In recent weeks, I’ve become rather addicted to an online magazine called Mental Floss. Much of what is posted is silly, National Enquirer grade stuff, but with a little patience, some real gems come to the surface. One of these was a 2014 piece about a strange tree, an artificially cultivated hybrid (multibrid?) of forty different fruits (what??). Anyway, the tree is a sort of installation art project conceived by a Syracuse university professor named Sam Van Aken. The story can be read here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/60243/tree-flowers-40-different-fruits
Upon reading this article, I was immediately reminded of a story that I had written in 1994 called ‘Moving The Immoveable Feast’. It was one of series of twenty+ illustrated short stories that were published monthly (between 1993-97) by The Pittsburgh Tribune Review newspaper under the collective title, Visual Fiction. I adapted this one from an old Mayan folktale that told of a similar, though mythical tree. I am planning to publish a more fully illustrated anthology of these little tales but until then, I will post some of them here from time to time. Your comments and suggestions for this volume are welcome!
ong before there were people everywhere, a tree that should have been impossible stood at the very center of the world, where the ruins of ancient earth pyramids now stand. The Old Ones called it “The Everything Tree” because every kind of fruit and vegetable drooped heavily from its twisted branches. Coconuts, peaches, mangoes, bananas and oranges were among its myriad fruit and its vegetables included every variety of bean, squash, pepper, eggplant, tomato, pickle and leafy green thing. The exception was corn whose tall stalks surrounded the massive tree’s trunk stretching as far as the eye could see.
Each day, from sunrise to sunset, animals gathered at The Everything Tree to sample its bounty. But for hundreds of centuries, people who eventually appeared had no clue to its existence. Until the day a man, who understood the language of animals found it. The man, who had been enjoying an afternoon nap, was awakened by the excited bleating of two of his goats as they discussed the tree’s wonders. Intrigued, he decided to follow them and see this miracle for himself.
After traveling many days over mountains and rivers, he stepped into the shadow of an enormous tree that appeared to loom just ahead, but was still many miles distant. At last he made his way through the aisles of animals that surrounded it. Starved and exhausted from his long journey, the man ate his fill and quenched his thirst with a juice he made by squeezing many fruits together into an empty coconut shell. As he rested, he marveled at the miracle he had found.
“Wouldn’t life be wonderful,” he thought, “if a tree like this grew near my home! We could enjoy its shade on hot, sunny days and we would always have enough to eat!” Plucking one more juicy plum, he set off for his village and decided to return to the tree with his friends and neighbors. Maybe together they could find a way to bring this wonderful tree closer to home.
When the man arrived at his village, the people gathered to hear of his adventures. They were fascinated at the notion of a never-ending feast and could hardly wait to witness this magical wonder. They began at once to prepare for the long, difficult journey. Anticipation made the miles pass quickly and they stood at last in the shadow of the Everything Tree.
As they approached it, several of the villagers fell to their knees at the sight, awestruck at the evidence and glory of their Earth Goddess. Then, amidst prayers of thanksgiving, they timidly began to reach for the tree’s fruits and vegetables, smacking their lips at the delicious new taste sensations. When their hunger had been satisfied, the villagers’ voices began to hum with proposed plans to transport this wonderful Tree back to their own lands. Soon, it was agreed that the tree should be cut down and its seeds carried back to be planted.
Led by a group of strong young men, the people brandished their sharp, stone axes and boldly chopped at the immense trunk. The day passed and darkness spread her curtain over the land. Exhausted from their journey and from chopping at the Tree, everyone soon fell asleep under the stars. When they awoke in the morning however, they could find no trace at all of the previous day’s work. “That’s odd,” the men murmured, glancing at each other in bewilderment. “Maybe we are looking at the wrong place,” someone suggested brightly. So they set to work again, chopping away at the Tree until sunset.
After managing to cut a few inches into the trunk, the men buried their axes in the groove to mark the spot and again retired for the night. But the next morning, the men nearly tripped over their axes that lay scattered on the ground. The tree had healed itself once more.
Frightened by this new miracle, the villagers held a council meeting to decide their next move. The strong young men advocated redoubling their efforts, while others quaked in terror. “We are risking the wrath of the Goddess,” they chorused. Then, one of the village Elders, the man who had first discovered the tree, spoke up. “Let us cut a few more inches into the trunk,” he proposed. “Then, I shall stay awake this night so that I may observe the Tree’s magic. Perhaps the Goddess herself might appear and reveal the solution to our needs.” Deeming this an equitable suggestion, the people did as he asked and then went to sleep while the Elder stationed himself among some cornstalks.
The hours passed and a soft breeze stirred the old man’s beard. Soon, he heard a faint musical sound emanating from the Tree. Curious, he began to creep through the cornstalks around her perimeter looking for the source of the music. Suddenly the Elder felt, rather than heard the Earth Goddess’ voice gently directing him to sleep and pay attention at the same time. Confused, the man struggled to keep his eyes open, but succumbed at last to the world of dreams.
Asleep, yet awake at the same time, the man became aware of a deep violet light that slowly suffused the Tree. Fascinated, he watched as the light summoned every living creature of the land and sky including elephants, armadillos, cockatiels, macaws, jaguars, serpents and monkeys. When all had arrived, they organized and set to work, eyes glowing yellow and orange in the darkness. Collecting bits of bark and root from the base of the Tree that the men had chopped away, the animals worked all night. Patiently, they replaced each tiny piece in the trunk and before the sun rose, the Everything Tree was just as it should be.
Shortly before he awoke, the old man again felt the Earth Goddess speak. “You and your people may not cut down My Tree,” She commanded, “ for it is my soul. But you may sample all that grows upon me, planting the seeds of your harvest throughout the world for all generations. Go now. For when you have filled your basket and returned to your village, I must cause you to forget where you have been.”
In the morning, the Elder related his experience to his friends and neighbors. “It was truly a miracle! The Goddess herself spoke to me!” he whispered in a hushed voice, prostrating himself briefly on the ground towards the Tree. The villagers were filled with joy, for the solution to their needs was so simple after all. Triumphantly they gathered some of every variety of fruits and vegetables from the Tree’s twisted branches, then returned to their homes. For generations afterward, their descendants carried the seeds of that first harvest to the four corners of the earth.
Although the Earth Goddess had decreed that no one would ever remember where the Tree stood, it is entirely possible that we were left with the suggestion that the Tree existed only in our imagination. Nevertheless, the colorful fruit and vegetables enjoyed around the world remain as tribute to that magical immoveable feast, The Everything Tree.
Text & Illustration ©1994 Ilene Winn-Lederer