A little girl was walking with her grandmother through the open countryside. Her granny often told her stories about wonders of the natural world. Together they stopped to take a closer look at a birch. Amazed, the little girl asked, “Why does this tree have such beautiful white bark, Granny, and why does it have such tiny leaves?” Her grandmother replied, “Well, love, for your two questions there are two stories. Let’s sit down here while I tell you them.” The little girl settled herself down in the grass and looked at her grandmother in anticipation….
Plants and animals cannot talk. We always think that whatever happens they go with the flow and are always happy. But that is not the case. Not all plants and animals are happy with their appearance, far from it! At one time the birch was moaning on about its small leaves. It would so much rather have had those large leaves like the horse chestnut or the sycamore. When a fairy overheard it complaining, it went and perched in its branches and asked the tree what was wrong.
“I have these small yellow leaves. I would so love to have large golden leaves which glitter in the sun. Leaves which completely amazes anyone who looks at them.”
“OK,” said the fairy, “if that’s what you want, that’s what you can have.” The birch was very happy with its golden leaves.
A few months later the fairy flew past a bare birch. “What’s wrong? Where are your golden leaves?” asked the fairy.
“The people thought my golden leaves were so beautiful, that they have plucked me bare,” responded the birch, glumly.
“That is terrible” said the fairy, “what do you want to do about it?”
The tree replied, “I would love to have large glass leaves. Glass leaves which tinkle in the wind and sparkle in the sunlight.”
“OK,” said the fairy, “if that’s what you want, that’s what you can have.”
The birch was very happy with its glass leaves.
A few months later the fairy flew past a bare birch. “What’s happened? Where are your glass leaves?”she asked.
“All my beautiful glass leaves were shattered in a hailstorm,” grizzled the birch.
“Well,” said the fairy, “so what now?”
The tree answered, “I would love my own little leaves back. Nobody steals them. They survive hailstones and storms. Yes, please may I have my own little leaves back?”
“OK,” said the fairy, “if that’s what you want, you can have them back.” So the tree was very happy: proud of her small leaves which whisper in the wind; proud that sunbeams play so beautifully with its tender small green leaves in the spring and its soft gold-green leaves in the autumn.
“But Granny, why does the birch have such a beautiful white trunk?”
“Well, sweetie, I was coming to that in my next story….”
A long time ago when the birch had got her small leaves back, it was standing in the garden of Job. Job was not only a rich man, but also an honest one. He lived in total harmony with the laws of the Jewish belief. God was very proud of him for this. One day the devil said to God, “Being good and honest is not very difficult for Job. He has everything his heart desires. You just see how good and honest a man he is, when he is poor and ugly.”
God gave the devil permission to put Job to the test. He wanted to see whether he might remain an upright man, if he was sick and poor. The devil made him lose his wealth. Because of acne and carbuncles he was always in pain and looked awful too. For a long time he was poor, lonely and ill. But he still remained an honest and good man. One day God told Job that he had suffered enough and that he would once again lead a normal life. Job was overjoyed and ran to his wife to tell her the good news. As he walked into the house, she was just coming out holding a pan of boiling milk. They bumped into each other, the pan of boiling milk flew out of her hands and splattered over the birch in their yard. Ever since then the birch has had a milk white bark. Because the milk had just boiled, the bark continually peels off to this day.”
Characteristic of the birch is the bark which peels off horizontally. This bark hardly breaks down at all, whereas the wood of the dead birch disintegrates very fast. Next time you are out in the woods, take a look at some dead birch wood. The outside of the birch is mostly intact, whereas the inside has either rotted away or disappeared completely.
The polypore only grows on ill or weak examples and is a sure sign of its approaching demise. Dead, dried up polypores are very hard. The red toadstools with white spots, the fly agaric, often grows close to birches. The witches’ broom found in birches is caused by a fungus which hardly damages the tree itself.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl