This past weekend, Andrew and I took a weekend trip to the nearby, coastal town of Robertsport, Liberia. The weather was cool, the moon was full, and the secluded beaches were lovely. We camped on the shore beneath a grove of native trees, and with the light of the full moon in our faces, we laid awake for a while. So, with no wifi signal or electronics to provide us with entertainment, and feeling inspired by the natural beauty around us, I resorted to a tradition found in every culture around the world dating back hundreds of generations.
I decided to tell a story. And it went something like this….
Once upon a time, there was a little tree that sprouted in the sands of the shore betwixt the lush, green hills of the jungle and the mosaic blues of the ocean.
When the tree was young, it was happy. It spent its days listening to the roar of the waves and dancing to the caws and whistles of birds as the salty breeze blew its branches this way and that. At night, the tree was at ease, surrounded by the cool air, the blue-white light of the moon, and the twinkling of trillions of stars that dotted the inky, midnight sky.
And as the little tree aged, it grew quite differently from the other nearby trees. For while the others’ limbs and leaves reached upward toward the sun during the day and continued their attempts at grasping the light even into nighttime, the little tree’s limbs and leaves leaned toward the ocean, always reaching out rather than up. The tree longed to go beyond the shore, to feel the splash and rush of the tides rather than the current of the wind, so it reached toward the waves that could carry it to far-off places.
Most trees would have thought this life in the sand by the ocean was the best life of all, and it was indeed enjoyable. However, the little tree wondered about other places in the world. While other trees filled their days wondering how tall they might grow, the little tree pondered the many different places it wanted to go. Evergreens felt the chill of fluffy snow that settled heavy on their needles in the mountains. Unluckier hardwoods were petrified into stone in the dry heat of the desert. And maples and sycamores displayed colors of fiery flame that swept across their branches in the brisk and crisp autumns of the North. All of these tales the little tree had heard whispered in the winds that blew in from afar.
So, as the little tree’s body grew thicker and its roots grew deeper, the less happy it felt. With each new ring added to the inside of its trunk, the farther out of reach became its dreams of seeing the world. At least when it was a sapling, the tree could hope that a strong wind might uproot it and send it drifting along with the ocean tide. As each year passed, though, that became less likely with the weight and height the tree gained. Yet still, its branches reached out, leaves quivering to touch the horizon.
Months became years, and years became decades, and the tree slept away time as life happened around it. Until one day, there were new sounds: sounds that were foreign to the resident plants and animals of this shore and made the air tingle with a new kind of excitement.
The tree could feel movement around the base of its trunk, and the vibration of human voices echoed against its bark. The humans chattered back and forth–questions and answers about a very important matter. Then, almost as quickly as they appeared, they vanished into nothing as they moved farther down the shore, and the commotion faded away with them.
Next day, as the orange sun rose through a hazy, early morning mist and painted the sky with overlapping hues of pink and coral, the tree again felt movement on the ground around its base. Soon after, it felt a pressure in its wood near where its roots began. The pressure was rhythmic and smooth like the skilled and practiced bowing of a cello during a symphony. And with each pass back and forth through the wood, the pressure went deeper into the tree.
This took a considerable amount of time, and the tree eventually began to feel strangely unsteady. Then, all of a sudden, the tree began to fall.
Caught off guard, the tree felt frightened at first; but half a blink later, fear turned to freedom as the tree gave in to the rush of a feeling it had never before experienced. Down, down, down… it felt the fall in slow motion and wished this wonderful feeling would last forever. But it is well-known that the heavier an object is, the faster it will fall. And in a moment that came too soon for the tree, the sound of it crashing to the ground was accompanied and muffled by the boom of a wave crashing to the shore.
The wind blew, but the tree–for the first time–did not sway in its path. Rather, the tree felt the stinging grains of sand that blew against its leaves. It felt, too, the tickle of sand that found its way into the nooks and crannies of its bark.
Then, the tree felt many hands along the length of its trunk–hands that were strong, and weathered, and eager for work. These hands belonged to voyagers, and the humans labored intently as they carved away at the wood of the tree, sanded down rough patches, and painted it inside and out with vibrant colors and patterns.
After many days of work, the voyagers had shaped the tree into a canoe in which they would travel to new islands and new shores. And as they pulled together on the tethers of the canoe to move it into the water, the tree–in its new form–touched the warm, salty ocean for the first time and was surprised by the weightless it felt as it bobbed in the waves.
The voyagers boarded the vessel, and everyone–including the canoe–felt the excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead. And finally, with a stroke of the paddles, the canoe headed toward the horizon and a new life of adventure that awaited as it carried the voyagers far, far away.