Retold by Anne Pellowski
In the early days of earth, not long after the trees were created and humans were forced to leave Paradise to work, a man went out to the forest to cut wood. The first tree he came to was a pine tree. But as soon as the man lifted the axe he heard a voice cry out.
“Don’t strike me. Can’t you see the sticky tears that are already coming out of my body? If you hit me it will bring you bad luck.”
The man did not indeed see the sticky sap coming from the several cuts in the tree trunk, so he moved on farther into the forest. He came to a spruce tree and again raised his axe. But the spruce tree protested.
“Don’t cut me down. You will find me of little use for my wood is twisted and knotty.”
Unhappily, the man went on until he came to an alder tree. Once more he raised his axe to strike but the alder shrieked at him.
“Be careful that you don’t wound me. Whenever I am cut, blood runs from my heart. It will stain my wood and your axe blood red.”
The man went no farther but called out to God.
“How am I to get wood to make fire and to build shelter? Every tree I meet cries out and pleads that I not cut it down.”
God took pity on the man and said: “Return to the forest. I will see that hence forth no tree will talk back or contradict you.”
The man did as he was told and this time no tree spoke to him. None protested as he cut down to make shelter and to make a fire.
The trees were not happy about this. They dared not complain aloud to God. Instead, they began to whisper softly, each time a person entered their domain in the forests. If you approach a group of trees anywhere, you can still hear them softly whispering to each other. They are gently complaining about their poor treatment at the hands of humans.
Many of our musical instruments are made of natural materials, but they have been refined to such a high degree that it is difficult to find the natural object behind all the polish. Also, we forget that music often imitates natural sounds in the environment: the brushing of leaves against each other; the wind whistling through trees or rocks; the songs of birds; the snap, crackle and pop of growing and dying trees and plants.
When I tell “Why Trees Whisper,” I like to have on hand some tree branches to wave through the air to create different kinds of “whispers.” It is challenging to see what range of sounds one can come up with while using only natural things, without altering them in any way.
Like the floss of dandelions and milkweed, ancient stories like this one should continue to be sent floating out into the wide world, in much the same way they have drifted down to us across centuries. By telling them, we keep alive our wonder at the tremendous variety of life on our planet.
Story and comments are excerpted with permission from Hidden Stories in Plants: Unusual and Easy-to-Tell Stories from Around the World Together with Creative Things to Do While Telling Them by Anne Pellowski, Macmillan NYC, 1990.
Anne Pellowski was a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library for eight years. She then founded the Information Center on Children’s Cultures of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, which she directed for fourteen years. In addition to Hidden Stories in Plants (now, alas, out of print), her books include The World of Children’s Literature, The World of Storytelling, The Story Vine and The Family Storytelling Handbook. As a storyteller, she is much sought after by schools, libraries, and professional organizations. She is also an active member of the International Board on Books for Young. people (IBBY). Now “retired” and living in Minnesota, she finds she is busier than ever.