By the clear, little stream, running over its bed of bright pebbles, grew an old willow tree.
It was stubborn and unsociable. It grew alone and had no desire for any company, other than the little stream, the earth, the sun and the rain.
Many of its old limbs were useless. Long dry shoots still curved up from them, like huge, bleached ribs of a strange animal.
The greater part of the tree was very much alive, priding a full crown of bright orange shoots in the spring, before they were graced with yellow catkins and slender leaves.
The foot of the tree and exposed roots were often moss covered in the damper seasons. It gave the willow a comfortable air, as it it were wearing thick, green, carpet slippers.
There were times when the little stream became so low that it stopped flowing past the willow. Its bed would become quite dry. The old tree would then push its roots deeper in search of water. It would weep a little to itself when it had to make another sacrifice, before the stream finally returned.
The stream always returned.
The old willow tree would sigh and let fall its bright leaves in the autumn. Then the stream would take them riding over the stones down the hillside, like tiny, golden ships.
But once, after a long, hot summer, the stream didn't return.
The old tree bent its back to the sun and used its resources sparingly. More of it's branches were given up, and it let fall its scorched, curled leaves much earlier than usual.
Yet, no matter the loss, the old willow was certain that it could wait. The stream would return, as it always did.
The autumn and winter brought no relief, for there was still no rain. There was only some powdery snow that the cold, dry winds scattered at random.
The following spring the earth was hard and dry. The new grass was thin. The rain showers came, but they were insufficient, and the old tree braced itself once more to face the summer months.
With great effort it had produced some new shoots, but it was weak. It bent lower, old and tired. Yet deep in its heart was still the faith that all would be well. The stream would return, as it always did.
But the drought brought the fire which burnt the fields and hedgerows.
The old willow tree cracked and groaned as it too fell to the flames.
A few of its young branches, somehow spared, were left in the dry bed of the stream, while the fire burned on, up into the hills, destroying everything within its reach.
After the fire, the rains came.
The parched earth gratefully received the water.
During the winter, the little stream returned, as the willow always knew it would. It rushed happily along its bed, finding its pebbles and polishing them again.
It soon met in its path the last, young branches of the old willow.
They were gently lifted and pushed to the sides of the bank where soft beds were made for them. And there they lay until the water claimed them.
But slightly higher on the bank there was one small shoot partly covered with earth pushed up by the stream. It made strong roots during the spring and gradually grew up on the bank of the stream into a fine willow tree.
It bowed over the charred trunk of the old willow as if in homage, then it grew straight and proud.
And each autumn the little stream would take its leaves to ride over the stones down the hillside, like tiny, golden ships.
|From the Rainbow series|
Text and images © Mirino (PW) December, 2010