The Maidenhair Tree and the Painter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I wrote and published this short story originally in Czech language on 30.10. and decided to translate it into English for further feedback and mainly to work on my translation skills. Please, feel free to comment and let me know if you like or disliked this short text.

Submitted: November 05, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 05, 2018




Somewhere in the middle of Europe in a particular park, there was a tree. It differed from other trees. 

It was well-grown with thick trunk and round, conical tree crown. But it was its leaves, which distinguished it from others; flat, divided into two lobes in the middle, the leaves twist into moderate fans, growing numerously together in bundles. Those were not needles of conifer, nor were they leaves of deciduous tree, which we know so well. But the oddities did not end there.

It was resilient against all known weaknesses of most other trees. It would be more suitable to write about it in present tense, for its kind lives up to thousands of years – surely it is there even today! In some places of the world, people build shrines and temples in its vicinity and worship it as sacred.

The Maidenhair Tree, also known as ginkgo biloba, was not planted here because of its canctity, but that did not matter to it, as it just showed its leaves to everyone who was looking. Those glimpses of little joy flashing through the darkness, when someone simply appreciates tree's beaut. Many times it offered shade during hot day, that counts too. For one tree that just grows, that is enough.

Not far off this scene, there stood a young girl on top of a small hill. She used to stand there often, looking on that tree. At first glance, everyone would tell she truly liked this place above all others.

She did not name neither the place nor the tree, as she did not tell anyone about it. Actually, she was quite close-mouthed. She preferred to focus on strokes of her brush and watched the smallest details on the scenery, which she knew so confidentially. For hours, she lived on the canvas, which stood before her on wooden easel. The canvas gradually accepted picture generating from her mind.

In the end, she was a painter, not rhetorician.

The glade around the tree became her temple and the tree itself, which she liked to paint for unknown reason, altar, upon which she sacrificed so much time.

Maidenhair tree shook in sudden stream of wind and lost another handful of its precious leaves. On that, painter smiled, laid down her brush and thought about unnecessary, yet interesting and pressing question.

At the age of twenty she still could not answer honestly why this activity is so captivating for her. Not that she needed to know. Will she ever find out?

“One day, I would want to be a painter,” she said to her grandmother as small child. She smiled a bit now, because she remembered, even though she was so small.

“One day, I would really, really want to be a painter, an artist,” she said to a teacher and to the rest of the class with dreamy eyes.

“One day I will help people as a nurse!” she said to a teacher and rest of the class in the eighth grade (she was in puberty and was trying to escape her own shade).

“No! I will go to the art school! I will be a famous painter! You will not talk me out of it!” she urged on her mother stubbornly (here she was in even worse puberty and she was not trying to escape her shade anymore).

“I will paint pictures and I need someone who will understand,” she said to her first true love – young man who wanted to visit places with her all the time and in his immaturity was not able to appreciate power of art.

“One day, I will…” she stopped and this time comprehended that she wants to use future tense no more.

The wind died down. The target of her attention, temple under the sky and shelter before the rest of the world was there again, still and all hers. She wet the brush and proceeded.

Why did she paint this beautiful, in comparison with human seemingly immortal tree? What was the reason behind it? No one asked her and so she told no one. In fact, she herself was not sure exactly why.

It happened last winter, when she visited the park for third month. Then she decided that this maidenhair tree and its surroundings are the right spot, whose unique genius loci she has to capture. Not in one painting though. That would be as if a rhetorician said one word. It was not enough. No, she wanted to say more. By painting, she tries to uncover what makes this place special. The maidenhair tree was telling a story all year long! She will capture both the warmenst and coldest of days, she will listen to the whole story and will pass it on. 

Her affection to this place grew even stronger when out of nowhere, on early spring day, she sold one of those paintings. It was but a coincidence, but for her, the tree held true magical power. He attracted positive changes. Yes, she did not earn much money, but whenever she realised her unexpected success, she smiled as if she earned millions of dollars. Anyway, too much money needs too much attention and it is not healthy at all. She did not do it for monetary gain. But she no longer spoke in past tense. “One day I will…,” no!

Somewhere in the open, there hang a picture of maidenhair tree and spring nature, down in the corner her poorly readable, but even more so provocative signature. Someone eyed it regularly and was affected by such scene.

Maidenhair tree and her, so desolated and entrapped in the spell of present time.

Today’s painting was the most beautiful so far! (every artist thinks this way and if not, something is amiss) And she was supposed to leave with one of few friends she had abroad, to gain “real experience.” She was here instead, that is how much she wanted to paint this tree.

“So take pictures with your camera and you’ll finish it there!” said her friend. And that woman considered herself an artist! She knew nothing!

After this sentence, the young painter knew she will go nowhere. She did not want to apologize, she did not want to explain anything. She just wanted to finish what she set in motion last winter. To stand her ground. Isn’t that the kind of merit which separates you from others? That much young painter considered as clear truth and she nodded her head in satisfaction.

“At this moment, you are the only one who understands,” she said towards the tree.

Spray of leaves – which has no other related kind – flew, propulsed by wind, to her and the easel with her precious canvas wiggled dangerously. The painter somewhat blared out, throwing away her brush and began to weight easel with all she had on herself.

She looked at the tree with relief.

“Good day,” said a voice behind her. She twitched a little.

There stood a man in black coat, older than her, but not much. Nervously, he took a step closer a greeted her. “I am sorry to disturb. Can I have a question?”

“Oh, but of course, please,” encouraged him the painter.

“You see, I was just strolling around, even though it’s strange… I’ve noticed you standing here and painting that tree,” the man pointed at the maidenhair tree losing its leaves. “I think that he’s truly beautiful!” he shrugged. “Do you think I could…”

“Take a look? With pleasure! Come,” answered surprised painter.

„Truly outstanding,“ proclaimed the man. “Indeed, this tree begs for being painted.”

“Do you think?“ turned the painter at him finally.

“Definitely. There is many such places, but most people is unable to see them.”

“You are absolutely right,” agreed the painter. “It is hard to just… stop.”

“For example me,” smiled the man in the coat, “I came only because of this tree. He called me.”

“He called you? How does that work?” wondered the painter, even though she knew.

“I was here several times as young boy. Today I was going through the area and remembered. Well, technically, I was in a hurry, but…” he waved with hand and looked at the painter, “I saw that big maidenhair tree! If I kept the rush, I wouldn’t meet you and your splendid painting,” he shrugged again.

“That is true. You made the best possible decision,” she beamed.

“For how long do you paint? I am sure you sell your art?“ investigated the man.

“For a few years. I prefer to paint the nature. And I sold one. The only ne. But one day, maybe there will be more.”

“Mhm. Maybe today?” he looked at her with knowing eyes.

The painter stared in shock, then blinked, shifted her gaze from the man to the tree and back again. “You… you would?”

“Buy you painting? It is expressive somehow, atmospheric. I think yes!” laughed the man in coat. “I think that all of this is quite remarkable, but I’ll buy your painting.”

“The coincidence!” called out the painter. “If I wouldn’t listen to the tree’s voice myself, I would not stand here today. I would be in different country!”

“It appears that we both listened to the right voice,” nodded the man happily. He stood next to the painter and observed the majestic plant, which managed to bring those two together with its mysterious powers.

They both wanted to stand there.

If the maidenhair tree could hear this story, he would be absolutely content. Trees are humble that way. They just grow and otherwise don’t bother anyone. It depends on us, if we take a look at them and accept at least a nibble of pleasure from their size, from their majestic and pure beauty. For young painter, the maidenhair tree turned that day into something very dear. She had met a man who can appreciate the nature and her skills.

The tree was first to see it. That same day, in deep darkness of his slumber, he felt the most precious kind of light. And it took so little; two people, who followed their path. He linked two stories and thus forever became its own backstage. That is not bad performance at all for a tree, don’t you think? For a tree worshiped as sacred in some parts of our world, I note.

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