The girl liked to think about the stories her grandfather told but none more than the ones about the tree. Grandfather had lived a full life with many adventures, but his eyes brightened and glistened when he spoke of the tree. He told his granddaughter about the wonderful times he spent climbing the tree and eating her apples and even using her branches to build a house. Grandfather choked up a bit when he talked of cutting down her trunk to build the boat he sailed around the world because the tree had given him a marvelous adventure but he had taken everything from it. The tree had entertained him, fed him, sheltered him, even transported him. But now she was gone.


Then one day Grandfather told the girl a secret. There was a seed. Grandfather had enjoyed all he could from his tree, the fruits and the leaves and the branches and trunk. He had taken and not given. But he had saved a seed. A single seed. Grandfather wasn’t sure why he had saved the seed, he had no plan to do anything with it. But the more he told his granddaughter about the tree, the more he realized he must give the seed to the girl.


The girl planted the seed. She checked on it daily. She watered it and made sure it got sun and even put a shelter of twigs around its sprout to make sure no animals gobbled up its young, green shoots. And the tree grew. And grew. And grew. By the time the tree was knee high, Grandfather was no more, but the girl knew he lived on in the little tree. The girl took her grandfather’s advice and tended to the tree to make sure it would grow big and strong. Before the tree was fully grown the girl might be too big to enjoy it, but she thought perhaps her own children might. The tree kept growing, big enough to make cool shade, but the girl continued her care. Until one day when an extraordinary thing happened. The girl went to check on her tree and it was gone.


The tree was not cut down. It was not eaten by animals. It wasn’t blown away in a storm. It was just gone. The girl checked all around where it had been, thinking perhaps she had gotten lost on her way and was now looking in the wrong place. But the more she checked the more she realized she was in the right place. Only the tree wasn’t. There was the patch of ground where it had grown, the pile of leaves and twigs to protect and nurture it. But there was no tree, just some disturbed earth where the tree had been. And what appeared to be tracks.


The girl followed the tracks. They seemed to lead out of the forest and into town. She had difficulty seeing marks of the tree’s path but she thought she could see traces here and there, the occasional twig or fallen leaf. She followed along until she found herself at her school. And there on the playground stood the tree, surrounded by children like the girl herself. The tree seemed to be telling them stories. The tree told them of the girl and the seed and how the tree had been born. It told them how it had grown and how the girl cared for the tree. It even told the children stories of Grandfather and the Mother Tree. How the tree knew all these stories no one could understand, but schoolchildren don’t bother with practical questions when they find a wonderful story, especially one told by a tree. The stories became more and more interesting and magical until the tree noticed the girl standing nearby listening. And smiling. The girl understood now why her grandfather had given her the seed.


The tree also told the children about all the other trees in the forest and around the world. It told them how the trees talked to each other and knew about each other. And helped each other. The tree also told the children about how trees breathed and drank and grew, how they made the air clean and the soil firm, how they were home to birds and squirrels and monkeys and sometimes children’s playhouses. All the while the children sat rapt as they marveled at these wondrous creatures that brought so much to their lives.


Before long the sun was setting and the children all had to go home. The girl and the tree went back to the forest. The tree curled its roots into the warm earth and folded its branches around the girl, who hugged the tree back. Then the girl went home and went to sleep more contentedly than she ever had before.


The next day the girl went back to visit her tree. Again it was gone. The girl went to her school, expecting to find the tree there again, talking to children. But the tree was not at the school. The girl went back to where the tree lived and tried to figure out where it had gone. She thought she sensed a trail headed downtown, but she didn’t think the tree would go there. Still, she followed and soon found herself at City Hall. There was a fine plaza at City Hall, a large open space of concrete slab. There in the middle, on this hot, hot day, stood the tree. Under its branches, cool in its shade, sat not children but grownups. In suits. The girl went closer. The girl could hear the tree talking about trees and houses.


“And when storms come,” the tree said, “the trees block the wind to protect you. And they drink up the rain so there is no flood in your streets.”


“Over in the hospital,” the tree went on, “the doctors say the sick people get better faster when they can see trees outside their windows.”


It said trees made the city quiet and people liked to walk down streets where trees lived and picnic in the forest. Cities with trees, it said, even have less violence.


“Why, the more trees a city has,” the tree said, “the happier its residents are.”


Then the boy noticed that these were not just any grownups, they were the city council and the mayor. The tree noticed the girl and gave her a wave of a branch. All the grownups looked over at the girl and suddenly seemed embarrassed. They gathered themselves up, pretended they had been doing something else, then shuffled off toward City Hall, walking across the hot, sun-soaked concrete.


“That was interesting,” the tree said to the girl. “Where should we go now?”


“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Who do you want to talk to?”


The girl looked across the square. On the other side of Main Street, she could see a sign for the Chamber of Commerce. Through the window, she could see some business people sitting around a table discussing something.


“Let’s head over there,” she said.


The tree and the girl went through the square and across Main Street and right up to the window of the Chamber of Commerce. They stood there watching until one of the businessmen noticed them. Surprised by what he saw, he told the others and they all came outside to see what had brought a tree to their front door.


“Can we help you?” the businessman said.


“Can you listen to us?” the girl and the tree said together.


Still in shock, the group of business people stood staring. The girl looked up at the tree and the tree began to talk.


“Did you know that people walking in the city spend more time shopping when there are trees along the street?” the tree asked. “And they spend more money, too.”


“And houses cost more money if there are trees around,” the tree said. “Trees keep the house cool but also make people feel at home. And some give fruit to eat.”


“Why, whole cities become richer when there are more trees,” the tree said. “It’s a fact. Trees give back many times more than they cost to plant and grow.”


“It’s true,” the businessman said to his friends. “I read that myself.”


The tree shared some other facts and the people asked it questions. They wanted to know what they could to help the tree and his tree cousins. The girl told them about her grandfather and the seed. The business people talked amongst themselves for a minute, then thanked the girl and the tree and went back inside to talk some more.


By this time both the girl and the tree were getting tired. Teaching about trees is hard work. The girl sat down on the kerb to rest.


“I can carry you home,” the tree said.


“No, thanks,” the girl said. “You’ve been carrying us enough already.”


The girl picked up the tree and rested it on her shoulder to carry it back to the forest. There, she set it down and let it get comfortable in its earthen bed. Then the girl sat down and leaned against the tree and looked up into its branches.


“You and me, buddy,” the girl said. “We make a pretty good team.”


“Where should we go tomorrow?” the tree asked.


“Maybe you should take a break,” the girl said. “But I’m gonna go find more people who need to learn about trees.”


And the girl and the tree, nestled in each other’s embrace, quietly fell asleep.