On Christmas Eve, 2013 Mike Owens, my eldest son was thinking about sending an ecard out to his family and friends – all far away. Upon seeing this image of a bare tree with ornaments, standing alone in the snowy night – he started to write what he imagined to be a Children’s Christmas story to go with the image. Mike, as a brilliant guitarist who sometimes struggles to find his way, used his beauiful mind in a beautiful way. Reading it on Christmas morning I felt the deep mix of lonliness, disconnection and the resurrecting power of observation and re-connection. The artist, Amalia in Finland gave permission to use her painting and asked to use Mike’s story on her website. And the re-connections continue… If you enjoy this story, please let us know at the end….
by Mike Owens
Once upon a time there lived a tree that stood at the top of a hill. His name was Norton. Norton was a very lonely tree, as all other trees were several feet away. This prevented Norton from talking to his fellow trees nearby. All trees in the vicinity were just a little to far to hear him speaking. His sense of isolation was deepened by the fact that the surrounding trees were all very close to other trees. This meant everyone around him had someone to talk to. Norton had no one. He was only able to scan the hilltop and observe the other trees talking to their neighbors. This made Norton very sad.
Norton also noticed that the trees around him provided homes and safe places for birds. Norton longed to have a bird visit him. Even if he couldn’t speak bird, perhaps he could slightly wave his branches and attempt sign language. However, no birds ever landed on Norton because he was out in the open and they did not feel safe sitting on his branches. The birds thought they would be much safer in a place with lots of cover and lots of nearby trees if quick evasion and relocation were to be necessary.
Norton wished and hoped that a bird would land on him that would take the time to talk. Norton practiced quick and efficient speeches that he could recite to a bird. Maybe just maybe that might inspire the bird to stay, if only for a short conversation. He knew that he would have to speak quickly and clearly using his own waving branch language. Any bird that by chance landed on Norton would have to be a very observant bird indeed.
Dennis was a scrub jay that constantly surveyed his environment. It is wise to be aware of one’s surroundings as a scrub jay. It is important to be conscious of food and water sources as well as predators in the vicinity. All the other scrub jays Dennis knew also regularly scanned their environments as they traveled around. However, Dennis looked very deeply into the things he saw along his way. He would examine details very intensely. This meticulous observation method was handy in that he could recall and describe small details of objects he encountered. However, all this time spent scrutinizing meant that he missed many other important and plain details. In fact, the other scrub jays thought Dennis was a little strange. They also began to see him as a safety hazard. If it was his turn to watch for danger, he could easily be found studying a leaf. Bird by bird the other scrubs began to avoid hanging out with and especially traveling with Dennis.
Dennis began to notice that his friends wanted to be with him less and less often. He thought it might be because of his meticulous nature. Dennis became very sad. He had always hoped his devotion to details made him special and interesting. He certainly did not feel interesting any more. With a heavy sigh and a heavier heart, Dennis decided to move on.
Dennis flew and flew for a long time until eventually he had to rest. It was also growing dark and beginning to snow again, and he knew it was unwise to fly at night. He looked around using his detailed scanner sense and was surprised and interested when he saw one lone tree on a hilltop in the hazy distance. It was separated a fair distance from other trees. “What a splendid tree,” he thought. Dennis flew toward the tree.
Norton had seen this before. It was the recurring disappointment. A bird would fly in his direction, Norton would become hopeful and nervous, then the bird would fly on and rest in a nearby tree. Norton watched the approaching bird with waning interest. He saw the bird getting closer and closer, then really close, and he also suddenly noted the determination in the bird’s eyes. Then it happened.
The bird landed on him. Norton was astounded. He almost forgot what to do. Then he remembered his plan. Right then at his vital moment he put his whole xylem and phloem into his woodbending technique and waved as best he could in a pattern that could not be created by wind.
Dennis was very tired and took labored breaths. He liked the tree he had chosen, as it was the only one of its kind in the environment. It was alone and that made it special. It had also lost all of its leaves due to its exposed location. Then Dennis heard a sound. It was the creaking sound of wood being bent. He looked at nearby branches, and to his amazement he noticed that their extremely slight movements had a pattern.
“Hello? Tree? Are you talking to me?” asked Dennis. Then Dennis felt a feeling he had never before encountered. He studied and watched and analyzed intensely, and he felt the tree. He felt the tree’s ultimate happiness regarding his arrival. He felt the tree was even more excited about him noticing the branch movement pattern. He sensed the tree was particularly overjoyed to have a bird visitor. He felt the tree was named Norton. Norton felt that Dennis could sense his being and thoughts and he was overcome with joy.
Then Dennis felt Norton’s feelings change. He could tell Norton was and had been sad, very sad indeed. He was isolated from the other trees. He had no fellow trees to talk with. He also had no other bird visitors, as all other birds did not want to sit exposed out in the open. Dennis thought about this. He had sensed Norton and his messages because he had noticed him. What if he could do something that would cause the surrounding trees to notice Norton? Dennis gave the matter serious consideration.
The practice of intense analysis and recollection rewarded Dennis again. He told Norton he would return and he flew off. Norton didn’t have a chance to say anything, and he was afraid that Dennis had also become aware of overexposure and had left to find a safer tree. Norton became depressed again. He began to think he may have offended Dennis somehow, and he thought of what he might do differently if he met another avian visitor. He longed to speak to Dennis again.
Many hours passed. Daylight faded and the evening brought a full moon that lit up the dark snowy night. Norton was very sad and he began to think he had screwed up his one chance with the one bird that could sense and hear him. He began to cry. All of a sudden, there was a faint clinking sound in the distance. It was irregular and was obscured by the snow and cold wind of the night. Then Norton realized the clinking was airborne and approaching. For a moment he thought it might be Santa and the reindeer – he had heard of the Santa Claus phenomenon ever since he was a young seed. He then quickly brushed the thought away because he also knew the area he lived in was nowhere near a standard Santa route.
Clink! Something attached to one of his branches. Then clink! he felt it again on another branch, then another. “Merry Christmas,” said Dennis. Dennis had remembered the distant location of an abandoned box of tree ornaments and had returned with five shiny metal red spheres. He was hanging them on Norton’s branches. Norton was deeply touched. He never dreamed he would ever have decorations on him at Christmas. Norton then branch-manipulated a heartfelt thank you to Dennis and invited him to stay. Dennis selected a comfortable branch for the night, and Norton did his best to shelter him from the cold using branches, ornaments and some Christmas spirit.
In the morning, Dennis woke Norton. “Norton, there are some folks that want to say hello to you.” Norton was bewildered as he looked around and noticed that every single tree within tree sight was waving to him, using all their might to bend their solid branches. “Where did you get the cool decorations?” said one tree. “You look rad!” exclaimed another. “You are our Christmas tree!” shouted another. They all cheered. “I thought it was about time you were noticed,” said Dennis. Norton was overwhelmed. Just then a group of scrub jays flew up and landed on Norton. Dennis was stunned. “Hi Dennis!” said one of the jays. “Check out these ornaments!” Another jay exclaimed, “By golly, this is an ornamental tree!” The others smiled and nodded. “Can we chill here with you?” “Of course,” replied Dennis, as he feathered back a tear. “Merry Christmas, Dennis,” branched Norton. “Merry Christmas, Norton,” said Dennis in bird language.