As the morning light chased away the darkness, a young Gardner sat on a quiet hillside gazing down into a valley.
Her visit today was special. In a pouch she carried two small seeds. They came from an apple tree that had given fruit and cool shade to her family for many years.
The Gardner searched the hillside and found a safe place for two little trees. She made two shallow holes in the soil. From her canteen, she poured some water into each hole to help the seeds start growing.
She imagined tiny seeds as large apple trees. “My dear little seeds, now is your chance to grow and experience the world,” she told them.
She took one from the pouch. “Grow strong my first little seed,” she said. She placed him into the earth and covered him with a warm blanket of soil. “I’ll be so proud of the juicy red apples you make.”
The second one tumbled out of the pouch into the Gardner’s hand. She chuckled, “you are an eager young seed. You might really enjoy being a tree!” She placed him into his bed of earth.
“I must leave the village,” she said. “Someday, I will return to visit.” She turned and walked down the hillside.
Underground, the seeds began to grow.
The first seed pushed his roots deep into the ground. “I will be the best tree ever and make the Gardner proud,” he told himself.
The second seed also began to push his roots into the ground. He loved the feeling of the cool moist soil as he stretched down into the earth.
At last, the day came when the two little seeds became two little trees. They pushed their heads out of the ground to see the world for the first time.
“Wow!” exclaimed the first little tree. “Look at all the people in the valley. They will admire my apples and the Gardner will be proud.”
The second tree looked across the valley.
He noticed the hillside sloped slightly in front of him and then dropped steeply down to the village. The farms and fields looked like a blanket of colored patches. Across the patchwork landscape, a snow-capped mountain loomed.
“Wow” admired the second tree. “What an inspiring hillside! This is a perfect place for me!”
The years went by. One spring they each grew several pink blossoms on their small branches. They were excited! They both knew that blossoms grow into apples!
A light breeze blew across the valley and over the hillside.
“Oh no no no” criticized the first tree. “That pesky wind will blow away all my blossoms!” He gripped the tiny flowers. He was afraid he would not have apples on his branches.
The second tree swayed his branches in the breeze. He heard the soothing sound of the wind rustling through his leaves. “It’s like a lullaby,” he thought.
Sometimes, little worker bees would come and visit the trees.
“Leave me alone!” scolded the first tree. “I’m busy growing apples so the Gardner will be proud. I don’t have time to play with you!”
The second tree enjoyed the buzzing of the busy little bees. “You sure work hard,” he told them.
One hot, hot summer, the trees were thirsty. They longed for the rain to come.
“My Apples will be small and bitter if I don’t get water,” complained the first tree. “Where is the Gardner? She should bring me a drink.”
“It is hot and I am very thirsty,” the second tree thought, “I will push my roots deeper into the ground and find water.”
Over the years, the hillside became a favorite place for the villagers to relax, play, and admire the valley. The children loved to climb and play in the two apple trees.
“Those children are not being careful,” thought the first tree. “They might damage my blossoms. How can I grow perfect apples with damaged blossoms?” He rustled his leaves and tried to keep the children away.
The second tree watched a little girl make a flowery necklace out of his blossoms. “What a neat idea! I think that will be a pretty, sweet smelling necklace.”
Although the two trees couldn’t talk to each other, a friendship developed between them as they stood day after day together on the peaceful hill.
The first tree looked over at the second tree. “My friend is sure a handsome tree. I wonder if I am that attractive,” he worried. “Well, at least I have more apples on my branches.”
The second tree looked over at the first tree. “My friend is amazing,” he admired. “He has so many apples!”
When the apples ripened, the villagers climbed the hill to gather the tasty fruit.
“Don’t pick so many,” scolded the first tree. “The Gardner must see them.” He lifted his branches high keeping them from the villagers.
The second tree watched a hungry little boy trying to pick an apple that was just out of his reach. He lowered his branch so the boy could reach it. “I’m sure glad my apples are enjoyed by everyone,” he said to himself.
One summer night, a fierce storm raged through the sleeping valley. Flashes of bright lightning lit up the dark sky while thunderous booms rattled the ground.
The first tree was scared. He became angry and shouted at the storm.
The second tree thought, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this! This is awesome!”
Suddenly, a blinding bolt of lighting streaked across the sky. With a deafening crack, it struck the second tree. Sparks flew and giant fireball shot into the sky. The second tree burst into flames.
In the morning, the valley was calm. The fire had taken all the leaves, apples, and small branches from the second tree.
The first tree looked over at the second tree. “Oh no, my friend!” he mourned. “Now, everyone will pick my apples. I won’t have enough to make the Gardner proud,” he worried.
“I have a headache,” groaned the second tree.
Later that day, the villagers came to see the two trees.
“It’s good that at least I have apples,” declared the first tree, “or else they would not want to visit us.”
The second tree had no apples or leaves, but the children were still his friends. They hung a rope swing from one of his big branches. The second tree held tightly while they took turns swinging out over the valley.
He played with the kids all afternoon. “That was on of the best days I ever had!” he said at sundown.
After many years, the Gardner returned. As she reached the top of the hillside, she smiled at the two apple trees.
The first tree panicked. “The children have eaten most of my apples and now she won’t be proud of me.” His leaves twitched nervously. “Why didn’t she visit last week, instead, when I had hundreds of apples on my branches?”
The second tree shook with excitement. Although her hair was nearly white, he recognized the same tenderhearted Gardner he knew from so long ago.
The Gardner approached the first tree and rested her hand softly on one of his lower branches. “You are such a beautiful tree.” She picked a bright red apple and took a bite. “What a juicy apple! I’m so proud of you. The villagers are sure lucky to enjoy your wonderful gifts.”
The first tree, relieved, smiled and stood tall.
The Gardner approached the second tree. Her eyes sparkled. With her finger, she traced a large heart somebody had carved into his trunk. “You are certainly loved and admired by all of us,” she told him.
The second tree saw peace and happiness in the Gardner’s eyes. He smiled.
Both trees, fulfilled by the Gardner’s visit, lived many happy years on the grassy hillside.
The first tree continued working hard making apples. The second tree continued to smile, laugh, and play with all the visitors to the beautiful hillside.
On the surface, “The Esteemed Trees” tells the struggles of an ornery tree and a happy tree growing together on a hillside. Beneath the touching story, however, we see how self-esteem dictates happiness. In addition, we see how common parenting techniques affect the self-esteem of our children.
“The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden explains the development and effects of self-esteem. The first tree requires praise from the Gardner for his sense of purpose. The second tree, however, finds happiness from within, and demonstrates Dr. Branden’s requirements for true self-esteem. In the lives of the two trees, we see how these two contrasting approaches affect the search for happiness.
According to “The Parent’s Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting” by Don Dinkmeyer, encouragement is the most effective tool to foster self-esteem in our children. Praise often misleads children into thinking they must perform for acceptance. The Gardner tells the first tree she will be proud of his apples. The entire life of the first tree is focused on making apples to win the praise of the Gardner. The second tree is not burdened with conditions but is encouraged to “enjoy being a tree,” which fertilizes the self-esteem of the second tree.
The first pillar, the art of living consciously, is manifest in the second tree’s ability to feel the cool moist sand his toes and his admiration for the beautiful hillside. The first tree is not living with open senses to the world around, but instead is more concerned with his need to search for external acceptance.
The second pillar, the art of self-acceptance is illustrated as willingness to experience. When the wind blows, the first tree is still concerned with his primary objectives in life of producing fruit. The second tree, however, is able to experience the wind in a comforting and soothing way. The second tree accepts himself, which allows him the freedom to experience the world.
The third pillar, the art of being self-responsible, is exemplified when the trees need water. The first tree is expecting the Gardner to come and take care of its needs, while the second tree takes personal responsibility to provide for himself.
The fourth pillar, the art of being self assertive, suggests that we must think and live life for ourselves. The first tree is not living his own life. He is living a live trying to please others to gain external praise and admiration, which he mistakenly thinks will bring him happiness. Because of the expectations he feels to bear fruit, the first tree is unable to enjoy the company of the children and world around him. The second tree realizes that it has much more to offer than just fruit. In addition, he is not locked into producing and giving out of a need for external gratification.
The fifth pillar, the art of living purposefully, is evident in the fact that the second tree was able to find happiness by sharing his fruit. He felt a sense of peace and comfort in the fact that he could actually help and give of himself to the world. The second tree is so concerned with finding external praise that he cannot begin to even comprehend the true benefits of the fruit he has to offer.
The sixth pillar, the art of personal integrity, is evident throughout the story but particularly when the second tree is struck by lightning. Even though the second tree is unable to bear fruit, it finds meaning and purpose in life. It has a calm sense of self that is evident with true self-esteem. Sadly, the first tree never is able to find the sense of peace that self-esteem provides. The mistaken belief that peace will come externally forces him to try harder and harder for more acceptance.
I have included many metaphors and symbolism throughout the story to support the theme of self-esteem and personal happiness.