Chris woke with a start. His eyes darted back and forth, and his breath came in quick panting rasps. He focused on the light that came through the window curtains. Slowly, slowly, he remembered where he was … he remembered who he was, what he was.
He looked over at the nightstand to see if it was true, if the book was real. There it was, right where he left it last night. It lay open to the very page he had read before he fell asleep. Could that be what had prompted him to dream that wonderful dream? Could that book cause him to consider his soul or the afterlife? He woke up so uncertain about himself. He used to think that if you ignored something, it would go away. But now his mind took him to dangerous places, places where he would have to acknowledge a power greater than he. His struggling psyche screamed out the question: It’s only a book of old men telling even older stories, isn’t it?
Chris reached down and pulled the sheet up over his head. Maybe he could go back to sleep. Although he had slept last night, he hadn’t gotten any rest. Tossing and turning, he finally gave up and threw the covers off in disgust. He stomped through his morning routine mad at himself for falling prey to the ideas that came from that book lying so innocently on the polished wood.
He picked it up, and his eyes caught the last phrase he read last night, just before falling asleep. That straightforward combination of letters struck him with its simplicity, its uncomplicated message. How could the application of ink to paper cause anyone such anguish? The message, even though it was simple on the face of it, was hidden to him, as if the surface meaning only served as an invitation to the richer depths living just out of reach.
He carefully set the book down and drew his hand across the cover. A sudden shiver caught him, and he sat down on the bed, remembering.
He had fallen asleep after reading just a few pages. The dream that consumed his rest started out peacefully. Chris found himself walking along a narrow stream. The air was golden as the sun sifted through the evening sky. He passed among bushes and shrubs flowering in brilliant colors. The trees scattered along the banks looked ancient and stately, their canopy of leaves sheltering much of the stream. Here and there he saw a stump. Some cut off cleanly, some ragged and others burned.
Chris remembered that a conversation had been going on while he walked, but he couldn’t see any other people around. Not a soul was in sight as he looked up and down the little swale in the meadow where the water gently flowed.
The conversation became more insistent, but still, Chris could not see who was talking, nor could he make out what was being said. He knew that words were being spoken but he could not pull any meaning from them.
The stream had been widening as he walked along its softly sloped banks even though no others had joined it. Chris remembered thinking that it must have been spring fed even though that did not explain why it was increasing its flow.
He saw a Creature swimming with a speed that belied its size. For, even though it darted back and forth with incredible speed, it looked pale and nebulous. Not only that, but it did not make any disturbances in the water. Chris watched it dart off just out of sight and then suddenly appear in his vision with something in its mouth.
As the Creature swam toward one of the trees, it leaped high into the air before settling back to land on the root of the tree on the other side of the stream. It then carefully placed the object on a root of the tree. As quick as a blink, it leaped back into the air and plunged into the water, still not making a sound or splash.
He looked at the place where the Creature had landed on the tree. The object had disappeared. There was not so much as a drop of water where it had been placed on the exposed root.
Chris looked back at the water and saw the Creature again. He followed along the bank and this time, the Creature flew out of the water toward a tree on the same side as Chris. Again, the graceful arc as it plunged through the air toward the base of a tree. This time, it placed the object, small and pearl-like, on the tree root. It was lightning fast, but very deliberate as it released it.
He looked closely at the pearl and watched it dissolve into the bark of the tree. It dissolved so quickly and completely, it seemed to become part of the tree.
Chris remembered that it was just a dream as he shook himself back to reality. It just all seemed so real. For example, walking under the trees was cool compared to walking in the harsh light of the sun. And when he splashed some of the water from the stream on his face, it was refreshing, and it tasted sweet. And the air was so easy to breathe, it was almost effortless. And the breeze was soft and the shade so relaxing ….
Chris found himself back in the dream walking along the stream, watching the Creature place a pearl on the tree roots. Back and forth it weaved its way. He noticed that the trees that had not yet received a pearl drooped noticeably. As the Creature ‘fed’ the tree, it grew straighter and spread its branches out farther, gathering more sunshine and casting a larger canopy of shade.
By this time, the water was too wide to jump, but, here and there, a rock stood out of the water to make a steppingstone. Chris crossed the stream several times as he made his way following the current.
After a while, He sat down with his back against a tree. The water gurgled quietly below his feet. As the afternoon sun moved slowly across the sky, He watched the shadow patterns change on the grass around him. He grew sleepy in his dream, and the gentle breeze and soothing sounds from the water drew him into slumber.
He woke to the sound of conversation. Again, Chris looked for the source but could not find it. Shaking his head, he got up to continue his walk along the bank. The sun was sinking below the hill to the west, and dusk began to settle in the valley.
As soon as the sun disappeared, the voices grew in number and intensity. And with the voices, a wind began knifing through the valley, devouring the memory of the soft summer day as it bent branch and twig. The voices, Chris discovered, were in the wind.
Moving behind a tree, he got out of the wind but could not escape the sound, a high, keening wail that was both mournful and filled with hate. The wind provided a fitting backdrop for the voices that now became clear. What once were indistinct voices mumbling in the distance had become scornful, wailing shriekings, at the same time both accusing and hopeless.
Chris buried his head in his arms as he cowered against the tree. The bliss of the day had been ripped away and shredded. The memory of the beautiful sunlit valley with its graceful and stately trees was forgotten, replaced by the presence of a hatred so palpable it could be felt even though it could not be seen.
The voices pierced his thoughts, screaming at him to leave the stream and the valley and experience what was just over the ridge. The voices kept up their call to escape to freedom until Chris could think of nothing else. Even the tree he had been clinging to was forgotten in the onslaught of the wind.
Suddenly, as quickly as it had begun, it ended. The air stilled as the leaves and branches returned to their resting places. Chris still gripped the tree, his fingers dug into the thick bark. His face had the texture of the bark where he had pressed himself into it. For several moments, Chris could not release the tension in his arms and hands. He found that his teeth were clenched and that all the muscles in his back and shoulders were tight.
Finally, he was able to let go of the tree. He fell onto his back and rested, willing his muscles to relax. The morning sun began to push the darkness from the sky and soon broke over the eastern ridge, spilling sunlight and warmth into the valley. Chris turned his face toward the warm glow, his eyes still closed. The warmth was soothing and soon, all the pleasant memories of the previous day came back to him.
A gentle breeze tickled the leaves and the stream could be heard again. Chris opened his eyes to the sunlight reaching invitingly to him. Sitting up, he and breathed in deep air that smelled of tree and warm earth. Looking at the water, he again saw the Creature darting back and forth, feeding the trees.
Seeing the pearls dissolve on the trees reminded him that he had not eaten for some time. The hunger grew in him till he could think of little else. Would the Creature feed him? He sat down on the bank, dangling his feet in the clear water. He watched the Creature swim past several times as it fed the trees on either side of him.
Frustrated that he was being passed up, Chris yelled at the Creature and asked it for food. The Creature stopped and looked directly at the man. Chris was unprepared for this response and suddenly felt afraid.
“What is it that you desire of me?” the Creature asked.
Chris looked at the Creature in wonder. He had heard the words, but the Creature was still under water. How could that be?
Again, the Creature asked, “What is it that you desire of me?”
“I, I, I am hungry.” Was all he could stammer.
“This food is not fit for your kind. You are too easily blown away by the power of the charlatan wind.”
The Creature watched for a response. Chris sputtered “Then what shall I do? There is no food here in the valley for me, and I must eat.”
“Become a tree.” Was the response from the Creature. Apparently, this was a normal and natural thing to do in this dream world.
Chris told the Creature that he would gladly become a tree like these around him. They were stately and solid, and they exuded peace and contentment, all of which had eluded him. “But how does one do that? I mean, how do I become a tree?”
“Listen to the water. Listen with your ears but hear with your heart.” And with that, the Creature dipped its head and swam off to retrieve another pearl for another tree.
Chris sat still for some time. He felt the sun move across the sky as he contemplated the Creature’s words, but he could not understand them. What language did the water speak? How could he hear it? How often did it speak? Did he have to be near the stream to hear it? Did the water know he was here? How would he know that it was the water talking to him? Did it sound like the voices he heard screaming at him in the wind last night?
He sincerely hoped not.
Chris finally decided that he would stay near the bank. He would watch for the Creature and would find protection under the trees. He would walk along the stream and listen for the water. He hoped he would find food soon.
Chris traveled in dream time as he made his way along the water. He passed through groves of trees, some densely forested, some with only a few trees. Some trees were tall and stately, others were short with very thick trunks. There were young saplings, some vibrant and supple, and some were sickly looking. Chris came across an area where some trees had moved away from the stream. He noticed that the farther away from the they got, the less they looked like trees.
Soon daylight gave way to dusk, and dusk dissolved into night. The darkening sky reminded Chris of the fierce wind and screaming voices of the night before. He was afraid that he might not have the strength to hold on to a tree all night if the wind called on him again.
“Drink some water.”
Startled, Chris looked around to see who it was that spoke to him. It was little more than a whisper. No one was there. Of course, it was dark, so someone might be hiding just out of sight. He turned back toward the tree he had decided to anchor to.
“Drink some water.”
Again, Chris spun around, looking for the owner of the voice. But again, no one was there. Was his hunger making his mind hear strange things? ‘But if that is all that I was told to do,’ he mused, that’s not so bad. It’s not like I was told to do something hard.’
Chris shrugged his shoulders and carefully climbed down the bank. He noticed the force of the current as the stream flowed smoothly past him. Dipping his hand into the liquid, Chris felt the first tug of the wind. He lifted the water to his lips while he kept watch for the owners of the night voices.
Feeling full, Chris went back to the tree and circled around the wide trunk until he found shelter from the rising wind. He sank to the ground and wrapped his arms around until he found handholds in the bark. Then he settled in for another sleepless, fear-filled night.
The wind picked up, but not to the level it had been last night. The air chilled perceptibly, however, and soon Chris was shivering. Again, the voices began calling to him. Some were from great distances, some were nearby, but all called to him. ‘There is a warm fire just over the ridge’, some would say. Others called out ‘You don’t want to stay near the water.’ Still others invited him to join them in their comfortable surroundings, but always away from the stream.
The tree was solid. It held its ground and, like the tree last night, protected Chris from the wind. It seemed to invite Chris to come close and share its strength. And it never suggested that Chris look more like a tree in order to benefit from its gifts.
This night was not as frightening as the previous night. Chris slept off and on and only woke up to find a more comfortable position. All in all, the tree did not make a very comfortable pillow, but certainly gave him every benefit it could.
Morning stroked the valley and woke Chris with a caress. The slow stretching and yawning that brought him to consciousness eventually loosened tightened muscles and he stood up, raising his arms over his head in a final, glorious stretch.
‘Hard pillow or not,’ Chris thought, ‘I haven’t felt this rested in years!’ He stepped over to the bank and looked at the water flowing steady and deep. He smiled as he caught sight of the Creature swimming up and down, feeding the trees.
That thought made him realize that he wasn’t hungry. In fact, he hadn’t been hungry since last night, when he drank from the stream. Chris knew then that the voice he had heard last night was the water talking to him. It knew he was hungry and knew how to take care of him!
“Good morning, stream.” Chris said, hoping to start a conversation. “I want to thank you for feeding me last night.” Chris paused, waiting for the water to join in the conversation. “Uh, can you help me become a tree? The Creature says I need to become a tree before I can be fed. But you fed me anyway. Maybe I can just drink from the stream and be full!”
The Creature jumped out of the water and arced gracefully over Chris’ head as it fed the tree Chris had slept under. It spoke to him on the way back. “No, that is not possible. You will continue to be what you are, and although you may live a long time, it will not sustain your soul for any longer than it can sustain your body.” And with that, it slipped into the stream without making a splash or a ripple.
Chris tried to reason out what he had just been told. After puzzling over it for some time, he became irritated and upset. “This is just one Mystery after another!” he thought. “First, you hear one thing, and then you see another thing and neither one of them seems to belong to the other, but they are coming from the same source!”
Chris decided that the stream was the beginning of the confusion and maybe the night voices were right. Maybe Chris should leave and see what was over the ridge. He stared hard in that direction. It was formed of rough, broken boulders scattered in dense pockets, broken up by thick growths of vines and nettles. It didn’t look all that inviting to him.
‘Maybe it looks better when you get close to it.’ Chris reasoned. And with that, he took off toward the ridge at a determined pace.
Each step brought him closer to the rocks and thorns. They weren’t looking any better to him than they did from bank of the stream. In fact, they looked much more menacing the closer he got. They looked impenetrable.
Maybe this isn’t the proper place to climb to the ridge, Chris thought, and he went back to the water for another drink of water. He had decided to continue his walk along the water where he had provisions and protection and keep his eye on the ridge for a break in the barrier formed by rock and vine.
When he dipped his hand into the water for a drink, he found that the water would not let him in. His hand seemed to have hit a solid even though it flowed just as it always had. Chris tried again, and again had the same results. This upset him even more. The stream would not let him gain strength from its magnificent supply. Chris felt he had been cheated!
At that moment, the Creature swam past and scolded him. “Do not think that the stream exists for your pleasure. It was here long before you arrived, and it will be here long after. It is the stream that creates and sustains, but it does this at its own will. Your will is not of consequence.” The Creature zipped away and delivered its pearl, then returned. “You have been given a small grace from the source of all. Do not think that because you received one grace you are entitled to all. Foolish man! There are powers beyond you that are craving your soul. Look to that first, and then see to the needs of the body!”
This time, the Creature flipped itself into the air in an energetic display and slipped silently back into the soft waters. Chris stared after it for a long while. He wondered about the powers that craved his soul. What could that mean? Is there danger here in this valley? Would the trees protect him? Should he leave this valley? Is there safety beyond the ridge?
He wandered along the banks the whole day. He didn’t listen for the stream or watch for the Creature. He didn’t look at the ridge or wonder what was beyond it. He just stared ahead at the expanse of green broken by the stripe of blue and dotted with the brown and darker green of the trees. His mind found no new answers, but he did come to some compelling conclusions: The valley was peaceful except for the voices that came at night, the trees were strong and seemed patient, both things that he was not, the water had talked to him and had helped him.
After a while, Chris began to pay attention to the things around him once more. The water was deeper here than it had been. It was broader, too. The trees here were more spread out, but they were larger, with huge canopies of leaves spreading out across the sky. Their trunks were so large and the bark so thick that Chris felt he could climb up to the very top of the branches.
“Why don’t you?” a deep voice said.
“Why don’t I what?” Chris asked.
“Why don’t you climb up on my shoulders and see what it will be like to be a tree. Just grab hold of my bark and climb up. Come see what I can show you. Come and listen to the stream. Come and know of tree-life.”
Chris looked at the tree with apprehension and saw how tall it was. At that moment, a wind voice knifed toward him from the ridge. ‘What if you fall? What then? It is very tall; don’t be ridiculous, you should stay on the ground. Better yet, come join us over the ridge.’
Chris looked at the tree through the questions the voice had left him with. He stepped back, shaking his head. “I don’t think I can. And I feel much safer here on the ground.”
“You may ‘feel safe’ there on the ground, but there are powers beyond you that crave your soul. Your safety is a small grace, a gift from the stream. If you have that grace, you will be safe in me.”
‘Powers that craved his soul’, again, that didn’t sound safe to him. And the idea of small graces as gifts from the stream intrigued him.
Chris climbed down the bank, now several feet deep, and crouched down. He felt the cool air riding on the surface and looked longingly at the pure water. If only he could taste it once again.
“You have had enough to serve you well, but, drink, child, and be satisfied.”
Chris knew that voice and immediately plunged both hands deep into the water, pulling the liquid to him as he drank and laughed and reveled in its sweetness.
Drenched and happy, Chris climbed back up the bank and addressed the tree. “I am ready to climb into your branches.”
“You are welcome to. And linger here. And find rest. And learn of the Great Tree. And grow. And learn.” The deep voice of the tree rumbled with mirth as it, too, felt the joy of the water splash on his roots.
Chris, still dripping, pulled himself quickly up the tree trunk. He climbed more easily than he thought he could and soon found himself in the lower branches.
Several feet off the ground, he looked down and felt the questions from the voices from the ridge crowd into his mind, but the sweet water washed them away, and soon he found himself deep in the tree, surrounded by strong branches and cool leaves.
Chris listened to the tree. It told him of the Great Tree, the tree that had been felled and lived again. That was a wonderful story. The tree told him it was true, and Chris wanted to believe it, but …
Chris climbed toward the top of the tree. The tree told him a secret. “If you climb high enough in my branches, and look far over the valley toward the ridge, you can see what lies on the other side. It is something to see. And behold. And know. And understand.”
Chris learned much as he climbed steadily toward the top. He watched the sun dip toward the horizon. The ground beneath him was already in shadows, but he was in the golden glow of the sun. Chris learned of tree-life; of the many graces the water gave to those who were trees. He learned of the near-trees, those that took on the shape of a tree but were hollow and wasted. “Stay away from those fakers!” the tree admonished him.
Finally, Chris neared the uppermost branches. As he reached for another handhold, the tree said “Stop. Do not climb any further unless you are ready to see what is on the other side of the ridge. It will not be hidden from you if you climb to the top of my branches.”
Chris asked the tree what he would see. “Whatever the soul-craver wants you to see. But you can be certain that what you see is not what you would receive if you took what was offered. The power beyond you has built a complex web of lies and deceit, so cleverly devised that the truth is cloaked in suspicion and lies are clothed with gold.”
Chris asked the tree to hold him as he climbed up, up to the top of the branches. He gazed down the valley and saw the stream widen and deepen. He turned his eyes up and looked far off into the distance. The shadows were growing, and he could see little of the detail that he had wandered through for the past two days.
Two days! Had he been here only two days? He had learned so much, yet he felt he had so more to learn.
Almost without realizing it, Chris turned his back to the setting sun and his eyes toward the ridge. He saw more of the boulders. They were yards deep and had jagged edges. The vines grew into each other and created a dense, vicious wall. Just beyond the boulders, however, the other side of the ridge came into sight. What he saw stunned him so much, he nearly let go. He was dizzy and would have fallen but for the branch that wrapped around him, holding him up.
“It can’t be!” Chris exclaimed. “It just can not be!”
The tree rumbled, its deep voice explaining that what Chris saw did exist.
“But I saw myself, as if I were in my waking world. I saw my job and house, family and friends. Everything that I believe in when I am awake. How can that be so terrible? How can that harm me? Why can’t I live in both places?”
“You can be a tree or not be a tree. There are no other options. But to be a tree means to have the windows of blessings opened on you everyday. It means to be steadied in storms and fed and watered all year. It means to have a support when your burdens are heavy. It means you can share your joy with other trees that know what you are experiencing!” The tree chuckled and concluded, “It means knowing that you have a future! And more!”
“But look again, and see it as it is, not as it is presented to you by the soul craver”. Chris gripped the branches tightly and looked back at the land beyond the ridge. The colors and vitality of the scene dissolved before his eyes. What was left was a monochrome world wasted by fire and covered in ash. He found it hard to believe that the land he spent his waking hours in, where he had grief and heartache and pain, and yes, some laughter as well, was without a future, without color or depth, without a doubt the bleakest place he could imagine.
“Lies, sometimes, are more willingly believed than truth.” The tree rumbled. “And there is no looking back at the dust and longing to return to it while living as a tree, here. But look again. Look closely at the landscape, what do you see between the swirls of dust and ash?”
Chris looked deep into the scene once again. He saw the gray buildings and the pale people that filled them. He saw dust being driven by a harsh wind. He saw intricate facades that were but empty shells. And he saw, here and there, a tree, green and glorious, standing against the wind. Its color, a stark contrast to the monotone of that horrible place.
“What are those trees doing there? Didn’t you just say that you cannot go back to the dust when you are living here?”
“That tree over there by the burning building. Do you see it?”
Chris nodded when he had located the tree.
“That is me. I am that tree. You see, I live here, by the water. I exist right here. My entire being, my soul, is at the bank of this stream. The only stream in the whole land, the only source of water, is where I long to be, is where I am. I live here, but my waking self walks through the dust and ash of that world. My task there is to bring comfort from the heat, shelter from the wind, and protection from the ruler of that land to all I encounter.”
The tree paused then continued, “Some other tree must have sheltered you enough so that you could enter this land of truth. The noise of that world keeps many from entering here. I am glad you came this way. Glad you climbed up here and saw what is real and what is not real. Do you know the difference?”
Chris relaxed his grip on the tree and sat down, comfortably wedged between two strong branches. He felt as if a great knowledge had flooded him. It was so clear to him now that he wondered why he had never been able to see it before. “I know what is real” Chris said. “The things I saw over there, the buildings, the people, the dust and ash and smoke, the ‘things’ are not real. That is, they are not items that will be in existence forever. What will last, what is real, is what is on this side of the ridge.”
“You are mostly correct. The soul is real, the battle for the soul is real, and Truth is real. All else is make believe. And many risk their entire being for make believe.”
As Chris watched the land across the ridge, tears began to fall down his cheeks. His mind grasped the impact of lost time and energy, of misdirected loyalties, of the pursuit of futureless futures. He saw his own life spanned out before him from beginning to now and from now to a projected end. All along the line of his life were piles of dust and ashes, praised by him as great accomplishments or purchases. He wept for his loss, for his wasted life.
The tree lifted a branch and soft leaves wiped the tears from Chris’ face. “There is much for you to do.” It said. “You must go meet the Great Tree. That stands in the stream. That brings forth much fruit. That frees you to become a tree. That loves more than any other. You must see the Great Tree!”
Night passed and Chris saw the gray fingers of dawn grasp the cover of darkness pulling it back to reveal a new day. He breathed the morning air and felt well rested despite the lack of sleep. “Where is the Great Tree? How will I know it when I see it?”
The tree gently lowered Chris to the ground and said in his rumbly voice “Walk along the stream. And listen with your ears. And hear with your heart. And find the Great Tree. And learn from it. And become a tree.”
Chris was glad to feel the firm ground beneath him once more. He walked a few steps toward the water then turned back toward the tree and ran to it, and throwing his arms around the massive trunk, he said, “Thank you, tree, for showing me the truth.”
“Perhaps I pointed it out to you, but another let your eyes see, and let your heart understand.” The tree pointed down to where the water was flowing and then stood up straight and tall as the Creature placed a pearl upon its gnarled roots.
After another deep drink, Chris made his way down the valley, following the flow of the current. He watched the Creature as it darted back and forth all day long. Listening as hard as he could, he didn’t hear any other voice talk to him. The Creature did not speak to him, and the stream was silent as well. Chris was left alone with his thoughts. But his thoughts, his thoughts were directed from within; from the water he had taken from the stream. The water was rich in knowledge and it strung together the framework of truth that would soon become the bark and limb and branch and leaf of a tree.
Around mid afternoon, Chris saw a change in the landscape that lay before him. He had noticed the stream growing deeper and broader as he made his way along its banks. And now, at the far reaches of his sight, he could see what appeared to be an obstacle in the middle of it. He could soon make out different shapes and colors. A short while later, Chris saw that there were leaves and branches and a huge trunk. This was the Great Tree! It had to be! It was in the stream, and it was broad, and its branches reached forever across the sky.
He hurried his pace and came to where the tree’s trunk grew out of the water, soaring to dizzying heights above. As his eyes took in the majestic stature of this magnificent tree, Chris’s pace slowed until he stood still, staring open-mouthed at this most wonderful tree.
Dusk was making its way across the valley, and still he stared at the tree. He had dropped to his knees waiting for his mind to understand what he was seeing. Chris nearly jumped when this tree spoke to him. “See with your eyes, understand with your heart.” The voice was warm and smooth. It felt like honey to his ears. And for some time, he just thought of the voice and how wonderful it was.
“See with your eyes, understand with your heart.” The voice instructed him again.
Chris stood and walked to the edge of the bank. He looked down where the trunk joined with the water. The trunk showed jagged scars in several places. Scars that had healed but told a story of death. Scars that spelled out in detail the Great Grace that had been given by this Great Tree.
Chris’s eyes saw the scars, but his heart saw the Grace.
“Come up, little one. I have gifts for you. Come and enjoy.” The tree stretched out a leafy limb down toward Chris.
He felt the branch wrap around his waist and lift him high into the air toward the thick limbs at the center of the Tree. He was gently placed onto a branch that was large enough to be a floor.
“I have gifts for you” the Great Tree said. “I have chosen several, and I have chosen you. Please take them and enjoy them. Use them often and without fear of depleting them. They are for my work and your enjoyment. Take them all and enjoy!”
Chris looked in amazement as several beautifully colored globes appeared before him. He reached out for the nearest globe, smooth and lavender. He pulled it close to examine it and saw a drop of juice on the surface of the sphere near his thumb. He licked the globe and tasted a glorious flavor. A wondrous taste that he knew was exactly what the color lavender would taste like if it were a flavor. As soon as he had tasted the drop, the sphere opened and Chris drank the entire contents, not stopping until he had finished each drop and eaten the beautiful container.
The other globes floated before him, and Chris took each one and drained the wondrous contents before eating the skin. And each colored globe tasted exactly as it looked. Chris wondered how anything could taste so delicious as he finished each one only to be more astounded by the next flavor.
Finally, Chris had finished each gift. He didn’t know how he was going to use them, or even what they were supposed to do, but he knew that they were beautiful to look at, and wonderful to taste. And he knew that the gifts made him feel complete.
The Great Tree spoke to him. “Rest here, little one. The answer comes to you in the morning. But stay here, in my strong branches, and rest. Let me comfort you this little while and give you my strength and thoughts and words.”
Chris felt the events of the day catch up to him and he gladly lay down on the Great Tree. The huge tree seemed to close him into a loving embrace and held him well beyond the time Chris fell asleep.
The morning broke gently on the valley, bringing with it the promise of answers and newfound joys. Chris stretched luxuriously as he stood up and, catching sight of the limbs that had held him safely through the night, rushed over and threw his arms around one of them, willing his thankfulness into the very bark of the Tree.
“You may go” said the Great Tree. “You have some ground to cover till you find your place. I will feed you and teach you. I will protect you and guide you. Listen with your ears, see with your eyes, but understand with your heart.”
As Chris felt the ground under his feet once more, he realized that he didn’t want to leave this place. He wanted to stay with the Great Tree forever. He had never felt such love or comfort or contentedness as he had while in the embrace of the Tree. “Must I leave?” he asked.
“You have other places to be” the Tree answered as it brought a tender branch low to stroke Chris’ face. “But you will never leave me because I promise you, I will never leave you!” The Great Tree laughed a joyful laugh and said, “Keep my instruction in your heart at all times, and we will be closer than we are right now.”
Unsure of his future, but certain of the promises made to him, Chris turned and continued his journey.
Some time later, Chris came upon a tree that somehow looked familiar. It had sunk its young roots deep into the rich soil that formed the bank of the stream. It stood straight and tall, reaching out as far as it could with its leaf covered branches.
As he stood near the trunk of the tree. “Have I passed by you before?”
The tree stood mute before him.
Chris was somewhat disappointed. The other trees he had passed had been polite and attentive. And now this tree ignored him.
The sun was nearly behind the horizon and night was falling in the valley. Chris had spent the last two nights in the branches of a tree, and he wished he could tonight as well. But the tree had not invited him. He could not just climb into the tree! So, even though it had ignored him, he settled down at the base of the tree just as the Creature placed a pearl on the tree’s roots.
As Chris edged near sleep, he wondered how he would become a tree. He wondered if he had to think like a tree, or look like one, or stand very still like a tree. The question raced through his thoughts as he fell asleep.
The sun again filled the valley with light. The grass was highlighted, and the trees all reflected the yellow glow of the morning sunshine.
Chris awakened to the day and he stretched another glorious stretch. These nights of such powerful sleep left him fully rested and prepared for the new day. He opened his eyes and looked out at the morning.
Chris felt as if he had grown overnight. Everything had taken a different look than just the night before. The ground seemed to be farther away from him, and the other trees did not look as tall. He twisted and felt new sensations track through him.
He caught his breath. He carefully looked down to where his feet should be and saw… he saw that he had a trunk, sturdy and straight. His arms were now strong branches that seemed to fill the sky with leaves that fluttered like laughter. He looked down and saw the Creature just as it placed a pearl on his roots.
Instantly, a rush of energy and knowledge filled him. He felt every fiber in his being rejoice at the presence of this pearl of wisdom, of the presence of… of… Chris searched his memory and heart to determine what the pearl reminded him of. A picture formed in his mind. He saw the stream and the Great Tree layered over each other, weaving an intricate pattern of wood and water. Over this image, the Creature wound itself in ever quickening circles until it created an intricate chain of gold through the water and wood.
An instant later the thunderous crash of realization hit him as he saw the stream, the Great Tree, and the Creature as one and the same, and yet different and the same.
Chris shuddered as a surge of joy coursed through him. He had learned so much and had so much more to learn. What great things must await him.
He looked up and down the valley. He could see a great distance in all directions. As he peered into the far reaches of the valley, where the stream must have had its headwaters, he noticed tiny figures moving among the trees. He hoped they would let him tell them about being a tree. And the gifts. And the pearls. And the water.
And the joy.