The gods are more, not less, careful for small things than for great. – Plato, from Laws, book X
The dove alights on the branch.
It is winter, and so many trees are still asleep, but today the old Tree is awake. The dove notices this, and also notices that there is fresh sap oozing out of the bark nearby.
“What’s troubling you Old Father?” Coos the gentle bird.
Now of course, trees do not speak. At least, not in the usual way, though sometimes, when the wind stirs in them, they are known to sing songs that are soft and shifting, but to the creatures, both old and new, there is an understanding of the language of trees and grasses and leaves, old as time itself – the Green Language.
“In the next days,” replies the old Tree, “I will call down my living spirit from my tallest fine branches, and I will gather it up from the tips of my deepest roots, and I will prepare to leave this life in this world. My time here is up.”
The dove flies to another branch, unsettled, and takes a while to preen her tail feathers before she can settle down again comfortably.
“Is it true Old Father?” she asks in the gentle voice of the mother dove, “How do you come to know this?”
“I have sensed it,” the old Tree replies, as a melancholy breeze blows through his twigs and branches, “I have sensed it in that Man who lives in the house below. I have felt it around him, and seen his ideas of cutting me down. They drift about him in the air. One doesn’t get to grow as old as I and not learn a thing or two.”
“But why?” asks the little bird, “Why would he do such a thing?”
“What do I know about the ways of Man? Those two-legged creatures go about everywhere. They do as they please! We cannot change them, and we cannot interfere. Let it be as it will be. Great Nature has a place for us all.”
The little dove stays perched on her spot, and turns her head to be able to look up at the sky between the bare branches above. Her compassionate heart is filled with worry for the grand old Tree.
Strong as he is, he is helpless against the Men-folk and their will.
The sun slowly moves downwards in the sky, as it does every day, and small creatures like the birds must always busy themselves with finding something to eat. In winter the search is more difficult, but sometimes there are scraps thrown out here and there, by a door or on an open lawn.
Careful to first check on the whereabouts of local cats and dogs, she flits down to the garden floor where other doves, sparrows and bulbuls are busy turning leaves and poking in the ground. She joins them, looking here and there, scratching and digging, walking and bending, lifting her head to look and to listen. Somewhere nearby a little Robin is whistling and warbling, whistling and warbling his curious tune into the late afternoon sky.
Suddenly the door to the house opens, and with a cry of alarm everyone takes off for safety. The sparrows flee as one towards a distant wire, chirruping and flapping. The dove makes for the safety of the rooftop, and turns to watch what is happening below.
The woman of the house comes out, wiping her hands on an apron, and then proceeds to empty something from a big, shiny pot out onto the grass, scratching into the corners with a spoon. A little girl comes running out onto the grass, and some of the other doves on the roof take fright, and fly up and away, but the gentle mother dove stays, and looks on. Her heart is still heavy at the thought of the old Tree.
Could it really be true? Were these creatures of the house really going to cut his branches down? Why would they? Their doings were mysterious, and she had long ago learned to be wary of them. She observes:
The woman and her child are looking at some flowers growing down below, and the child, full of the wonder and fire of youth, dances around and calls out in sweet, sharp syllables that curl and peel through the air.
The gentle dove looks, and she looks and she listens.
This night she roosts in the branches of the old Tree, and somehow, during the cold hours, as the moon rises, a feeling drifts into her soft, warm breast, and a thought falls, as if from the ink-bright stars themselves, into her head, where it is tucked snugly under a wing. She is experiencing something that no one can explain, exactly.
Not long afterwards, in the crisp air of the early morning, the Man and his little girl stand under the tree.
Something is happening.
The Man holds a machine in his hands, a machine with sharp teeth, but the high-pitched cry of the little girl is somehow holding him back. The little girl cries and points and pleads. The Man follows her finger to a fork in the branches above, where a small dove can be seen peeping from a newly-built nest.
The young girl has sharp eyes and has spotted the nest right away, and she continues to cry out in a worried way until finally the Man shrugs his shoulders and goes to fetch a wooden ladder, which he then places up against the tree.
Slowly he climbs up, helping the little girl up ahead of him, holding her fast against a fall, until at last they can both peer into the little dish of twigs and leaves lined with soft down, and there they behold: Two perfect white eggs.
With that, it is done.
There will be no chopping or cutting done today, or the next, or the next day, until the eggs are hatched and the fledglings are flown, for the little girl will not have it any other way, and the Man cannot get it over his heart to do his cutting anymore.
Soon it is spring, and as it happens every spring, the trees sprout fresh shoots and buds and leaves. The young from the nest are soon gone, and the days grow warmer again. And the old tree grows on, upwards and outwards, strong as ever, and his roots dig down into the good soil below. The thoughts of chopping and cutting are laid aside, and knowing how it goes, as one thing follows another, they are not taken up again. From time to time the birds roost and nest and sing in the grand old branches.
I don’t think anyone can know why it was that the dove laid those eggs so long before the due season had come.