"I'm getting old" says tired old tree
Who will come and visit me?
I'll settle in before winter comes
And lean towards the setting sun.
It was the month of December on the shores of Silver Lake. Crystals twinkled and sprinkled on the water. George walked through the garden in his shiny red boots. He was used to hearing all kinds of sounds in the garden, birds singing and squirrels chirping, but now, all was quiet and still. The was a gentle hush in the garden as it was now falling asleep.
Inside the house, his mother was busy baking cookies and simmering hot apple cider. George could smell the cinnamon and nutmeg all throughout the house. He loved a hot cup of cider after walking outside all day in the cold, crisp air. "This is a time for giving to others" she would say. " A time to make gifts and share them with our family and friends." Even though it was hard, he learned to share his favorite cookies with his neighbors and friends. How he delighted to see their smiling faces as they opened up a tin of star-shaped cookies.
As George wandered through the garden, he poked about here and there with his favorite walking stick. He looked for worms and beetles and bugs, but could not find any. Most of the birds had flown away for the winter. Even the busy squirrels were not there to wiggle their fluffy tails at him, inviting him to play. All was quiet.
And to add to the hush of this time of year, there was not much color in the garden. All of the blossoms had faded and the bulbs lay asleep under the ground until spring. He could see brown on the barks of the trees and grey in the sky. But the evergreens did shine bright. The cedars, spruces, and pines filled his heart with joy. "I never really noticed you before in the spring and summer" he said to them with a smile. "Now that all is brown, I can see your bright green needles."
Just then, George heard a sound above him. It was a cackling and a crackling. Two big brother crows flapped their wings and then "whoosh!" they flew away towards the shore. As George looked up, he saw the tree that the black birds were in.It was Grandfather Cottonwood Tree, his favorite tree that he had climbed last year for the very first time.
But now, there were no leaves on this tree.It was bare, brown and dry. George saw new things he had never noticed before about the tree. "I never noticed how big your trunk was before" he said to the tree. How strong and mighty you are! The tree stretched and yawned and leaned down towards the ground as if to settle down for a long winter's nap. George ran his soft small hands along the trunk of the tree."Oh, how rough and dry you are!" he said. He looked and saw no nests in the tree. There were no birds, or animals to be found. Then George began to wonder.
"I don't see any animals here around you. I wonder if you are lonely" he said to the tree. "I have family and friends and neighbors to play with. Perhaps you too would like some friends." George thought about the Christmas tree that hung so proudly in his home. It was decorated with all kinds of fancy things-shiny glitter, candles, apples and a gold star at the top. There were even a few red robins that his mother had stitched out of wool felt. He loved looking at that tree each night and watching it twinkle in the darkness. That tree was magic.
And then, George got an idea. It was a special idea. He ran to the garden shed and got his little willow basket, some scissors and some twine. Then he walked through the garden, looking for little treasures. "There IS still some color left!" he said as he snipped some fat, red rose hips and some long juniper branches full of purple blue berries.
He also snipped some red vines that had dried black berries and an evergreen vine with white berries. He even cut some cedar sprigs and a few pine boughs with pinecones till on them. "Oh, there's LOTS to see this time of year in the garden!" he exclaimed. And he kept filling his basket until it was full to the brim.
And then George tip toed into his mother's sewing room and gathered some colorful tufts of wool and some pretty threads from her scrap basket. And in the kitchen, he quietly took one red apple from the bowl on the dining room table. He polished it and made it shine brightly. "Now I have something to give to another!" he said to himself as he walked out the door.
George skipped to the Grandfather Cottonwood tree and emptied his basket of treasures on the ground. "See?" he said to the tree. "These are all for you! You have given so much to me in all of the seasons. I have climbed you in the spring, took naps under your summer shade and played peek a boo in your autumn leaves. Now I want to give back to you!"
George carefully cut pieces of string and tied them to the vines, branches and sprigs. One by one, he strung them along the lower branches of the tree. The berries looked just like a string of colored lights shining in the sun. "And here" he said, as he squeezed the soft cedar needles. "See how good this smells? Just like the cookies baking in our house, you too can smell the cedar from this bough." The old tree bent down as if to take in the fragrance of the fresh greenery.
Then, George spread little tufts of colored wool in the hollow of the tree, as if to make a wee nest. He strung the scraps of pretty threads in the branches and they blew softly in the gentle breeze. He place the red apple among his twisting roots. The shiny red could easily be seen against the brown on the bark. "There!" he said. Now you too are quite fancy, just like the Christmas tree in our house!"
The old tree admired the colors that hung from his branches. Just then, a handsome blue jay landed on his branch and nibbled on some of the berries. And soon after, brother squirrel hopped over and started to nibble on the apple. The old tree listened to the squirrel's stories of all the friends he had met that day on his adventures on Silver Lake. And as the sun was setting, a sleepy mother mouse arrived with her 3 babies and they curled up in the little woolly nest. Grandfather tree now had many friends.
The old tree was no longer lonely. He was happy to be with his newly found friends, the bird, the squirrel and the family of mice. George knew the tree was content. Once again, he rubbed his soft, white hands along the tree's bark as if to say "Merry Christmas dear friend." The tree nodded in return in silent reply as if to say "Thank you George. You have given me the best gift of all. The gift of companionship."
Later that night, as George entered his home, he put his little red boots to dry by the fire and smiled to himself as he thought of Grandfather Cottonwood tree, surrounded by his new friends. He imagined the tree was smiling inside, just as George was too. How happy he was to give back to the old tree.
"I am old" says tired old tree
There was a time when I was young and free
Thank you George, for your treasures fine
You truly are a friend of mine."
written by Christine Summerfield-December 2017
It was spring time at Green Cottage. The dandelions dotted the grass with yellow polka dots and the lilacs filled the air with sweet perfume. The apple blossoms were finished blooming and green leaves filled its tree. George's mother had taken down her heavy, winter curtains and replaced them with white lace ones for the warmer days to come. "Ahh, that feels better" she said. "Now, we can open the windows and enjoy the evening breeze in our sitting room." How George loved to watch the gentle wind blow the soft, airy curtains back and forth.
Each day, George put on his red rubber boots and walked outside. He wandered around the cottage, looking for signs of spring. This time, he noticed the vines that grew up all around the house. Their yard was a small city garden, but his mother and father filled it with plants. Each year, they would dig out some grass and put in more flowers and ground covers that creep along the ground. "The birds and the bees love all kinds of plants" his parents would say. "Not just trees, but bushes and vines too. You never know where they might next build a home."
George could see that all kinds of vines grew around the house. Climbing roses and honeysuckle climbed along the front porch. It was a good place to sit at night and smell the sweet perfume. Around the arbor in the back garden, purple clematis twirled around bright pink roses. And all of the old fences were covered in Silver Lace vine. "That one is nick-named 'mile-a-minute' " said his mother. It grows so fast, you would think it grows a mile a minute!" And on the north side of the house, the whole wall was covered withVirginia Creeper. That was George's favorite vine, as its leaves turned bright red in the fall and they were full of purple berries for the birds to eat.
George knew all of the names of the vines around the house, except for one. All of the other vines lost their leaves in the winter, but this one stayed green all year long and its stems were quite sturdy. It was an evergreen and it climbed up and up and made a frame around the entrance to the front door.
"What's this vine called?" he asked his mother, pointing to the shiny green leaves. "That is a euonymus" replied his mother. "You-won-a-what?" George tried to wrap his tongue around this big, new word. "You-won-a-muss" she repeated slowly. "It rhymes with Grandpa Russ. And it sounds like Michaelmas and Christmas, she said. "Oh, I can remember that!" said George. "You-won-a-muss" he repeated to himself over and over as he looked at the leaves.He liked learning new words and he made up a little verse to help him remember:
You won a muss, You won a muss
You sound like Grandpa, Grandpa Russ
You won a muss, You won a muss
Your leaves stay green, even at Christmas!
He thought of his Grandfather Russell, who lived at the bottom of Precious Mountain and his big vegetable garden. He remembered Grandpa's favorite crop to grow was potatoes, of every shape and color.It was his grandfather who taught George's mother a love for the garden and all things that grow. He would be visiting him soon in summer and eating fresh food from his garden.
One day, as George stepped outside for his usual morning walk, he was just about to go out the front door when his mother stopped him. She put her arm around his shoulder and whispered "shh...there is a tiny new nest at the top of the euonymus vine. While I was tying my honeysuckle to the porch fence this morning, a mother house finch swooped right over my head and landed in the apple tree. She looked right at me, as if to say in a scolding voice: 'stay away from my new nest!' Sure enough, I tip toed across the porch and peeked at the vine. There, I could see a tiny brown nest, no bigger than the palm of my hand."
George looked at his mother's hand and marveled at how small that nest could be. Then, he remembered how tiny the house finches were. They flew away every winter and returned to his home each spring. They were quite colorful, with red or yellow feathers. And how they could sing! Their sweet songs awakened him each morning outside his bedroom window.
George's mother continued to tell him about the house finches. "The mother and father finches have built a nest in the vine.It is a safe, protected place from the wind and sun. The mother will lay her eggs and keep them warm until they hatch. Let's remember to quietly walk on the front porch to let them be in peace until the babies are born.Listen closely George, and some day soon, you will hear them sing in the early morning."
George waited and listened. He kept the feeder filled with linseed and and placed a clay saucer with fresh water on the ledge. He found a flat stone and put it in the center for the birds to land on. He watched the mama bird fly from the nest to the feeder to the apple tree trunk and back again. He smiled at her, thinking 'your secret is safe with me'.
As George waited every day, he finally asked his mother "how long before those eggs hatch?" It was getting harder to wait until he could hear those baby birds sing. "A few more days" replied his mother. When the dandelions and lilacs are finished blooming, that will be just about the right time." Soon, George found other things to do in the garden.He poked about here and there with his lucky stick and found all kinds of bugs: worms, beetles, ants and even some lady bugs. Then, one morning, he noticed that the purple lilacs were fading and turning to brown. "Oh" he said to himself. He remembered what his mother said about the baby finches being born.
He tip toed towards the front porch and sat down on the steps. He was quiet as a mouse. He listened and waited. He tried not to look up too many times at the wee nest, but he was so excited! Just then, he saw the father finch fly to the nest. He knew it was the father, because his head and chest were rusty red. George heard the sound of tiny baby birds "peep, peep, peep, peep, peep" they all cried in high voices. The mama and papa were perched on the edge of the vine, bending their heads inside the nests and feeding the babies.
There was a flurry of sound and a flutter of wings for a moment, then all was quiet and still. Mama finch settled into her nest and wrapped her wings around her babies, keeping them warm and safe. Papa finch stood on the sturdy vine just outside the nest, looking out and keeping watch. And the euyonomous vines wrapped its shiny green leaves all around the nest. All were safe and warm.
George thought of those babies and smiled. "I know just how they feel" he said to himself. "After supper, when my belly is full, my mother puts her arms around me too. We snuggle in bed with a story to help me fall asleep. My bed is a lot like that wee nest."
And for many days that spring, George awoke to the sweet songs of a happy family of house finches. He listened to the changing sounds of the babies from peeping to squawking to singing. And one day, they flew away and were free. But George always kept the feeder full and the saucer filled with clean water, as he knew the songbirds would return the very next spring.
written by Christine Summerfield/May 2016