29 Apr

The Medal Tree

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One day a young boy was out walking in the other side of town with his Mum when he saw an immensely tall tree that was so high that it went way above the clouds. The tree was the most beautiful tree he had ever seen but it was in a very dirty and old part of town where little else grew. What surprised him and excited him most about this tree was that from about 20 feet up in the branches there appeared to be what looked like a bronze coloured disc. When he looked closer he could see a few more a little further up. As he craned his neck to look further up the tree he could see even more discs – there were many of them in fact – that were firstly a mixture of bronze and silver colour and then one or two gold coloured ones became visible. The boy stood with his mouth open and his eyes wider still. At the top of the tree were huge big golden discs. Lots of them! He could hardly believe what he was seeing.

“Mum, what is that tree?” he asked. His mother didn’t know as she had never seen one before either. “We will need to ask around”, she said, and with that they saw an old man in the garden close by the tree.

“Excuse me, please”, asked the mother, “what is that tree?”

“That is a Medal Tree”, said the old man.

“Wow! A Medal Tree?” exclaimed the boy. “How did it get to be so big?” he asked the man.

“Years and years and years of looking after it, young man. They grow so slowly, do those trees, that you can hardly see them grow but sure enough, they grow with lots of care and lots of work.”

“I want one, I want one, I want one!” shouted the boy and his Mum told him she would try and get him one. “But I want one now,” shouted the boy and his Mum told him she would try and get him one soon. The old man shook his head and tutted but the woman and her son had walked away with the boy still repeating “I want one” on and on and on.

A few days later, the woman went back to the tree and the old man was in his garden in the same place. “Hello again”, she said to the man. “I don’t know if you can help me please? I have searched and asked everywhere about this Medal Tree and where I can get one for my son but I cannot find any reference to it anywhere on the internet or any seeds in the shops. I don’t suppose you can help me find one for my son could you?”

The old man walked up to the Medal Tree, where he gently rubbed his hand up the hard, weathered old bark that had the most beautiful carved patterns that made the tree seem alive to the old man’s touch. As he stroked the tree the old man appeared to look young and strong and fit with a glow about him. The woman was amazed. The old man turned to look at the woman and in his hand that he had been stroking the tree with he held a tiny golden seed. It was glowing in his hand and in a gentle voice he said to the woman “this tree has grown from a seed that I found and it was I had. With all my own hard work through the years it has grown to be like this. This tree will never die – it will live forever.”

The woman didn’t know what to say because the old man, who looked old and tired again, had put the seed into her hand and closed her hand around the seed. “Give it to your son and tell him that he must plant this seed and care for it every day; feed it, water it, protect it from the weather, keep it weeded and don’t neglect it. It will take at least 10 years to be half as tall as my tree, with half the medals that are on my tree.”

The woman thanked the old man and hurried home to her son with the seed. The son was playing on a computer game and told his mum he would plant the seed later. The mum left the seed on the kitchen table to wait for her son to plant the seed. The next day the seed hadn’t been planted and the mum reminded her son. “I’ll do it later, when I’ve finished this game, Mum”. Again the seed went untouched. So the mum decided to plant it herself in the garden.

A few months later the boy came home from school and said to his mum in an excited voice, “Mum, there’s this new boy called Callum at school and he has got one of those Medal Trees growing in his garden! His is about a metre tall and he’s outside looking after that tree all the time and doesn’t do normal things like Facebook Chat. The tree is all he cares about! Anyway, what happened to my seed?” he said, suddenly realising that he’d forgotten all about it.

“I planted it for you in the garden as you weren’t bothering”, said his mum.

“Oh, you could have let me do it”, said the boy. He ran outside to the garden and looked everywhere for the tree but he couldn’t see anything that was growing more than a few centimetres tall.

“Where did you plant the seed, Mum?” he shouted. “Under your window”, shouted back his mother.

Under his window the boy found a tiny little plant that looked weedy and unhealthy. He kicked at it and ran back into his mother. “How can it be so pathetic and small, without any medals?” he whined at his mother.

“The old man said you had to work at looking after the tree every single day, watering it, feeding it and giving it shelter”, his mum replied. “Oh”, said the boy who wondered when he would find time for that.

He went back outside to look at his tree, which was lying on its side and looking dead after he kicked it. He felt a pang of remorse and he thought about Callum’s tree. He would have to find five minutes a day to look after his tree. So, he picked up the tiny stalk of the tree and carefully put it back in the ground. Then he went to the fishpond and with his cupped hands he got some water and gave it to the tree. Then he found a few stones and made a protective circle around the tree to prevent anyone standing on it. Then he brushed his hands off and went back into his computer.

The next day the boy’s mum reminded him about the tree and with a groan he went outside to see what he needed to do for the tree. He was amazed to see that it had grown a centimetre and was starting to look healthy. This time the boy gave the tree a little more water and pulled a little weed that had started to grow near his tree. He did this every day for a week and the tree appeared to be happy and growing nicely. It grew another few centimetres and a few more leaves.

However, the boy was starting to get bored and wanted to see the tree grow bigger and start getting medals on it. He asked Callum what he did with his tree to get it to be so big (and he had a medal already on his tree!) and Callum told him that he spent many hours a day out with his tree, looking after the ground around the tree, keeping the rest of the garden in good condition so that his tree would be in the best place for it. He would keep it fertilised with all natural green fertiliser that he made in the garden and he kept the leaves clean and free of dust and dirt. He carefully picked off any insects that might harm the tree and he also talked to his tree, describing how big and beautiful he wanted that tree to be.

The boy thought that Callum was nuts and told him so. However, the boy still thought that his tree should be as good as Callum’s and couldn’t understand why if he just watered it for five minutes each day it shouldn’t be as healthy and tall as Callum’s. He got very upset about it and continually moaned and griped about Callum’s tree and how much bigger and better it was in Callum’s garden. His mother thought that the only way to get the tree as big as Callum’s was to buy her son lots of specialist equipment to look after his tree. She bought him lots of artificial plant foods and expensive garden tools. She bought a fancy sprinkler system for her son so that he wouldn’t have to spend so much time watering the tree.

But the tree’s growth slowed right down to barely a millimetre a week. All this time, Callum’s tree was growing taller and taller and there were at least 6 bronze medals on the tree and even one that looked almost silver. The boy was so cross. He couldn’t understand why this was happening.

So, he asked Callum if he could replant his tree in Callum’s garden, next to Callum’s tree. Callum was too busy looking after his own garden and tree for many hours each day that he wasn’t worried about having the boy’s tiny tree in his garden. So, the boy asked his mother to dig up his little tree and take it to Callum’s garden, which the mother did because she didn’t want to risk the tree being damaged.

They planted the tree a few metres away from Callum’s tree and the boy’s tree looked pathetic and poorly against the big, beautiful tree that was starting to really glitter in the sunlight. The mother set up the sprinkler system by her son’s tree and put a small shed nearby to keep all the expensive tools and fertilizer in. But, because Callum’s garden was ten minute’s walk from the boy’s house and because his mum worked and couldn’t always drive him there the tree was cared for less and less. He was far too tired in the evenings to walk to Callum’s house because he had many late nights from being on the internet with his friends. After a day at school all he wanted to do was sit down.

The boy realised that he was never going to get a tree as big as Callum’s at this rate and started sulking and getting frustrated with everyone. It was everyone else’s fault that the tree was so small. It was his mother’s fault for not planting it in a better place to start with and then for making him move his tree to Callum’s garden. And it was his fancy gardening equipment’s fault because it obviously wasn’t good enough. It was Callum’s fault because Callum wouldn’t look after the boy’s tree while he was looking after his own. The boy complained of being tired all the time so couldn’t possibly look after it.

“Why don’t you go and talk to the old man about your tree, son?” said the boy’s mother. “That way he might be able to tell you how he looked after his tree because you won’t listen to me”.

The next day the boy went to see the old man, who was once again in his garden near his tree. “Why is my tree tiny and pathetic when my friend’s is big and has medals on it?” he asked the man. “Sit down and listen, son”, said the old man. The boy sat down near the tree and gazed up at the branches above.

“When I was as young as you”, said the old man, “I found a tiny golden seed in a very dark place. It was all I had as my family had nothing. I loved that golden seed but at the time I didn’t realise it was a seed until I dropped it in the ground and thought I’d lost it. I felt that I had nothing left. But I was wrong because within a few days I saw this tiny little tree starting to grow in our dusty and dirty yard. I knew it was my seed that was growing. I cared for that tree every single day. I collected water from the river many miles away, as in those days we had no running water like you do. I collected plants from the sides of roads and made my own compost for my tree and I built a strong, protective wall around the small tree to protect it from the cold winds. I worked every day for many hours to look after the one thing that was truly important to me as I had no toys or computers. I would get up at dawn to look after my tree when I had to go to school and then as soon as I got home again I would look after it some more.

“In time it grew so beautiful and huge that I had to work even harder to keep it that way. I was so proud of that tree and nothing would get in my way of caring for that tree. I knew nothing about caring for trees but I asked people and I listened to them. I trusted what they knew and I applied that learning to looking after my tree. And that is why my tree is like this now. It took me many, many years to grow and I never, ever gave up hope that it would be the best tree in the world. There are many more trees in the world as beautiful as this one here but for a while my tree was the best. Many times I have seen people try to grow these trees and take short cuts. They would do anything to have a tree like mine but without all the years of hard work that is needed to make a tree grow this big and this beautiful. It will never happen.

“Son, I suggest you go home now and think about your tree. Think about whether you need a tree as big as this. Do you want a tree as big as this? Will it fit into your garden and will you be able to look after it to keep it healthy? Or do you simply want a tree without all the effort?”

The boy looked up at the tree because he couldn’t really understand what the man was talking about. He didn’t really understand what the word effort meant. When he looked back down, the man had gone. But the tree was still there and was still immense and beautiful.

He walked home slowly and thought. Then he thought even more that night. He didn’t turn his computer on and he went to bed early. He didn’t speak to his family because he was so deep in thought. The next morning he got up very early indeed and went out into the garden. He spent as much time as he could before he went to school on his tree and then when he got him from school he looked after the garden around it and talked to it and started to feel a great affection for it. Every day that passed he felt that the tree was more and more a part of his life and he no longer complained about getting up early or going to bed early. He no longer blamed anyone else for his tree’s small growth because he could now see that his hard work alone was making that tree magnificent.

Then, one day about six months later, he looked out of his bedroom window and saw a medal glinting in the sun on one of the top branches of his tree. He knew, then, that he would be that old man one day, with a tree that was so huge that it went way up beyond the clouds and glittered with many medals of gold and silver and bronze. He was proud, that day.

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