Once there was a tree, and it loved a little boy. It was a tree like any other tree, its trunk twisted and turned, covered in old cracked bark ; its leaves fresh and green, glistening in the sun. Every Spring many birds played and quarreled in its treely hair, and yet it loved a little boy. How could this be ? Who knows...
Each single day the boy would come, and gather fallen leaves, and make them into crowns, and play king of the forest. The tree would look at its fallen leaves, once green and glistening in the sun, now dead and frail. They made good crowns, the tree thought, and the kid a fine king for the whole forest.
The child would climb up the tree's trunk, and swing from its branches, and eat its apples and figs and pears and cherries and plums and peaches. And they'd play hide-and-seek, and tag, and huckle buckle beanstalk. Once the boy grew tired he'd sleep in the tree's shade, and dream of an old tree with twisted trunk, and cracked bark, and green leaves glistening in the sun. How could a single tree grow so many different sorts of fruit ? Same way a single child could eat so many different sorts, perhaps.
The tree was very happy, but time went by. And even if time doesn't mean very much for trees, it does mean a whole of a lot to leaves. As the boy grew older and the tree was more and more often alone, it became very sad. A tree, for whom time doesn't mean very much, can get very sad indeed.
Then one day the boy came to the tree, and the tree perked up, and whispered in its leaves "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches! Come and eat my apples and my cherries and my peaches, and rest in my shade, and be happy!"
"I am too big to climb and play" said the boy looking sadly at the branches and the leaves and the fruit. "Now I must buy things to have fun. Now I need money." He looked distraught, and the tree felt desperately sad. What is this money ?
"I'm sorry," said the tree quietly, "but I am a tree. I have no money. I have only leaves and apples, and cherries, and plums and figs and peaches and pears. And branches, and my trunk, and underneath the grass my roots stretched out. What is this money ?"
"Oh, money is wonderful", said the boy. "Money is traded for anything in the world, money can get you anywhere and get you anything."
"The boy needs rain", the tree thought. "Here, my dear boy, come pick my apples, and my pears and my figs. Take them away to one that wants them, and trade them for this money, and be happy." said the tree.
The boy lit up, and climbed up the tree, and gathered its apples, and its pears, and its figs, and all its other fruits, stacked them carefully and carried them away. The tree felt a little barren, for it had no more fruit of any kind, as if in the depth of Winter. The little bugs living in the grass under his branches waiting for the fruit to fall were sad, and slowly moved away one by one, but the tree thought of his child, and how he now has money, and underneath its cracked bark it was a little happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree slowly became very sad. Then one day, the boy came back again, and the tree shook with joy. "Come, Boy," he said, "come and climb up my trunk! Come swing from my branches and be happy!"
"I am too sad to climb and swing, my dear tree", said the boy. "You see I've met a girl, and I love her and she loves me, and I want her to be mine. Yet she won't, because she says boys are fickle and who's to know what else tomorrow brings ?"
The tree was lost in thought. "Boys are fickle," it thought, "this girl is wise. Perhaps she could make the boy very happy indeed". And so it said, "My dear boy! Bring the girl here, under my branches, under my leaves that still to this day happily glisten in the sun. Tell her your love is forever, and carve your names in my bark to prove it."
The boy jumped straight up and ran off without a word, but the tree could tell he was very happy. And soon enough he was back, with a pretty girl with long hair, which the tree liked. She had no leaves in it, however, which the tree didn't like so much, so it put one or two in, just to be sure. Then they carved their names in its trunk, and made the shape of a little human heart right next, and then they loved each other in the tree's shade. And the tree was happy.
They left together hand in hand, and the tree didn't see its boy for a long time, but it wasn't sad. Now and again it'd look at the little human heart shape cut in its old, cracked bark and smile. It scratched a little, but was fine. Then one day, the boy came back, his face shadowed and forlorn.
"My dear boy!" exclaimed, alarmed, the tree, "What is the matter ?".
"I am not a boy, my dear tree. You are still a tree, and forever shall be, but I am not a boy nor can I ever be a boy again."
"So what are you then ?" wondered outloud the tree...
"I am a man."
"O yes, of course. Indeed. A man! But why are you sad ?"
"My wife is with child, my old, dear tree. She will deliver in the Winter, we'll need a house, we'll need to warm it, I do not know what one's to do."
"The boy is going to fruit," thought the tree, and somehow, strangely, was happy. "Listen to me now. Fruit I have no more, but cut some of my branches, enough to fashion yourself a place to stay, and use the older ones to make fire. You will be fine."
The man looked sadly at the tree and after a while wept and said "But no, I won't be cutting your branches."
"Listen to me," the tree said, "I have many and you need but a few. Take them and be happy, my dear man." And so the man cut some of the tree's branches, and carried them away. The tree wept through the cuts, and thought of this strange beast that is man, and its strange fruit. What will it be, the tree wondered. A kid, of course, but what kind ?
Then suddenly the tree smelt the quick smell of death and was scared. The leaves saw smoke and curled, afraid. The fire moved quickly over the brush, and soon its scorching heat could be plainly felt. The tree screamed from the depths of its roots, a fearful howl of immutable despair, but there was no one to hear.
Then it heard voices, and quick feet, and splashes of water. The tree could hear, distinctly, the voice of the man, and it could hear just as well water gurgle and splash. They're coming!
Indeed they came, and the fire was put out. The tree was not so badly hurt, just its bark a little scorched and some branches burned. Deep down it felt healthy, and it knew that in time it should all heal and be fine.
Then it saw the man. The man was very sad indeed.
"What is the matter?" asked the tree.
"My wife. My wife is the matter, dear tree. You see..." and the boy that used to be a man that used to be a boy stopped and gasped for breath, "... you see... my wife won't be delivering in Winter. She has been delivered, now."
The tree felt very sad, but did not know what to say.
"I wish to go away from this place", the man said.
"Well then..." the tree responded, "cut down my trunk, and carve it so as to make a boat, and go across the sea."
"Oh, tree!" said the man. "I do not wish to cut down your trunk and kill you."
"But I won't be dead," said the tree. "I just wouldn't have a trunk, or branches, or leaves or any fruit."
And so the man cut down its trunk, and fashioned it into a boat, and sailed across the sea. And he was away for a long, long time.
The tree wasn't really happy or sad, because without a trunk, or branches, or leaves or any fruit there isn't much to be happy or sad with. But even without, the stump that had once been a tree hoped to one day see the man again, and as the sun of every day set it hoped that it may see the man the next day, and the next day, and the next.
And so it went.
Until one day, when a very small dot on the horizon slowly grew to be a very old man. A very old man indeed. His back twisted and turned, and his footing unsure, and his hands and lips cracked like bark.
But even so the tree recognised the boy, and was so happy it could hardly speak. At long last it faintly said "Come, boy! Come and play", in a creaky, stumpy voice.
"Oh, tree... I am too old now, and too sad to play anymore. But I remember you, like I remember the days of my youth."
"I am sorry that all my fruit are gone and I have none to offer you, no leaves to shade you, no branches at all." said the tree, sadly. "I wish I could do something for you, because I love you so. But I am just an old stump. I am sorry!" and what was once a tree cried with big wet tears, or perhaps it was just the dew.
"My teeth are too weak for apples and pitted fruit now, dear tree" said the very old boy. "I am too old to swing in branches. I am too old to be happy now, you see, and too old to need much of anything at all. And I am too tired to go on. All I wish anymore is for a place on which to rest."
"Well," said the tree, straightening itself up, "well in that case, why don't you come sit on me ?"
And the old man sat on the tree stump.
This story owes a lot to Shel Silverstein.