The Chestnut and the Linden

Once there was a chestnut tree that stood at the edge of a leafy grove.

In the spring, its splendid crown cast a broad shade about its roots, and violets would show their sweet faces here and there, and smiled at the tree.

Upright clusters of fragrant flowers would cover the tree as spring turned to summer. Sometimes, a person would show up on a path that went up a hill and past the chestnut tree, and noticing the shade the man or the woman would sit down to rest.

Once it was a farmer. He took out some bread and a piece of white sheep’s milk cheese out of his canvas bag, looked up at the tree and said: ‘Now, that’s a fine tree. I could make a fence for my sheep pen out of its timber… But then, it looks so handsome just standing here.’ And the tree sighed.

Sunlight played in its crown day after day as the hot summer gave way to autumn, and many chestnuts fell to the ground all about the tree and lay by its roots. The tree mourned the coming of winter as great browned leaves fell from it, sometimes one by one, sometimes in flurries when a gale of wind swept over it. When November rains soaked the ground and the cover of fallen leaves over it, the chestnut’s roots tasted a murky sweetness in the rainfall saturated with what had once been last year’s foliage, with which the tree nourished itself before surrendering to a winter dormancy.

And each spring it woke up with a feeling of astonishment: life had returned. To a tree, a full year felt like a mere day, every spring arriving like a new morning. Again the tree sprung its broad and fanciful leaves, and when the sunlight ran through its crown, it stood in glory, dappled light playing on the ground about the tree the way it might sometimes in a human cathedral, when, filtered through stained-glass windows it falls on the cool, polished plates of the floor.

One summer day, as the chestnut tree was shedding its final blooms, a sweet fragrance was brought to it by the wind from some distance. The chestnut’s bows lifted slightly in surprise. Not very far away from it stood a young linden tree. Fine blossoms covered its crown: it seemed to be enjoying a particularly good summer, and bees were flying about it like sparks over a bonfire. ‘How lovely you are,’ said the chestnut tree, and the slow currents in the network of roots that spans the entirety of the forest were animated by this involuntary confession. ‘Who are you?’ asked the linden tree. ‘I am a chestnut tree, the one that bloomed just last month…’ Later that summer, a maiden came, accompanied by a suitor, and the two of them made a picnic beneath the chestnut tree. The maiden went off to collect linden blossoms, while the man took a notebook and a pencil from his bag. He wanted to compose a poem for his love, but words swirled in his mind without settling into a form. Finally, he gave up and rested under the tree, looking into the distance. The roots of the chestnut tree, meanwhile, mingled with the linden tree’s roots, and the two trees whispered their innermost secrets to one another till the end of the day — that is, until the cold grasp of winter seized them both. The two summer lovers had been long gone.

‘Look at this curly tree,’ said a woman one warm day next year, looking up at the linden tree. ‘Why don’t you build me a house from its timber.’ The woman was speaking to her husband. ‘You cannot build from linden,’ said the man with a smile. The linden tree and the chestnut tree both sighed.

‘What would I do if you were cut down,’ said the chestnut tree, whose leaves fluttered with worry.

‘It’s a good thing that I’m only suitable for tea and honey-making,’ she replied. Indeed, several beehives had been placed in the meadow near her, as well as near the chestnut, and at this time of year bees toiled, filling their little pollen baskets among her sweetly fragrant blossoms. In the distance, a farmer’s homestead was fenced off, and beyond the fence some new currant and gooseberry shrubs had just been planted. As the summer advanced, the edges of their leaves turned brown. The farmer shook his head with concern over the plants: they appeared to be touched by rust.

Autumn came. This autumn, the chestnut tree felt a malaise. ‘What is it that’s troubling you?’ asked the linden tree. But he did not know.

Yet in the spring the grove awakened and burgeoned into life, loud with birdsong. ‘There you are,’ whispered the happy linden tree. ‘And there you are,’ he whispered back.

‘Here you are,’ she would say on awakening in the days that followed, because their crowns had spread and were touching, their leaves mingled, and so did the fragrance of his late bloom when she opened up her petals. As for their roots underground, they had intertwined and were no longer trading messages — they were thinking some shared thought that carried forth like a poem, and the poem was neither hers nor his but kept being woven by the two trees the way gauze is woven by a fine loom out of yet-finer fibers. And finer still were their thoughts.

In autumn, the beekeeper collected frames of honey from his beehives. The center of each frame was dark with late-spring chestnut honey; farther out from the center, bright linden honey radiated. The man looked at the honeycomb in the sun and smiled.

And yet, in the green time of the year, the chestnut tree felt something stifling his breath. Trees breathe with their leaves, of course, but the chestnut’s leaves were now edged in brown. And one day, a farmer looked up into the tree and scratched his head: ‘Look at that,’ he said, ‘there’s rust in that tree, the same rust that plagues my currants and gooseberries.’

‘There’s rust in my leaves,’ the chestnut confided to the linden, and the linden shuddered. ‘Beloved,’ she said, ‘what can I do for you?’ ‘I do not know,’ he said, ‘but if my crown is not all green, there will not be enough sugar to sustain me through the winter.’ ‘There’s plenty of sweetness in me,’ said the linden. ‘Take all the sugar you need from my roots, and have no fear.’

The sun would rise and caress every tree in the grove and kiss each and every leaf as it traveled across the sky. Year after year, the chestnut tree blossomed, followed by the linden tree. Bees filled their crowns, and the sun smiled upon the trees.

In autumn, the chestnut tree scattered copious chestnuts all around. Chestnut roasters rushed to the tree in season and the fragrance of roasted chestnuts later wafted from afar. November rains soaked the deep carpet of foliage and nourished the two trees, preparing them for winter sleep and the dreaming that would come with it.

Only the sun had guessed that the two trees now standing so close as to be touching were mingled in a lasting embrace, in the depth of the soil where no eye can see.

And the sun loved the two lovers.

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