by Ryanne McLaren
In a garden in the desert, there was a tree. She was beautiful, lush and healthy and growing with a swiftness unknown to most desert plants. She had been planted in good soil and her roots drank deeply from a nearby stream.
One day, the Gardener was walking along the stream. As he went, he pulled up the weeds that would entangle the flowers and trimmed back branches that hung too low over the path. As he approached the tree, she trembled, at first, with delight when she saw him, but then with fear when she noted the shears in his hands.
“Good morning, Tree,” said the Gardener. “What is making your leaves shake?”
“Hello, Gardener,” said the tree. “At first, I shook in greeting, waving my boughs as you would wave your strange branches. But now, I am afraid, for I’ve seen you cut away the leaves of my neighbours.”
“Why does this frighten you, Tree?”
“My leaves are lovely,” said the tree. “You have made them grow strong and fruitful. It seems sad and painful to cut them away simply because they are blocking the path.”
“It is not just for the sake of the path that I prune you and your friends’ branches,” replied the Gardener. “But for their own sake, and yours, as well.”
“I do not understand,” said the tree. “Please, leave my branches for today. They are not in your way—see?” And she lifted her boughs as high as she could, their wood creaking with the effort as she held them aloft over the path so that even a tall man such as the Gardener could pass beneath.
“As you wish, Tree,” said the Gardener. He continued along the path, taking the shears with him. The tree watched him go and only relaxed her branches when he passed out of sight.
It was several weeks before the Gardener came through the tree’s part of the desert again. When he did, he saw at once that she was thriving.
“Good morning, Tree,” he said once more.
“Hello, Gardener,” she replied. “I see you have not brought your trimming shears today. But what is that you have with you instead?”
“It is an axe, dear Tree,” said the Gardener.
“But what is it for?”
“For cutting entire boughs instead of mere branches. Some of the other trees have grown so large that I fear for their strength.”
“How can a large tree be weaker than a small tree?” asked the tree. “Surely larger boughs mean the tree is healthy.”
“That may be so, Tree,” said the Gardener. “But sometimes such boughs are more weight than strength.”
“I still do not understand,” said the tree. “My boughs are certainly growing, but my roots are also deep. You need not use that axe on me today.”
“As you wish, Tree,” said the Gardener, and he passed again under her boughs. As the tree had grown taller as well as larger, he had no need to duck. Still, he glanced overhead at the tree with a small, sad smile and the sunlight glinted off the metal of the axe knowingly.
Now the Gardener passed by the tree every month for many years. The tree continued to thrive, growing into a glorious old tree. Lovers had many times carved their initials in her bark and many families enjoyed playing in her vast shade. She was a pillar of the desert, the biggest and most beautiful tree for miles.
One day, the Gardener paused beneath her. “Good morning, Tree.”
“Hello, Gardener,” said the wizened tree.
“Tree, I am afraid there is a storm brewing,” said the Gardener. Indeed, the tree’s leaves were rustling in an increasing wind and there was a deeper shade cast overhead than that of the tree’s branches.
“I fear no storm,” said the tree. “You have let me grow large and strong. Why should I be afraid?”
“I have let you grow so large, Tree, because you did not want me to do otherwise,” said the Gardener.
“And I thank you for that, Gardener,” said the tree. “You have let me grow strong right here, where I am rooted. I do not fear the storm.”
“Are you sure you would not let me trim back your branches? Or lighten your boughs?” persisted the Gardener.
“No, Gardener,” said the tree. “For you know that you yourself planted me here.”
“It’s true, I did, but I did not intend you to go unpruned and now there is a storm coming.”
“I am grown and rooted and mighty,” said the tree. “I will weather the storm.”
So, the Gardener passed on again, trimming and pruning the other plants along the path and leaving the tree to herself. As he had said, a storm really did rise on the horizon. The tree could see the clouds gathering and hear the distant rumble of thunder. In her many years in the desert, she had not witnessed such a mighty storm. Soon, the wind was whistling through her branches, causing them to crackle like flames. Her leaves began to shudder as many were plucked off and tossed about, but the tree was unafraid; surely her limbs were ready. She wondered, though, whether her smaller neighbours were prepared for such a terrible storm. Would their thin branches and shortened boughs be too weak?
A flash of lightning sliced the sky overhead and drew the tree from her thoughts. It was raining now and the darkness was thick overhead. The wind gathered and rattled her in ferocious gusts. It tore through her branches mercilessly. She steeled herself against its wuthering, holding her boughs firmly against its powerful breath, but it continued to rip off full, invisible fistfuls of her lovely green leaves.
The storm showed no signs of ceasing, but the tree was beginning to get tired. Had her large limbs always been so heavy? And her branches seemed only to catch at the wind rather than withstand it. She braced herself, holding her boughs upright with all her strength. She was rooted, grown, and strong. She would stand through this storm. She told herself these things until she could no longer hear her own thoughts over the roaring of the wind.
Another crack of lightning tore the veil of the heavens, followed by another, sharper crack. This was not lightning, though, but the giving of the tree’s own solid trunk. The wind, holding fast to her outstretched branches, broke her right down the middle.
And then the storm ended.
The tree hung, falling inward on herself. Her boughs were cast down in defeat, for her trunk had been snapped in half. What had been her strength had become her undoing.
When the Gardener passed that way some days after the storm, he wept at the sight of the fallen tree. What remained of her beautiful leaves were turning brown and her branches were heaped at the stump of what had once seemed the largest, loveliest tree in the desert.
“If only you had allowed me to prune you,” whispered the Gardener as he laid his skilful hand on the splintered stump.
Ryanne McLaren graduated from Biola University in 2019 with her Bachelor of Music in piano and organ performance. During her time at Biola, she was named the Biola Conservatory’s “Presser Undergraduate Music Scholar” for her devotion to music, service, and academics. Ryanne also studied literature in the Torrey Honors College and was appointed to “The Order of Peter and Paul” in recognition of her interdisciplinary achievements. In December 2020, Ryanne received her Master of Letters with distinction in “Theology and the Arts” from the University of St. Andrew’s, Scotland. While at St. Andrew’s, Ryanne served as organ scholar at the beautiful St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and was employed as a pianist by the Laidlaw Music Centre.
In her spare time, she could be found running along the ruins of the St. Andrew’s Castle and Cathedral and basking in the beauty of the Scottish coast, which differs greatly from her Arizonan home. Passionate about interdisciplinary studies, Ryanne’s MLitt dissertation explored the relationship between musical practice and Christian theology by considering music-making as a spiritual discipline. Ryanne currently works as a full-time musician in Phoenix, Arizona, and continues to publish both academic and creative writing through various journals such as Transpositions and The Big Picture, as well as her personal site, ABookishCharm.com.