The forester removed the stake from the last sapling and stepped back. For a moment, he stood looking the tiny tree, and then on impulse leant forward to stroke the bark. It was smooth and cool to touch. He smiled, picked up his equipment, and trudged back to his van.
The sapling, released from her constraints, stretched her branches to the sky - as if for the first time. It felt so good to be free from the stake that had pegged her to the ground for so long. Her leaves fluttered in the breeze, thrilling to the possibility of energy and motion.
"Finding your roots?" said the neighbouring oak - old, lumpy and misshapen. Her branches bore the scars of lightning blasts; her bark peeled in places; fungi grew from her base.
"It's lovely," said the sapling. "I've felt so cooped up."
The oak shook her foliage. "It's all right now," she said, "But, you'll have to take care in the storms."
"What are storms?" asked the sapling.
"Don't you remember last winter?" asked the oak. The sapling shrugged her canopy. The oak reflected for a moment, "I suppose you were too young and have forgotten how the gale buffetted you. You were protected by that piece of wood. Now when the wind blows you will only have your trunk to help."
"When the wind comes, what should I do?"
"Learn to use your limbs."
"You are not old, and bulky like me. I have strength enough, and girth enough to withstand any onslaught. But your trunk is supple and light. When the wind blows, you must bend with it. You are too slight, too young to withstand its full power. Bow with the pressure, listen to its rhythms, learn, and grow. And each time you do, you will find more strength, more will, until the wind, however strong, will pass you by."
The sapling stilled her branches, thinking about what she had heard. The oak seeing her seriousness, laughed.
"The winter winds are far away. Enjoy the sunshine and the ruffling air. You are young. It is summer. That's enough."
The summer passed. The sapling drank from the ground. She grew several inches. Her leaves greened and grew to full size. The birds sang from her branches. The forest animals raised about her. She was young. She was happy. She was alive.
As autumn approached, she found the mornings cooler. Her leaves began to discolour. One by one, they dropped from her branches. The birds flew south. The forest animals began to hoard. She shivered in the day time and wondered where the warmth had gone.
One day, the sun did not seem to rise. Grey cloud hovered over the horizon. Strong currents began to shake her branches.
"The storm is coming, little sister," said the oak. "Bend your branches."
The sapling curved its body towards the oak in acknowledgment. "I'll try."
The wind increased. Cold and cruel from the north. It raged through the forest, blowing human rubbish in its path - a plastic bag, a toy car, a child's hat. At first the sapling tried to stay upright. She forgot the oak's words and pushed back at the wind in her attempt to hold her ground. But, the force of the gale pounded her again, and again, so her bark began to flake. It pummelled the centre of her being so hard she felt that she was about to break apart. And, then, just as she thought she might give way, she remembered the oak's words. "Bend". She felt the litheness of her trunk, she let it slip in the wake of the wind, which pushed her so far down, the tips of her branches were touching the forest floor. It passed, she rose. But immediately it returned. Back and forth, up and down.Again, and again. She thought it would never stop.
And then - just as suddenly as it had arrived - the wind departed. She creaked her body upright and looked about her. All around the forest floor, her siblings lay broken, their attempts to fight the wind had failed them. She turned to look at the oak, still standing, though several branches lay on the ground beneath it.
The trees bowed to each other in respect.
"Look," said the oak. "It is morning. The forester is making his rounds."