If the Trees could Speak

©Andreas Kornevall

This is loosely based on an ancient Baltic story, it is written for schools and educators to give a fairytale perspective on environmental education – if you are interested in sharing this story, please write to me: andreas at earthrestorationservice.org

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In the world, when bears and wolves roamed freely over the land and the shadows of eagle’s wings covered the meadows, a farmer and his wife lived on the outskirts of an old and dark forest.

One day the autumn air brought a chill to the farm and the farmer had to go out and cut a tree down for the winter firewood.

He entered the wild wood and stumbled upon a Silver Birch – a majestic old Silver Birch. He thought to himself, “This is the perfect firewood, with good kindling, and it will keep me warm throughout the winter.” He took his axe and lifted it high in the air; then he heard a voice speaking: “Please no, don’t cut me down.” He thought, “What was that?” He turned around, but he couldn’t see anyone; the forest was silent and he could not even hear any birds. He lifted his axe, and again he heard: “Please do not cut me down, I have small saplings to take care of and they will not be able to survive without me!”

He realised a tree, the Silver Birch, was speaking to him. Had he lost his mind? He didn’t dare to cut it down with his axe for it seemed so alive. He left quickly to get away from his thoughts and the mysterious voice. He continued deeper into the forest, until he came upon a great Oak. He thought, “This tree will be enough for two winters!” He reached for his axe, and before it came down he heard again: “Please stop, please stop, I am only young, not yet fully mature, and I have lots of acorns growing in my arms, please do not cut me down! Please…!”

Again the young farmer could not believe his eyes and ears. He said to himself, “I will find a tree, we need to be warm over the winter, but I cannot keep hearing these voices.” They made him incapable of cutting the Oak tree.

He continued onwards and he chanced upon a Rowan tree standing upright with its red berries. He thought, “This tree is not too heavy to bring back,” and he lifted his axe. “No, no, stop!” said the Rowan, “I have a pair of nightingales nesting in my crown – please do not cut me down.”

This time the farmer didn’t know what to do. He sat by the Rowan tree with his head down. He could hear the language of the trees and birds, and he understood what they said; the whole forest was alive, like him.

The creases on his hand – although they were faint – were the same as on the land. He looked at the veins in his arms and they resembled branches on the trees. After a few moments he heard little bells ringing; someone was coming towards him singing a merry tune:

“He didn’t know what to think
Tingely tingely ling
Many folk tales they spoke
Rowan, Birch and Oak
Tingely tingely ling.”

He froze. From the thicket, a smiley face appeared and a small little man jumped out. He was wearing a red woolly hat, his trousers and shirt were made of the finest linen, his shoes of birch and his waistcoat of spruce bark.

“Hello, young man,” he said. “My name is Tingely Ling, I am the Lord of the forest and of the trees; I have come to thank you. Thank you for not cutting the trees down, tingely tingely ling. Since you have been so graceful, I will give you a fine gift, tingely ling.” He pulled out a small golden hazel twig from behind his big ear; it was very thin and no longer than a finger. He said, “Here, take this and you can wish for whatever you would like. Sing tingely tingely ling and swish it from east to west. There are some runes written on the twig, magic ones, ting a ling a ling. Read with care, tingely ling; read not hurried, but studied, tingely tingely ling”. Then the little man jumped away and disappeared in a puff of smoke. The farmer looked at the runes. He found them difficult to understand; he had never studied the old ways, and he couldn’t read or write.

He ran back to the homestead and to his wife, and decided to keep this meeting a secret.

His wife was furious. She wondered how he could come back without wood. The air was cold and they would perish in the winter. He sang quietly, “Tingely tingely ling,” and he swished from east to west and wished for them to dance under the gleaming moon and to allow romance into their lives. Before he could blink, they were dancing the waltz together over the wildflowers, and as if by magic there was a fire burning in the chimney and the logs didn’t turn to ash. His wife’s cauldron in the kitchen contained fresh meat and lovely food, they drank golden mead and he learnt to play the fiddle. The bears helped him to build a new barn. They had three sons and one daughter and lived out their happy lives in the homestead. Those who came to visit said it looked like the best inn you had ever walked into; amber light would shine from the windows, and there would be merry music until late at night. The homestead was never too opulent or too luxurious.

Although he never understood the runes from the golden twig, the farmer was of good heart and his wishes were too, and he never wished harm on anyone. When he was on his deathbed aged 110, he revealed his secret about the magic twig to his children, and he selected his oldest son as heir to this inexplicable treasure.

The heir passed the twig down to the next generations, but not one of the heirs read the runes, as they were all too eager to make their wishes come true. Over the generations, the homestead no longer had a simple cauldron over the fire or rustic straw beds; instead, it started to look more like a mansion with high ceilings and large staircases.

When the fourth heir was given the golden wand, he used it every day. There were golden dishes to eat from and crystal crowns in every room; the floor and ceilings were a mosaic of the rarest jewels from around the world: sapphires, white jade, rubies and blue diamonds. The homestead had been transformed from a mansion into a palace.

One day when deepest winter had set in and it was getting cold, the fifth heir felt he needed more warmth. He wasn’t content with just stoking the fire in the large glowing hearth and he looked to the sun. He took the golden twig outside and made a wish for the sun to be brought closer to earth so that it could warm his back. We all know you cannot move the sun from its axis, but he tried. Then sparks of burning coal and seeds of fire started to rain down from the sun; they burnt him badly and put him in great pain. The fire rain continued and the palace was reduced to a pile of grey ash. The fields and the forests were laid bare, and the golden twig was lost in the fire. The family lost everything and became poor; they had to move away and start anew.

It was then that the trees became so terrified of the fire seeds and the greediness of man that the forest turned silent.

Many years later, the ninth heiress of the young farmer, a great-great-great-granddaughter who had heard the catastrophic story of her family, was intrigued to return and see the land again. When she arrived there was nothing there apart from a few large trees growing; the whole forest had disappeared and been turned into man-made fields.

She sat under a lone Birch, the silvery leaves nodding their heads above her. When she looked at the landscape, a desire to build the homestead again, to bring it back to life, surged up from within her. She even thought about bringing the wild forest back. Whilst she was lost in her thoughts, she caught a glimpse of a small shimmering object amongst the wildflowers and brambles. She studied it closely and realised she had found the golden twig. The runes were still there, in small but visible writing. She was astonished as she had heard so much about this magical twig from her family and her grandparents, but she had never believed a word of it.

She wished she could read and understand the runes. She tried to concentrate, but it was old and ancient text which only few understood. Almost all had lost the ability to read or listen to what the old runes meant. She knew the runes had come from an old Ash tree, and she held this thought. Then high up on the branches of the Silver Birch an old crow croaked:

“The runes say:

I am from the golden wishing tree
The finest you ever did see
To make a wish swish me twice from east to west and sing:

“Tingely tingely ling”

Beware of too much greed for fire, water, earth and air
So make your wish with great care
Or suffer the curse of the dragon’s lair.”

Finally the runes explained what had happened to her family. She guarded the golden twig safely and started to rebuild and regrow the old farm. She used the gift with care and with wisdom.

Today, if you should ever travel to the homestead, there is an aroma of sweet pine needles in the air. There is the sound of laughter, and there is fresh food in the cauldron. And a wild forest is growing.

She had understood each generation’s temptation. She taught the next heir well, and, since then, each heir has been made well aware of the curse of the dragon’s lair and has learnt to wish with great care.

Andreas Kornevall