The Parable of the Great Tree

Once upon a time, the Monkey King sat at the peak of the Great Tree that reached into the clouds in order to commune with his eldest son.

“My son, you have grown of age. I must now tell you of your inheritance. This tree is our life force. Our family uses it for sustenance – its branches support us; its coverage protects us; its fruit nourishes us. But it needs us, as well. It is our function to protect it from parasites that threaten to kill.

“As is foretold, you must set out on your own before you can become king of your own tree. Along the way, there will be challenges. You will encounter danger, you will find friends, you will grow hungry. I ask you only to not take the fruit of the tree that is meant to nourish your brothers and sisters. Feed off the parasites that endanger our home and of the ripened fruit that has fallen to the ground.

“You are meant to be a great king, but you must prove yourself first.”

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The Gingko biloba tree is a living fossil dating dating back 270 million years.

The prince bid farewell to his mother and his brothers and sisters, setting out on his own journey.

He descended the tree when the sun’s rays dawned at the ends of the forest. His first challenge came soon.

Woodpecker perched on a branch and considered the trunk near his branch before finally drilling his beak into the bark.

The prince interrupted.

“Hello, my friend.”

Woodpecker stopped his work, tilting his head toward the prince.

“Why are you pecking at our tree?” the prince asked.

“I peck because I am hungry,” said Woodpecker.

The monkey prince remembered the importance of this tree to his family’s survival. He knew Woodpecker was harming the tree. “My dear friend, this tree is home and nourishment to my family. Could you not find another tree on which to feed?”

“I know no other tree,” said Woodpecker. “To find another I would have to become an explorer, and I am not an explorer. I am a woodpecker.”

“Then join me on my journey. I seek a new tree to call my own kingdom. I would appreciate company along the way.”

Woodpecker cocked his head in thought at the prince’s proposal.

“We will eat of the parasites and the fruit on the ground, but we will need to protect this tree.”

Woodpecker knew this journey would be a different life than the one he had known until then. He wondered if he would be able to survive changing the journey in which he had grown comfortable, but, being a young male, the unknown attracted him, and he joined with the prince.

The second challenge came when the sun had reached above the treetop.

“I am hungry,” Woodpecker said. “Couldn’t I just drill right here for some sustenance?”

The Prince felt a rumble in his stomach and understood Woodpecker’s dilemma.

“I am sorry, but this tree feeds my family. We must not damage her lifeforce.”

Woodpecker clicked his beak in frustration, but remembered the agreement he had made with the prince.

“How about this fruit.” He landed on a branch that held a tuft of flowering branches that were too young to sustain his weight securely. “I know it is a little green, but it is still nourishment.”

The prince remembered his little brothers and sisters and knew that they would enjoy this fruit when it, and they, had matured. He did not want to rob his brothers of their fruit.

“We cannot feed from the fruits of others, dear friend. We must seek our own.”

Woodpecker knew this was true, for he had brothers and sisters of his own on the branches of this tree.

The two friends continued on their journey, eating only of the bugs and other parasites that threatened the tree and its fruit.

The sun dropped under the tree tops and the next challenge approached.

“It is time to rest, my friend,” the Monkey Prince said.

Woodpecker shook his head sadly. “I cannot, my friend, for I have not made my home. I have promised I would not drill into this tree, and that is where my kind sleep. We need protection from our predators.”

The Monkey Prince realized this was true. In protecting his tree, he had endangered his friend.

“I am truly sorry, my friend,” he said. “I must accept the truth that this tree is meant to share. You are allowed to burrow into this tree. I only ask that you not harm her too much.”

Woodpecker did as he was allowed, and slept soundly as the prince slept in the leafy branches. In the morning, the pair fed off the parasites Woodpecker had uncovered while making his nest. He did not feel bad for breaking into the tree, for he knew that Nuthatch would burrow into that hole after he left and protect the tree from parasites that may attack in his absence.

Monkey Prince and Woodpecker continued their journey, leaping from branch to branch, removing parasites along the way, until they came upon Squirrel, who had traveled down the trunk behind them.

“Hello, friend Squirrel, why are you here?” Monkey Prince said, for he remembered him from his childhood on the higher branches. “Is all as it should be among my people?”

Squirrel twitched his furry tail and smiled. “My friend, all is fine at home,” he said. “I have come to share in your quest, for I, too, seek to start a new life. I know you will need company to help you keep your new home healthy and strong.”

The prince embraced Squirrel and introduced him to Woodpecker. “We will make a fine home for ourselves, my friends.”

The fourth challenge approached as they traveled into the late afternoon. They grew hungry but did not eat because of the agreement they had made with the Monkey Prince.

A soft mist shrouded the sunlight as they neared leafier lower branches, which were so tightly woven as to hide the light that bathed the upper branches. In fact, there was so much coverage that the sun had been having trouble breaking through to nourish the lower branches. Some of the leaves were beginning to wither, and the fruit his brothers would expect as they grew was less than it should be.

“If these leaves continue to overgrow, they may harm lower branches and Great Tree’s health,” Monkey Prince noted the problem. “I believe we must pause to nourish ourselves on these leaves,” he said. “We must each select a branch and eat only every seventh leaf.”

As Squirrel and Monkey Prince busied themselves picking every seventh leaf on the tree, Woodpecker found nourishment off the leaking tree sap coming from a hole his father had drilled the year before.

When they had completed their task, the now-visible setting sun danced through the mist in a myriad of colors.

“I am ready to rest, my friends,” said Monkey Prince. “Will you be able to find safety for the night?”

“I have found an abandoned nest my father drilled years ago,” Woodpecker said. “I will be safe for the night.”

Squirrel, too, was prepared. “I have saved every seventh leaf I gathered. Some I ate. With the other leaves I built a nest. I will be safe,” he said.

Knowing all would be right for the night, Monkey Prince settled onto a sturdy branch. In the morning, he was awakened by Raccoon scuffling his way into the branches.

“Good morning, friend,” said Monkey Prince, stretching his long arms over his head in a yawn. “What wakes you so early?”

“I am not waking, but returning to rest,” said Raccoon, “for I am a night creature coming home from a long night of exploration. What brings you here?”

“We are also explorers,” said Monkey Prince. “We seek a new tree in which to build our homes and share in its existence. Would you be interested in joining us?”

“Oh, yes,” Raccoon said, “but I must rest first. I will find you when I explore tonight. In which direction will you be heading?”

Monkey Prince thought hard about how to guide his new friend. Just then, a fruit dropped from a nearby branch, bounced off others and finally settled on the ground, giving birth to an idea.

Knowing there would be more fruit on the ground, he said, “You will be able to follow the seeds we will plant on our journey.”

Satisfied, Raccoon curled into his nest. Monkey Prince woke Woodpecker and Squirrel. “We will be traveling on the ground now. We will need to find a suitable home in a proper tree,” he said, but we must make certain to set a path for my new friend Raccoon. The friends agreed to plant seeds at a set distance from each other.

Once on the ground, they fed from the fruit that had fallen to the ground before setting off on their journey. Then they followed the shadows of the trees, planting seeds in sunny areas as they had agreed.

In one sunny area, they found Green Snake sunning himself on a rock.

Curious, Monkey Prince woke him.

“My friend, I wonder if you can help,” he said. “Would you happen to know of a tree similar to this one where we can make our new home? We would be willing to share with you once we have settled.”

The snake coiled himself on his rock, made cautious by the intrusion. “I know of many trees,” he said, the word ending in an elongated hiss.

The others were hesitant because of their experience with snakes, but Monkey Prince persisted, his mood brightened by the snake’s admission. “I am looking for one similar to this one, but this one is my uncle’s home.”

The snake uncoiled itself and slithered to the tree’s roots. He slipped over and around the tree, returning after a short while.

“I know this tree,” he said. “I have sniffed the sap on others. You will have to travel a distance, but I believe it suits your purpose.”

Unable to follow at their pace, Snake pointed out the direction they must travel and promised to meet them at their new home. He, too, took the oath the others had made to only feed off what he must, and no more.

Woodpecker flew ahead to verify Snake’s information and returned to continue the journey as his friends’ guide.

After several days of traveling to the outskirts of the forest, they were awakened by a sweet-smelling mist one day. The Monkey Prince recognized the scent carried in the breeze. The tree was found that day, and, indeed, it was a fine home. The roots were healthy, the leaves plentiful, yet, not too crowded, and the strong trunk seemed to tickle the bottoms of the clouds.

The friends celebrated with a feast of fallen fruit, seeds, and parasites before settling into their new homes. There were truly enough limbs for each of them, including Raccoon and Snake, who made certain to do no unnecessary harm.

Over the years, the friends found mates and raised families that shared the fruits of the tree – its branches supported them; its coverage protected them; its fruit nourished them. They also did their part, protecting their home from parasites that threatened to kill.

One day, the Monkey King who had been the Monkey Prince sat at the peak of the Great Tree that reached into the clouds. His task, as had been his father’s before him, was to commune with his eldest son.

“My son, you have grown of age. I must now tell you of your inheritance. This tree is our life force. Our family uses it for sustenance – its branches support us; its coverage protects us; its fruit nourishes us. But it needs us, as well. It is our function to protect it from parasites that threaten to kill.

“As is foretold, you must set out on your own before you can become king of your own tree. Along the way, there will be challenges. You will encounter danger, you will find friends, you will grow hungry. I ask you only to not take the fruit of the tree that is meant to nourish your brothers and sisters. Feed off the parasites that endanger our home and of the ripened fruit that has fallen to the ground.

“You are meant to be a great king, but you must prove yourself first by retracing the steps of your ancestors, traveling through the maze that gives us life.”

The prince bid farewell to his mother and his brothers and sisters, setting out on his own journey, for what was, will be again in the great circle of life.

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