Author: Eoin Carney Published: Jan, 2021
There was once a man who was wise in the art of gardening. He had grown alongside his garden, in perfect harmony with it. Through patient experience he had learned when to prune, when to leave be. He was knowledgeable; he knew the Latin and English names of every living thing in his garden. He knew which species require what conditions. Sometimes, with the aid of a greenhouse, he could create artificial climates and grow the plants his heart desired but which the surrounding nature would not normally not allow. Thus, through his knowledge his will overcame obstacles. He could perform miracles.
His wisdom and knowledge brought him a full understanding of the whole of the garden. He worked hard to keep it in perfect balance, so as not to let it die out. He saw his whole purpose within the garden as preserving and multiplying the forms of life. Diversity is a strength against decay. With many colours the bees work harder.
The master gardener had visitors too. Human visitors. They would come by and admire the garden. They would sit beneath the shade of a tree and read, or lightly dip their toes in the cool pond, if weather permitted. Mostly, they would wonder at the gardener and his creation. They would use words to show their pleasure and engage in rituals and customs to flatter him. One would bring a freshly-baked loaf of bread and bow deeply when handing it over, another would bring a beautiful rock they found on a nearby beach.
Once, a strange visitor arrived at the garden. He did not give his name but merely announced that he had heard of the garden from his colleague and came to see it with his own eyes. The gardener, ever proud of his work, allowed the man to wander around the garden for an hour. The gardener left the man alone, but kept watch from a small window in his house, growing increasingly anxious. Finally, he went back to the garden and made up an excuse about having to go buy fertilizer and so could the man please leave. The man smiled with understanding and said that of course he would leave, he was happy to have had even an hour in such a beautiful place. Before he left, he offered the gardener a present from the boot of his car; a tree sapling.
The gardener looked curiously at it. He did not know the species. He accepted the sapling from the man, eager to study it more. The man said goodbye and told the gardener that it looked as if he had spent his whole life perfecting his creation. Not my whole life yet, the gardener replied, I still have many years left to go. Then maybe this will be your crowning achievement, said the man, gesturing toward the sapling. Be patient with it. The man drove off quickly and the gardener never saw him again.
Twenty years later, and the tree had already come into its own. The first ten years with it had been difficult. The gardener’s wisdom and knowledge had been pushed to its limit. It seemed that this tree needed a little of everything; a little shade, a little sun, a little warmth, a little chill, wetness and dryness. And none of these in balanced or equal measures. Monitoring and encouraging the tree took up much of the gardener’s time, so that many areas of the garden, while not dying off, had become less spectacular. The gardener didn’t mind though; he now believed the strange man; this tree would be the jewel of the garden. Once it was fully established, everything would be re-grown and ordered around it.
The tree seemed to be a mixture of all other trees. It seemed at once to resemble a tall pine, straight and true and full, and also a tiny bonsai, horizontal, minimal. The gardener liked to believe sometimes that his own personality had been imprinted on the tree through the care he had given it. Its bark was both rough and comforting. It made pleasing sounds when you ran your nails across it.
Over time, these sounds grew into the faint outlines of words, so that it became possible to converse with the tree.
For example, you could ask it a question, by speaking into a piece of bark, and return to it after a few months to hear the answer. It was the gardener who first discovered this possibility, after long mornings of tending to the tree and stroking it. Yet, the message it always gave him was: “I have no words”. When visitors of the garden came and tried the procedure, they would be calmed and aided by the tree’s wise words. When the gardener would check the spot they had asked, however, he would get the same response, “I have no words.” It seemed the messages could only be heard by the askers of the questions.
Soon, the garden became a popular destination for the people of the surrounding town. They would come, sit for hours telling the tree their sufferings, and then they would return months later to hear its response. They would always bring the gardener baked goods in thanks (it was against his morals to accept payment) and he began to grow fatter. He watched all the proceedings closely from the small window in the house, trying to figure out what they were doing that he wasn’t. He watched them receiving the tree’s messages, slowly running their nails along the bark, in deep concentration, yet also trance-like. He watched as their pain dissipated and their features visibly transformed.
The visitors had as much respect for the gardener as they did for the tree, for they recognised that it was his wisdom, his knowledge, that was reflected in the sayings of the tree.
“Well why don’t you just talk to me then?” asked the gardener once. “What’s so different about the tree? It was me that gave it form, nurtured it, taught it to speak.”
“Oh” one of the visitors replied, “it is your wisdom reflected, yes, but in a very different way. Reversed maybe. Or she has gone beyond you now, perhaps, the tree that is.”
“She?” replied the gardener, “when it talks to me it does so in a neutral tone, like that of the wind.”
“For me it is a young woman’s voice, although I have heard that for others the tone also differs.”
“What does she say, exactly?”
“It’s hard to translate, I’m afraid. Don’t worry, I’m sure she will speak to you too, soon. Be patient.”
But the gardener could not be patient. Every evening when the visitors left, he would beg the tree to speak to him. It was not in his nature to beg, as he strove to live his life as his plants lived, humble and balanced. He began to feel shame for the first time, to question his life’s purpose. His begging grew more pronounced, his shame took root deeper and deeper in him. Sometimes, he would bring a freshly sharpened axe and stand with it next to the tree, in a threatening manner. This brought him the most shame of all, because he really did love the tree, the problem was he just couldn’t understand it. He screamed at the bark of tree: “What do you tell them to ease their pain?! I need it now more than them. Bring forth your fruit for me, the one who made you. Do not hide your true form behind the form I have gifted you. If you are truly more than a tree, then show me!”
Then, he went and slept. For two months he did not return to his garden, he did not even look at it. Some visitors began to remark under their breath that some areas were developing weeds, but he didn’t care. Finally, he went into the garden at midnight on the sixtieth day. He softly ran his fingers across the bark. He was crying. He heard the voice, softer than usual, but still with the character of wind blowing through a nook; “I have no words”.
Sighing, he picked up his freshly sharpened axe and began to chop the tree.