The mountain was so high it seemed to hang above my head. A long, twisting path wound up its side, disappearing in the clouds.
"Enlightenment isn't easy," I told myself and began to climb.
I sought a Wise man; said to be here by the Town's people I had met as I entered this Vale. After an hour of climbing, I lay exhausted on the twisted branches of a crooked little pine clinging to the side of the mountain. The Vale lay far below, almost invisible in the thickening mist. "I bet the Wiseman is as gnarly and twisted as this tiny pine," I announced, grateful for the curiously strong branches supporting me, however twisted. "Young man, if you are finished resting," a voice drifted down from the next ledge above me. "I could sure use a hand." I sighed, loudly, and crawled out of my nest to resume climbing. A strange sight met my eyes as I peeked over the next ledge. A very large man dressed in bright red peasant clothes hung from one arm at the edge of the path. He had managed to get one foot back on the path, but the other dangled over a five hundred foot shear cliff.
"You ARE in trouble!" I agreed, working my way up beside him. His left hand gripped tightly the trunk of one of the gnarly pines, whose crooked branches hung down over his head. I planted my feet as best as I could and got a grip on his thick wrist. "Somehow I suspect you are too heavy for me to pull up only the path. I am sorry."
I guess I expected him to be frightened because when he turned his face towards me and smiled, I admit to being surprised.
"Oh, no, young man," he said, in a pleasant voice, amused, "I hardly expect you to lift me. Instead, could you please untangle my hair from my bristly friend here?"
Sure enough, his long black and gray braid was snarled in the overhanging branches.
I drew my dagger.
"Let me just get a grip on this branch and I'll whittle you free."
"No!" he exclaimed. "Cut the braid if you have to, but leave the tree alone."
"Why?" Dutifully, I began plucking hairs from the branches without harming the tree. "It's just a tree."
"My warrior's braid took me a few years to grow," he explained, patiently. "But when this tree was a seedling, our ancestors were chipping stone tools and most still thought of fire as a dangerous novelty."
"How can it be that old?" I asked, plucking the last pine needle from his hair.
The tremendous muscles in his arm tightened and he proved that he didn't need my help getting back to the path. With a heave and a twist, he landed gracefully on the path beside me.
"I have watched this one grow for longer than you have been alive. It is growing, yet very slowly." He folded his thick legs beneath him and sat comfortably on the cliff side.
"Tracing back it's history, it must be two times the age of the oldest oak."
"Why would it grow so slowly?"
"You are full of questions!" He smiled again at me. "It has achieved balance with its environment. Poor soil, thin air, and horrendous weather have carved it from a sweet natured graceful pine into a gnarly, tough and ancient tree. Its roots are deep and strong. I was confident it would hold even my weight, however I didn't expect it to be so fond of my hair!"
"You mean you crawled off the path on purpose?" I was astonished.
The huge man actually blushed.
"Think of it as a rescue mission," he showed me what he had been cradling in his other hand the whole time. A small pine seedling, complete with roots. "I have spent many hours on the side of this mountain, collecting herbs and just taking in the view. I spotted this little baby a dozen years ago."
"You wanted one for your garden?"
He blushed again.
"Yes, I admit the thought crossed my mind. I am NOT without such desires." He removed an extremely expensive silk clothe from his backpack and gently wrapped the dirt-covered roots into a ball. "But I controlled my greed. That is, until I was the ledge it was on crumbling away. I acted to save it."
Exercising my awakening sense of Tao, I asked, "Wouldn't the best thing be to let nature take its own course?"
"Nature is always right, perhaps, but not always in balance. Nothing is more unnatural than a garden, yet more well balanced." I frowned at him; his explanation confused me.