Abor Vitae

The oak tree was worn and tired and sat in a field, where it waited to die.

“I have lived my life,” said the oak tree, “I have felt the seasons turn beneath my roots and I have watched the years unfold and spill themselves through my branches. Now it is time for me to move on.”

The other trees were distressed and pleaded with the oak tree to stay. The beech shook with copper-filled sorrow, the rowan sighed into a dark, November wind and the sycamore wept for lost friendship and begged the oak to change its mind.

“No,” said the oak tree, “my moment has arrived and I am happy to go. We each are given a fragment of time in this field and I must leave in order to make room for the future.”

And so the oak tree slowed its breath and lessened its grip on the earth and waited for its journey to continue.

Each day, the farmer visited his field and studied the oak tree.

He walked around it in slow, deliberate circles and he frowned at the blackened roots and the dry, wasted branches. The oak tree knew how powerful the farmer was and it held its breath in fear.

The farmer listened to the dry whisper of dying leaves and felt the slough of deadened bark and he became angry and resentful.

“Oh no,” he said, “this won’t do at all. I didn’t become a farmer to allow my trees to die.”

“But I am old now,” said the oak tree, “I am old and tired and this is my moment.” But arrogance had made the farmer deaf to anything but his own thoughts and all the trees in the field knew it was pointless to argue.

Each day, the farmer returned to the field and meddled with the oak tree. He brought water to drown its branches, he brought soil to smother its roots and he stripped away its bark, until the oak tree ached with fear and became weakened with the weight of its own misery.

“What would the other farmers think of me,” he said, “if I allowed my oak tree to just die?”

The other trees were afraid and gathered in the corner of the field.

“Why will he not let the oak tree die in peace?” said the beech, who was young and unwise.

“Because he cares,” said the sycamore, who tried to see the best in everyone.

“Because he’s forgotten how to care,” said the rowan, who was the wisest tree of all.

The farmer lay awake through the night, thinking about the oak tree. He paced the floor of the farmhouse, he read through all of his books and he thought back upon his years of being a farmer, in the hope that it would bring him an answer.

But still the oak tree continued to die.

The next day, the farmer brought a group of other farmers to the field, to see if they could offer him a solution.

“But this is my moment,” said the oak tree, “I just want to be left alone.”

No one was listening.

All the farmers gathered around the oak tree and whispered to each other.

“Tear off all the leaves,” said one.

“Cut away the branches,” said another.

“Climb to the very top,” said a third, “and slice through the trunk.”

The farmer did all of these things, but none of them worked.

The oak tree cowered in the field, weary and longing for peace. Its branches lay rotten and useless and its wasted leaves whispered for release on the cool, hard earth.

The farmer sat back on the grass and stared at the tree.

“Very well, then,” he said, “I will allow you to die.”

The other trees stretched with relief and wept for their friend, as the oak tree was finally permitted to leave.

But its moment had long since passed and instead of a peaceful field, the oak tree’s final eyes saw only darkened chaos and the air which it breathed was brutal and borrowed. The other trees could do nothing but sit with their friend, as it ached and heaved and pulled itself away from this earth.

The farmer didn’t stay whilst the oak tree died.

Instead, he walked back to his farmhouse and smiled and felt satisfied with his work.

“After all,” he said to himself, “what kind of farmer would I be, if I had simply allowed my oak tree to just die?”


  1. October 31, 2011 / 6:29 pm

    Simply wonderful. A fabulous fable. And terribly sad.

  2. Sharon Birch (@EffieMerryl)
    October 31, 2011 / 6:30 pm

    *gulps. What can I say. You got it totally right.

  3. October 31, 2011 / 6:32 pm

    I had a lump in my throat as I read this. Very thought-provoking. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Christine Stanley
    October 31, 2011 / 6:33 pm


  5. October 31, 2011 / 7:02 pm

    A beautifully-written allegory (I think!) that still brings forth as many emotions as your other pieces.

  6. October 31, 2011 / 8:09 pm

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

  7. October 31, 2011 / 8:09 pm

    Very, very clever as always and such a good follow up from your last story.

  8. October 31, 2011 / 8:20 pm

    Yet another beautiful piece of writing.

  9. October 31, 2011 / 8:24 pm

    Beautiful, clever and powerful as always, Joanna.

  10. October 31, 2011 / 8:34 pm

    The tree of life is not an evergreen. Like the farmer, I have a mighty oak, but I hear its request for dignity; I am it’s acorn, after all.
    Nicely told, Joanne.

  11. Ann Patey
    October 31, 2011 / 11:50 pm

    Just wonderful.

  12. November 4, 2011 / 3:41 am

    Jo, this is beautiful! As someone who works in an ICU dealing with the patients with worst prognoses, I find this allegory sooo real. Keep writing, this is beautiful stuff…

    I came here from TBTAM and am adding you to my list of subscribed reads… fantastic. Just FANTASTIC!!!

  13. November 7, 2011 / 12:03 pm

    In bits as usual. Thank you for such a wonderful piece of writing.
    Such a great parallel with the problem of modern medicine which tries to keep old people alive, because death is seen as a failure what ever the circumstances. Our local hospital trust was recently criticised in a report for having a higher mortality rate than others yet the figures had included a very popular hospice where people choose to end their days.
    I think of my Mum who had terminal cancer and the brave decision she had to make that enough was enough when the treatments didn’t work and my Dad, 92 and in good health, who has no desire to sit in a chair in a retirement home when he can no longer get about. I’m hoping that when my time comes, I can just decide for myself that my life is over.

  14. November 16, 2011 / 6:48 am

    Really beautiful and incredibly thought provoking.

  15. November 18, 2011 / 9:16 pm

    Oh this is beautiful and so terribly sad. Maybe we’ve all forgotten how to listen and that’s an awful thought. This tale reminds me of Hans Christian Anderson – I feel exactly the same way about your stories as when I read his – they make me think and help me understand myself a little better. I hope I’ll always remember to listen. x

  16. November 22, 2011 / 8:26 am

    Beautiful. And time for an anthology?

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