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The Trees' Perpetual Penance

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There was a time, said the old Danish bards, when all trees stayed
forever green, keeping their leaves even in the hardest winter. In
those days every living thing, whether plant or animal, had a soul and
an indivdual character, and none was exempt from the moral code.
Even trees were expected to show kindness to their fellow creatures,
and might be punished for a cruel deed.

The stage for just such a punishment was set, late one September,
when flocks of garrulous redwings gathered in their thousands for
their migratory flight from the advancing winter. As the sun set, they
began the arduous journey that would take them over the waters of
the Mediterranean and the sands of the Sahara to the warm lands of
Africa. But one was left behind, unable to fly because its wing was
broken.

The injured bird hopped and fluttered from tree to tree, seeking shelter
from the coming cold. A birch tree swayed in a dance with the wind
and took no heed of the bird's request. Neither did the willow, nursing
some deep and secret sorrow as it drooped mournfully over a stream.
And the proud oak, soaring skyward, did not seign to notice the
redwing at its feet.

At last the weary bird came to a spruce, tallest of the forest trees,
which received him charitably and drew its thick-growing needles
tight round him. A pine nearby spread its branches wide to shelter
the creature more closely, and a dark juniper offered an abundance
of berries to feed the bird until better days.

The birch, the willow and the oak paid for their inhospitality. When
the wind howled after the first frosts, it stripped them naked and
shook them from their dreams.

Forever after, they would be vulnerable to winter's blasts and face
the snows as shivering skeletons, while the kinder spruce, pine
and juniper remained forever green.

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