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Ten years ago, I was in a training program at Dubai. It was orientation session for Global Management Consultants which I had aspired to join. Founder and Chief Executive Saira Akbar was the lead trainer. We were a diverse group of men and women, and the oldest among us was a gentleman from Malaysia. It was a highly educated group where I was probably the least educated. We learned from Saira and from one another.

The Malaysian told us an interesting story from his life. He had been educated in the US and had the great opportunity to get tutored by Michael Porter, the pioneer of Strategy. The weather was freezing cold when Porter asked him to go out in the lawn, find a tree and talk to it for one hour. Obeying the instructions, he went into the lawn and found a large tree. He was cursing himself and Porter for having to do a seemingly silly thing in such weather. Anyway, he started conversation with the tree. In a few minutes, he felt at home and was conversing wholeheartedly. The experience, he said, taught him a new dimension of relationship.

Our relationship with trees must be as old as we are. We can say with certainty that trees were already there when the first man was created. We may recall the story of Adam and Eve who ate the fruit of forbidden tree which caused them to leave the Garden of Eden and descend to earth where we are now living.

Today, I sharing a story shared by Maria Popova, whose literary effort is highly commendable, and I hold her and her effort in high regard. The quality of her content is par excellence.

This is the story of Bertolt, an ancient tree and a young boy’s relation and love with it. The story is told through animated pictures by French-Canadian geologist-turned artist Jaques Goldstyn.

The story begins with the very ordinary event when a young boy loses one mitten. He goes to the Lost and Found and comes back with two mismatched mittens which make him very happy but give rise to other boys making fun of him. “Sometimes people don’t like what’s different”, he observes with a maturity beyond his age, as if he knows that other people’s judgements are about them and not the judged.  The little boy is undisturbed what others say. He continues to enjoy his solitude.

The other boys keep busy with lot of things, but this little boy cherishes his time with Bertolt – the ancient oak he has named and loves to climb. He observes and counts the rings of a nearby smaller tree and infers that Bertolt may be about 500 years old.

The boy returns to Bertolt often, climbs it and stays in its branches. He knows every branch of the tree very well. He also becomes friends with animals and birds who build homes in Bertolt. He especially loves taking shelter in Bertolt during spring storms, when strong winds sway the branches of Bertolt wildly, which “sway and creak like the masts of a big ship”.

Seasons keep passing. Bertolt sheds its leaves in autumn and stays bare during winter. Come spring, and it makes the barren branches back to lush life. One spring, all plants start blooming, except Bertolt.

The boy waits for days and then weeks, but no sign of spring life comes to Bertolt. One day, the boy finally realizes and accepts that Bertolt is dead. It will not bloom again. The boy faces the fact of death with great subtlety and maturity. His is sorrowful as he is losing his best friend. Since a burial of a tree would be impossible, the boy, longing to commemorate Bertolt is some way, eventually dreams up a plan in a very special way.

He goes to Lost and Found, fills a box of colorful mismatched mittens, loads it onto his bike and races up the hill toward Bertolt. He climbs up the giant trunk along with the load of colorful mittens and begins clipping the mittens to Bertolt’s barren branches with clothespins.

“In the final scene, we see Bertolt half-abloom with mittens. They stand as an imaginative replacement for the leaves and blossoms that Bertolt’s fatal final spring failed to bring – not artificial, but realer than anything, for they are made of love.”

Adapted from The Marginalian by Maria Popova.


Disclaimer. The pictures in this blog are taken from the story book as presented in the Marginalia. Copyright infringement in any way is not intended.

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