The Little Tree

by Susan A. Katz & Sharon Ruchman

The Little Tree That Wouldn’t Listen to the Seasons

Story by Susan A. Katz, Music by Sharon Ruchman

     In a lively forest nestled between a high mountain and a bubbling stream that bounced over rocks like a startled deer, stood a small thin tree. Its trunk was slender, straight and sturdy.  Its branches, covered with glistening green leaves, waved and swayed in the toughening breezes of late summer. All round the little tree tall and dignified stood older trees.  They had seen the passing of many seasons in the years of their time.  Their stout trunks, scarred by wear and weather, were held deep by roots that grasped the earth like giant fingers.  Their branches, thick and twisted, were covered in leafy coats of summer green.

    “Fall is coming,” muttered the oldest tree, an Oak whose branches housed in summer, nesting birds,  hooting owls and scampering squirrels. His trunk had taken root half way up the mountain where each spring, melting winter snows raced around him, and splashed gleefully into the stream below.

    “Yes, indeed,” answered a particularly graceful Willow tree standing quite close to the edge of the water.  She sighed wistfully as she waved one long, curving branch in elegant circles.  “Yes, indeed!

I feel my sap starting to thicken and my leaves beginning to dry.”

    “Mark my words, winter will not be long in coming this year,” bellowed an old gnarled Maple tree whose branches spread out over the little tree like an umbrella.  The small tree leaned slightly to the left to get his full share of sunshine.  “It’ll be a hard winter,” prophesied the old tree.  “The furry caterpillars are munching furiously on my foliage, and I can feel the soil turning hard and cold.”

    The little tree heard the talk buzzing around him, but did not pay much attention.  He was too busy admiring how shiny his leaves were, where the sun touched them, and what a pleasant sound they made as they brushed one another.  He was too busy noticing how small droplets of dew still clung to the tips of some of his leaves like rare jewels.  He was too occupied with bending and stretching to see if he might catch a glimpse of his reflection in the stream.

     The days passed with the certainty of sun’s rise and sun’s set. But each morning, the warming rays of the sun appeared later, and each evening, the sun, weary from its long summer romp across the sky, set behind the mountains a little earlier.  The dark night grew colder, and the sun’s rays grew weaker.

All around the little tree, the bigger, older, wiser trees were turning their leaves into autumn rainbows.  Gold-speckled, burnt-orange, buttery-yellow, bronzed-brown, riotous-red leaves flamed in symphonies of color.  But the littlest tree stayed green.  Not a single leaf had turned.

     “It’s Fall, little one,” cautioned the lovely lady tree.  “You must turn your leaves to color so that they can fall in time for winter.”

     “No!” said the little tree.  “I will not turn my leaves to color and let them fall.  I like the way I look all

covered in green.  I like the way my leaves whisper to one another.  I like how beautiful I am.  I do not want to be empty and plain all winter.  No!” said the little tree again. “I will not let my leaves turn color and fall.”

     “But you must!  It is the way of trees. Winter will come and you will be sorry.”  The old Maple shook his branches and a waterfall of leaves showered down on the little tree below.

     “Oh my, yes indeed,” said the Oak on the mountain.  “I have seen many winters.  I have lived through many storms.  You must turn your leaves loose and bend beneath the weight of winter.”

     “I won’t,” the little tree pouted.  “I will not be all bare and brown and ugly.  I like myself just the way I am, and I am not going to change no matter what!”  With a grumpy “harrumph,” the little tree waved his leafy green branches dramatically, not letting a single leaf fall to the ground.

There came a hard feel to the air.  In the mornings, instead of dew, a fragile coating of frost covered the little tree’s leaves.  Still, he thought, how lovely he looked with his bright green leaves shining beneath the hard breath of winter’s warning.  All the other trees were almost bare now.  Only a few leaves still clung here and there, reminding them of their summer finery.  The birds had abandoned their nests, and their calls had faded in the distance as they headed south to warmer weather.  The surface of the small stream had turned crisp, the squirrels were safe in snug brays filled with gathered nuts, and the prowling owls had headed for warm barns filled with fat mice hiding in the hay.

     “Look at you” snapped the little tree. “You are all bare and brown.  Your branches are empty and ugly.  You have no leaves.  You have nothing to shine in the sun.  You have nothing to whisper in the wind.  You will be cold when winter winds blow and your branches will scratch together like the squawking of crows.  But I will be warm inside my leafy cloak, and my song, when the winds blow, will still be summer sweet.”

     “You are a vain and foolish little tree,” said the Willow in a scolding tone.  “Let your leaves fall.  Listen to the voice of the seasons.”

     “You are a silly and stubborn little tree,” said the Oak on the mountain.  “Time will teach you a lesson you will not like learning.”

     “You are inflexible as stone,” said the mammoth Maple.  “You will sing a different song when winter’s fury whistles the tune.”

     All the trees in the charming little forest chimed in to echo the warning of the Oak, the Maple, and the Willow.  “Let go your leaves,” they cried.  “Little tree, little tree, let go your leaves and listen to the seasons.”

     But the little tree did not listen  He shook his leafy boughs defiantly and laughed as they brushed against one another serenading the wind.

     Fall came and went, and fast on its heels, winter stormed into the forest.  Furiously the winds blew, cold and careless.  The wise, old trees with their empty, bared limbs, swayed and bent, quivered and creaked, but the wind couldn’t harm them.  The little tree did not fare so well.  The wind ripped at his thick covering of leaves, tearing some of them painfully from his shivering branches, shredding others into slivers, as he tried desperately to hold them in place.

And then the snows came.  Small fluffy flakes fell in delicate swirls, twisting and twirling, settling daintily in the many crooks and crevices of the forest trees, and sprinkling their bare limbs with a dusty sugar coating. But on the limbs of the little tree, flakes stacked up higher and higher, heavier and heavier.

     The storm grew stronger.  The wind blew harder.  The bare trees stood staunchly in the wind, as the snow slipped off their slick limbs to land in plump piles on the ground.  But the little tree was struggling under the weight of the snow, lumped like stones on every inch of his leaf-laden branches.  The wind tore at the now heavy boughs, and first one and then another creaked and cracked and snapped in the attack.

     The little tree cried aloud, “Oh, how I would love to turn my leaves to color and let them fall, so that the snow would not weigh me down.  But my sap is frozen, and I am too cold and broken. What is to become of me?”

     The wise old trees, without leaves to burden them, had fallen into a serene sleep, and were silent and still.

     Winter roared throughout the land like a wild, white wolf, and the earth turned hard and brittle, and the little tree spoke no more.

Spring skipped in one day on the wings of a warm breeze. The small stream could be heard gurgling again under its surface of ice.  Snow melted and dripped off rocks and trees, and raced down off the mountain, swirling gracefully around the feet of the old Oak.  Each day the sun stayed longer in the sky.  Each night the moon and stars faded sooner into light, and the earth softened, encouraging small shoots to burst into the sunshine.

     The old Oak, Maple and Willow, moved stiffly at first, as the sap began to flow sluggishly back through their trunks and limbs.  Life tingled joyously into their bare branches, and small hard buds popped out like promises, and in the warm embrace of sunshine, began to open into the tiniest beginnings of leaves. 

     The trees talked together in melodious tones, inquiring of one another how they had come through the long, hard winter.  The Willow lamented, having lost one long sinewy limb that had been broken in an ice storm.  The Oak had come through the winter with only one slightly bent branch that hung a bit lopsidedly from the topmost part of his trunk.  The Maple suffered not at all.  Suddenly, the Willow remembered the little tree.  She looked over to where he stood, slightly hidden beneath the Maple.

     “Oh my,” she gasped. “Look at you little tree.  You are a dreadful mess.  Your branches are bent and broken and your trunk seems to be leaning precariously.  You look as if a small breeze might topple you right over.”

     “Poor, stubborn little tree,” said the Oak.  “If only you had listened to the seasons.” 

     “Little tree” asked the Maple, “are you all right?  Are your roots still buried deep in the ground?  Can you feel the sap flowing inside you?”

     The little tree spoke in a small teary voice.  “My roots are barely hanging on.  My biggest branches have been snapped right off and my small branches are twisted and lifeless.  The sap is flowing slowly and I can feel only very few buds popping out, and I think I will not even have enough leaves to hide a sparrow’s nest.”

     The little forest grew silent.  It was a frightful thing to see a tree so battered and broken.

     The Maple tree sighed sadly.  “Listen to me little tree. I will help you.  I will wrap my branches about you when the lightening flashes and thunder booms.  I will twine my roots around your roots to keep them safely in the ground.  I will lean away from you when the sun shines, so that it can seep into you and make you strong.  I will help you little tree to grow whole again.”

     And all through the long, leisurely summer days and nights, the faithful Maple protected the little tree.  And as summer grew fat with flowers and fragrance, the little tree grew straight and strong and leafy once more.

As the sun broke through the clouds one frosty autumn morning, the Willow looked around, and suddenly her lilting laughter could be heard echoing over the stream, and trickling up the sides of the mountain.

     “Wise little tree,” she murmured.

     (The Oak and the Maple, and all of the forest trees turned to look at the little tree.  They rustled their leaves happily.  The little tree had learned his lesson well.  He had turned his small canopy of leaves to red and gold and yellow and bronze, and some he had even coaxed to flutter like lazy butterflies to the ground)

     “Well done, little tree,” exclaimed the Oak on the Mountain.

     “Clever little tree,” praised the sinuous Willow.

     “What have you learned little tree?”  asked the devoted Maple.

     “I have learned a lot,” said the proud little tree.  “I have learned to listen.  I have learned that it is far better to bend than to break, better to be sometimes bare and plain than to be always beautiful, and that to be able to grow, I must be willing to change.”

     The listening forest sighed contentedly.

     The little tree had learned to listen to the seasons.

-The End and the Beginning………”

c 2015