THE YEARNING BIRCH

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY-TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. A birch tree growing next to a farmstead is musing about her life. Humans, she concludes are much better off than she is, for they can move around and do what they please and whenever they want, while a birch just stands still and is exposed to wind and weather. However, the longer her life last, the more she questions her initial assumptions...

 

ut in the yard of an old farmstead there once grew a magnificent tree. She was rather slim compared to her brethren, but that only gave her character – elegance she had, one might say: Her bark was white, and brightly so, and many of her thin boughs reached high up into the sky, with lots and lots of green-colored leaves on them; tiny they were, serrated, with a tinge of brown on the edges, and their overwhelming lushness did its fair share to make the tree a charming beauty. So at least it was from spring till autumn. She was a birch, our tree, and while not the tallest compared to others of her kind, she was a sight to behold and a part of the farmstead as much as the farmhouse itself.

Yet, our birch wasn't happy. You see, she stood there all alone by herself on that yard, firmly rooted, but aiming high, as is a tree's destiny, but so is staying on the very same spot. Over the years the birch grew and grew and her trunk became stronger and her branches thicker, but she had to stay where she was, and sometimes she asked herself, why it had to be like that.

Sure, there was the wind: Our birch liked being caressed, stroked, shaken, stirred by him, he was her companion. Often he would give a furtive whistle and swirl around her like a dancer; and she’d let her leaves rustle, touched by his frivolous flurries, the whole wealth of her twigs caught up in the passionate, turbulent embrace. Even the strong gusts that bent and strained her at times she loved, for they reminded her how alive she was, how steadfast and persistent she could be. She felt so too in heavy weather when sheets of rain came down or fresh snow burdened her for days. It were days like these she learned to look forward to.

None the less, all those pleasures and challenges of nature didn’t convince the birch that being a tree was the right thing for her. While unable to move, she had of course witnessed others: the lives of men and women and the animals they kept, and she used to observe the fate of things too that people carried around; even the passing of the clouds above she followed with genuine interest. The more she watched, the more the birch became envious of everything that was in motion, that either moved all by itself or was driven, pushed, carried by someone or something towards a certain place or goal, it didn’t matter. She yearned to become one of those creatures or things. Most of all she would have liked to be a human. Humans were her dream.

Yes, our birch fancied these two-legged creatures the most, because they dominated over everything, they were the masters of all there was. Humans walked or ran or tiptoed or skipped or made somersaults, and they often talked or sang or shouted or whispered in another person's ear – ah, it was quite a fascinating pastime to watch what these people were up to! Humans also hadn't just useless branches like trees had, but hands and fingers, they used for toiling, and sometimes they made new things out of others. The smaller ones played in the grass next to the birch most of the time, the grown-ups drove carts with barrels around, washed clothes, fed the hens and the pigs, and then there were days that turned into long evenings when they all celebrated as if there were no tomorrow.

The key to happiness lay in their own hands, or so it seemed to the birch, unlike in a tree's life, for a tree just waits and waits, waits for day, night, wind and rain to arrive, and snow in the winter. However, the humans choose where to head, what to pursue and what to leave be, they enjoy doing all kinds of different things, and despite all the routine in everyday life there's always something new they discover or can try. 'Life for sure doesn't get boring when you're a human', so the birch thought, while she spent her time daydreaming, envisioning what she missed, fantasizing about everything she was not destined to be.

Every now and then one of the little ones living in the farmstead came to the birch and hugged her for no apparent reason. Or a toddler put an arm around the trunk and whirled its body around it, and again and again, on and on. It was almost as if child and tree danced together, just like the humans did among themselves! What would the birch have given to be able to speak and ask for another dance when she felt sad! Not that the tree knew why she deserved the sudden attention, but she enjoyed it whenever it was given, and looked forward to many happy returns. Though at other times young rascals snuck around her, who scratched at the trunk and ripped bark from her for the fun of it, and made our birch feel hurt and naked. Not all humans were such who knew how to treat a birch!

Most of all, the birch was in high spirits when she watched over two lovers: one a handsome youth and a buxom maid from the farmstead. The two once sat down together at the tree's roots to eat and drink, rejoice in one's company, tease each other and make many a promise and plan for the future. And one day there was a special occasion: The boy dared to kiss the girl, and then she kissed him back, and at last, in order to seal their eternal love – albeit to the birch's horror –, the youth pulled a knife out of his pocket, and with it he carved a heart and other human signs into the bark for everyone to see. This happened only once though, and the birch eventually learned that the youths saw it as part of a ritual, that the two lovers often returned to her because of the carving, and that it had a very special place in their hearts. Thu the birch learned to wear the wound with pride. It connected her with the people from the farmstead, and gave her a reason to be.

Winter came, spring, summer, autumn, then another winter, and spring again. Soon after the sun had come out once more from her wintry retreat, there was a big feast when the couple that had once sat under the birch's rustling leaves turned into bride and groom. Every other human congratulated them, was merry, sang songs, danced, drank the most expensive wine there was and ate a large piece of wedding cake. The next year a little one was born to the two newly-weds, and a cradle was placed next to our tree, which made the latter of course feel all the more important. The young parents must have thought about the heart they had carved into its bark, the birch mused, and she considered herself a part of the newly founded family as much as that little on in the cradle. Standing next to the child she felt like her protector. Well, she provided some shadow, so much was true. It wasn’t that much maybe, and such ambitions might sound like a ridiculous notion to a human of course; after all there was nothing the birch could have done to save the child in face of danger. However, the thought alone meant the world to a lonesome tree, intent on finding a purpose in her otherwise rather predictable life.

More seasons changed, years and years went by. The child that once had rocked in the cradle turned into a boy, came of age and before he knew it, he was an adult himself. The birch, who had always loved the little one dearly, had seen him grow up, and the more he became his own self, the more the tree grew distant again from him and his parents. That was because she became aware of her own limitations again when she saw that young man, who once had played in the yard as a little boy, and now often ventured forth, only to pay a visit to his parent's farmstead every few months or so. 'There is a world to see outside the farm', the birch mused, 'and I am lingering around here and can do nothing but watch as time goes by.' She enjoyed having been part of the boy's life as long as it lasted, and when he left the birch was wistful and sometimes even bitter, for she thought that she was entitled to share more of her life with him. However, no matter how long he was absent, every time he returned home she was filled with elation. Oh, you can bet that you could hear her twigs rustling mirthfully in the wind when she saw light streaming out of the house's windows long, long into the night! She imagined the family sitting around the table at a hearty meal and that there was a lot of talk, as was common at times like these, that much she knew by now. The birch was sure that the son recounted his many adventures, his successes, his prospects, and maybe his failures too, and she also imagined that he received the one or the other helpful advice from the elders, which he'd try to follow upon setting out again.

As for the elders: One day the birch saw how the farmhouse people put one of them, it was the grandfather, in a wooden box, which they then carried away. The whole family was garbed in black that day, and they all went up a nearby hill, where the coffin was lowered into the earth near a grove. There was a lot of sobbing and weeping, and wailing and whimpering. The mourning went on for weeks. However, not very long after that the family gathered again, and the same thing repeated itself: Another wooden box was made, this time for the grandmother, and the trail once more set in motion towards the grave of her husband. Thus, she was committed as well to the ground, never to return to the farmstead. It was then that the birch realized the mortality of men, that they became old and frail, and that the two legs that used to carry them couldn't carry them forever. Once that happened, they resorted to resting more often, and when they couldn't do anything else but rest, they were carried away in that coffin, in order to rest for eternity in the earth, having become just like it: immobile as stone.

The birch thought a lot about all this, and while she was sad that she had to see trusted people go, she pondered also about what that meant for her:

'I've envied these men so much, because they can move around just as they see fit, and yet it seems they have to pay a dear price for doing so all their life. They also have more of their own around, company they can visit, talk to, play with, enjoy life with, and a world to discover that lies beyond the horizon. I have none of those things. I stand alone and cannot walk away if I so fancy. My whole world is here with me, it's only wind for me and rain and sunshine and snow in winter. Aside from that all I can do is listen to what these people say and use my imagination to fill it with life.

In secret, I might have despised being what I am for a long time. But whatever I am or whatever I am not, I still feel strong and sturdy, unlike these men. Maybe that’s because of how I am – just standing here on one spot, immobile, rooted, as an observer, living by what I see and what I imagine. Could be a man pities me for not being able to be like him, but maybe it's by the Gods' volition that we are different and each has to fulfill one's role.'


So the birch thought. A seed of understanding had been planted, and the understanding would still grow in the coming years. The longer the tree lived, the taller the birch became, the wiser she got as well, for she saw many a winter pass, and quite a few coffins being carried up that hill, yet also more lovers kissing at her roots, and children being born and growing up with her. It went on like that a hundred years, two hundred and more, and at some point the birch perceived that she was the only survivor of everything that had happened at the farmstead in all those many years. Every single one of the people she had begun her life with, had moved on to the peaceful grove on the hill: the lovers who had carved their names into her bark, their son, the second born and also the third, they all had gone up there by now; and these children had children, and these in turn had some on their own, and all of them were gone now, except the very last and their little ones. Once again, a cradle rocked under the tree’s branches like many years ago. In the meantime, the farmstead had changed quite a bit as well: a fire had destroyed a part of the house, and it had to be rebuild, and it was much prettier now, but it wasn't the same anymore. The people also had put up a brand-new barn close to the fences that corralled the horses, and there were more animals around and different kinds as well; and when summer came, the meadows were lusher, more colorful and beautiful as ever before.

When the birch itself turned old and frail, she wasn't sad though, for she had been given more time to live than any single man she had ever known. Men lived fast and forgot fast; they only remembered their grandparents who lived with them, but had no notion how their grandparents' father and mother or even their parents got to know, to love each other, and how the birch played her part in it. In a way by being around, by never moving, the birch was a monument of times past, of pleasures and tragedies long forgotten, a guardian of the land and the lives that had inhabited it for centuries, a spirit that connected what was ancient with what was new.

On the day when one of the woodcutters came to finally take the birch down, she didn't yearn anymore like in her early days to be something she was not. Rather she was thankful for what she had witnessed in her long life. In the last moments, the old tree looked over to the hill with the graves in it. She wondered how that hill felt at this day when one of his trusted, but quiet neighbors was about to end up as firewood. She was sure however that their thoughts must somehow be alike. 'For nothing is really gone forever,' she said to herself. 'And just as I have carried with me the spirit of generations of men, so this hill will carry on the spirit of a birch once it is no more.'

Thus, the birch was indeed made into firewood, and it warmed the family inside the farmhouse this winter, a family of people she had envied so much back in the olden days. Outside, the wind soughed and howled, and it wailed and whimpered. He also fiercely shook the whole grove on the hill, for he had just lost one of its playmates. The hill for his part watched the farmstead from the distance. Through the window he saw the flames of lively burning logs in the fireplace, and had he been able to show emotions like the humans, the hill would have shed a tear – and perhaps smiled a bit as well.
 


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Fairy-tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile