were lots of company and good fun. The birds would sit on his limbs and make pleasant noises - they were really quite pleasing. Of course their language was much harsher than the soft sighing tree language. And the bees seemed to get a great deal of pleasure from the blossoms, for they were around them and inside of them throughout the day.
Then there came a day of consternation - his blossoms were falling. He had appealed to the grandfather tree for advice. "My blossoms are falling off," he had excitedly called. "Am I going to fall apart?"
"Not at all," the grandfather tree had reassured.
"You are just getting ready for the fruit. You are a peach tree so your fruit will be peaches."
"Oh!" the little tree had acknowledged the information half-heartedly. It did seem such a shame to lose one's blossoms when they were so very attractive. He was sure he would feel naked or however one felt with less than a full quota of adornments.
But he survived the tragedy and had become quite engrossed watching the growth of his first fruit. At first he had been rather disappointed. The little green, knotty things were not pretty like his blossoms, and anyway he had expected something quite different. He couldn't picture exactly that which he had expected, the only thing he had been sure of was that he was not satisfied. But little by little, day by day, he had revised his opinions. There was no denying the fact they were getting better looking every day - all six of them. He had become quite enthusiastic and had even bragged just a little bit concerning his prowess to the grandfather tree. The grandfather tree had chuckled good naturedly.
But now came the day of real tragedy - the day we first made the acquaintance of the little tree. He had noticed those same things that moved on top of the soil at the at the nursery also moved in the same way in this orchard. At first he had been very suspicious of them, for he feared that he was destined for another go. But when nothing happened he gradually lost his suspicions, and he had even welcomed them coming round in a way - especially when they admired his dress of leaves and blossoms. But lately they had been admiring his fruit - had even touched them. He had not minded - much. Poor things. They didn't have any such large golden fruit as he had.
But horrors! These things that moved about the orchard pulled off his beautiful fruit-all six of them! Dastardly! How could he survive such a blow? His beautiful fruit his only fruit!
Mournfully he told the grandfather tree of the terrible act; told him of all the care he had taken of his fruit; of the pride he had in them - all gone for naught.
And the grandfather tree with gentleness consoled him. "Little tree, you have completed a cycle of your life. You were placed here to perform a duty."
"Who did that?" demanded the little tree. "Nobody ever told me about a duty. There have been go's and times and winters and springtimes, but never any duty."
At which the grandfather tree laughed heartily through all his many branches. "Listen," he said. "The things that took your fruit are called men. They think they placed you here. But that is not so. God, who made you, did that. And God gave you a duty to perform. He wanted you to grow leaves, after you had grown sturdy limbs. Then the birds could find rest and shade with you."
"Who made the birds ? "inquired the little tree. "Have they a duty? And why don 't they grow their own shade?"
"Now, now," reproved the grandfather tree, "not so many questions. I am telling you about yourself, though I'll tell you this about the birds: God made them as well as all other things."
"Is God a tree like us?" the little tree wanted to know.
"No," replied the grandfather tree. "Now let me finish with you. After your leaves were grown then the blossoms came. This you were to do as the first step to growing fruit. But also you added beauty to the world - and that is as important as fruit, really - for you were very pretty in your green leaves and pink blossoms."
The little tree preened himself. It was good to be appreciated, he thought.
"Also," continued the grandfather tree, "the blossoms contained food for the bees you so greatly admired. Then came the fruit which men will eat for they cannot eat sunlight as you do."
"I do not like them eating my fruit," said the little tree. "My peaches were so pretty."
"That," continued the grandfather tree, as though he had not been interrupted, "is why you are a tree. Just look what you have accomplished. You have sheltered birds, fed the bees, been a thing of great beauty, and now you have fed man. That is the duty God gave you as your share of life 's work. Next year you will do it all over again."
"Well," mused the little tree, "I hope God is satisfied. As for next year - I'll wait and in time I'll know - maybe."