Willow and her brother
When the breeze from the forest fanned her branches, Willow could almost hear the gossip of the blue jays and the news of her old friends. (photo by Rob Hanson via Wikimedia Commons)
On Tu b’Shevat, when we look down at Mother Earth, instead of up, to find the Creator of All, the rabbis like to tell the story of Willow.
Once, many Tu b’Shevats ago, a young tree named Willow grew in the forest. The wind that cooled the forest in the summer and carried the gossip of the blue jays had brought her seed to this shady spot in the forest.
It was not the best location, since it was next to a much older oak tree, who towered over Willow like a big brother. He was so high and leafy and strong that most of the birds chose him as a nesting place; Willow only had a couple of caterpillars, who lived in one of her leaves. But, what bothered her most was that this jolly green giant blocked most of her sky.
“If I had three wishes like you get in fairy tales, I’d wish for an open spot on the meadow, an open spot on the meadow, an open spot on the meadow,” murmured Willow when the wind blew through her leaves. This little tree didn’t want any big brother blocking her sun and rain.
All summer long, Willow twisted and bent to find the sun. Trees need sun like we need love, or they dry up and die. But that tall oak decorated with birds’ nests blocked the direct rays. Only pale yellow fingers of light touched Willow. And, when fall came and most of the trees began their six months of rest, Willow slept poorly because huge acorns rained down on her from the heavy limbs of the oak. Like hail they fell. Each one could rip off a leaf. After this hailstorm of acorns, she dozed. But not for long, for soon a blizzard of leaves from the giant Oak overwhelmed her. They piled up on the forest floor almost taller than her. She could barely breathe.
What bad luck, thought Willow. “If only my seed had landed in that open spot over by the brook,” she mused, “I could have all the sun I wanted and only the sweet rain, not acorns with pointy ends, would fall upon my leaves and roots.”
Willow didn’t know how lucky she was to have a big sheltering friend. Young trees who tried to grow in open places were often washed into the brook by the rainstorms. And, when it didn’t rain, the sun burned them up and turned them into dead, dry sticks. And, without a big tree to shield you from the wind, one wild blast and you could lose every leaf you own.
As Willow continued to doze the fall away, she was awakened suddenly one day from her favourite dream in which lightning toppled the big oak, bird nests and all, and left a big, blue, empty space in the sky. She heard voices – happy, laughing voices of children.
Before Willow was fully awake, these children, with the help of a sharp shovel, had pried her roots from the earth and dumped her in a wagon. What an experience. Lying on her side, her roots all exposed. The movement made her dizzy. Soon, she was well out of the forest – even past the brook.
Eventually, the wagon stopped and the children put her back into the earth. Her new home was their backyard.
She was the only tree in the yard. The sun and the rain and the stars were all hers. At night, she could look up and see every star in the sky twinkle down on her. Better yet, during the day, no leafy branches blocked her sun. “This is living,” thought Willow, smiling up at the warmth. “If only I had a few bird nests, life would be perfect.”
But soon she began to miss the big oak – the sun was awful hot. And, when the clouds came to block it, that meant rain would follow. A little rain tasted good, but sometimes the rain turned the backyard into a swamp that suffocated her roots. She was scared. It was no fun being the only tree in the yard, thought Willow.
It was lonesome, too. There was nobody to talk to except the telephone pole on the street. And he just made a shrill noise in the wind. What could a dead telephone pole say to a young tree? But, when the breeze from the forest fanned her branches, she could almost hear the gossip of the blue jays and the news of her old friends.
As the years passed, something happened that the other young trees in the forest had whispered about. Willow grew seeds, and the willing wind soon carried them away and one of them happily arrived at the very spot where Willow had lived – beneath the giant oak.
The oak kept the sun from burning the new willow up. He gently filtered the rain and never let the wind pull at the little sister that grew under the shelter of his limbs. Big brothers aren’t all bad.
Ted Roberts is a freelance writer and humorist living in Huntsville, Ala. His website is wonderwordworks.com.