Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ That tree is ours.

Making lists, I thought, would be my subject here today. For there have been too many lists in my life of late. Jobs to do round the house. Christmas presents to be bought. People to whom to send emails about my new book, The Uses of ‘a’.

But early this morning, lying in bed awake and feeling overwhelmed by my lists, my mind turned instead to trees. I think this was due to a visit yesterday from storyteller friend, Helen East. As we sat in the kitchen drinking Lemon and Ginger tea, Helen began talking about  the time that she’d spent in Kerala a few years ago. Then she told us a Kerala story, a terrific story about the kindness of a tree.

And that story has got me thinking about the much-needed rise in attention to trees that I’ve noticed in the press of late. Election pledges to plant more trees. Protests about plans to cut down trees. Outrage about the massive deforestation that’s going on in the Amazon. New scientific knowledge  about the ways in which trees communicate, talking to each other through their roots.

And that put me in mind of a fine Maori story from New Zealand. I’ve probably told it in this blog before. But I haven’t bothered to check back because I think it’s a story worth repeating.

A Maori story: Who does a tree belong to?

A man called Ratu spotted a fine tall tree in the forest. Deciding to make a new canoe from that tree, he went home and sharpened his axe. Then he went back in the forest and chopped the tree down.

Next morning when he went back, he was amazed. The tree he’d chopped down was standing again. Fresh dew glistened on its leaves, sun was shining on its bark.

Surprised and angered, Ratu set about cutting down the tree a second time. This time when it fell, he did more. He also lopped off all its branches. ‘Tomorrow,’ he thought, ‘I’ll chop it all into pieces.’

But the next day when he went back once more, the tree was not only standing up once again. Birds were sitting in its boughs, insects were busy on its bark. Soft winds whistled around it.

Furious, Ratu chopped the tree down yet again and went home weary. Tomorrow he thought, I’ll deal with that tree. But the following day, as he neared the place in the forest where the tree had stood, he began to hear a lot of sound. It was the sound of insects buzzing and birds singing. And when Ratu arrived near the spot where the tree had stood, he saw an astonishing sight. The fallen tree was surrounded by the many creatures that had lived in it or near it. All were busy restoring the tree, putting back its branches and its leaves and its bark.

Then as Ratu watched from the nearby bushes, he saw the spirits of the forest arriving and starting to pull the tree upright again. Now he felt angry, very angry.

‘Stop that!’ he shouted, running out from the bushes. ‘That tree is mine.’

But then the birds and the insects and the spirits of the forest all turned towards Ratu and as with one voice replied: ‘No! That tree belongs to us all. Who gave you permission to kill it?’

PS: My photos today are, of course, of trees!

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