A tragic childhood error leads to a lesson in responsibility and trust, and how we pass them down from one generation to the next.
In the beginning it all seemed quite harmless. The dark green leaves formed a dense collar around the roots of the old oak, and gave it a special character. To me and the other children, it was the perfect climbing tree, and we built ladders and huts in it. In time, the ivy followed us up the tree and covered more and more of the trunk and lower branches, but still nobody saw the danger. However, we had to stop climbing among the runners in shorts and T-shirts, since we could get nasty rashes from them.
One summer, a gardener from London visited our village. By then, the ivy had grown to cover most of the tree, and the gardener was asked for his opinion.
‘Well’, he answered laconically, ‘I’ve seen many a tree been choked this way. In the end it can’t get enough oxygen for photosynthesis. Now you know.’
The word was spread, but most of the villagers ignored him and said he was no ivy expert. The kids didn’t know what to believe. The oak seemed to be fine, and we kept playing there until we were too old for such things.
Many years later, I returned to my childhood habitat, eager to revisit the magnificent tree. I parked by the old church and walked across the fields. The years had erased the path, but I knew the way, having walked it so many times before. But instead of a solitary, majestic oak stretching its branches towards the sky, there was now only an empty trunk, a lifeless monument of an era long gone. Hardly any ivy was left, either. Maybe it had simply been moved further away. Thornbushes and shrubbery had taken over.
I had my picnic, feeling disillusioned. Later, I asked the old lady who ran the nearby bed-and-breakfast what had happened. She told me that the process had been rather quick. The leaves withered, the branches fell off, and finally, in a storm, all that was left of it was broken in half. And it had stood against centuries of hurricanes!
After a few moments of silence, I asked, ‘Where do the children play?’
‘Nowhere’, she said, and looked out the window. ‘I guess they are all indoors, behind some screen. They aren’t that many nowadays, anyway.’
The next day I was on my way to my car to drive back home. The skies were grey and heavy. A blonde, inquisitive little boy approached me, asking for my name, where I was from, and why I was in the village. When I mentioned the tree, he exclaimed, ‘Come!’
Somewhat hesitantly, I followed him to a nearby meadow. There, in the middle of it, was a thin oakling, barely taller than the boy.
‘Nice, don’t you think?’
His face was shining, triumphantly.
‘Could you promise me one thing?’ I asked, looking him straight in the eye.
‘That you’ll be the guardian of the oak. Watch over it, so that nobody will cut it down. Would you do that?’
‘I guess so.’
‘And I promise to come here every now and then to help you. If we’re really good, then perhaps one day it will become a big climbing tree and you could build huts in it.’
‘Although that will take many years. Oaks grow slowly.’
We stood there, pondering for a while, and rays of sunlight broke through the clouds.
‘By the way, if you ever see any ivy among its roots, get rid of it before it chokes the tree.’
‘I promise’, answered the boy solemnly.
Then we strolled back to the church, but before I drove away the boy looked at me and asked, ‘What’s its name?’
I turned around and looked at the oakling. There it was, small yet sprouting, solitary yet healthy. It had life.
‘Trust’, I answered. ‘The name of the oak shall be Trust.’
And it is still there today, growing bigger and stronger every year. The boy is a grown man now, but he has kept his promise – as have I.