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“Heaven’s kingdom realm can be compared to the tiny mustard seed that a man takes and plants in his field. Although the smallest of all the seeds, it eventually grows into the greatest of garden plants, becoming a tree for birds to come and build their nests in its branches.”

It could have been any sort of day, the day when the seed was planted. I imagine, for I know the sensation, that the seed felt like a splinter grown infected. The heat and tenderness of the spot made it almost intolerable. It had to be removed.

I wonder what it was that brought it to the surface, for the Artist was full of seeds, many thousands. Perhaps this one travelled quickly, burst from its bounds by a keen disappointment, a crippling loss. Perhaps she went to draw water from a familiar well and found it dry. I couldn’t say. But those seeds, the ones dug like bullets from visible wounds never produce as much as the other kind. The others are all but invisible, all but forever. They float from the deep, fathomless dark, rising to the surface oh, so slowly, spending time like a profligate. Those seeds surface without a ripple. They settle lightly, never eager to make themselves known. Seasons strip the earth or color it anew, and they wait, until one day, as an afterthought, the Artist tunes his attention to their presence—forgotten, familiar, ubiquitous.

It must have been one of those seeds she planted that day, and if I could, I would thank her for planting it. She could have cut the skin and drawn the seed out and flung it away or ground it between her teeth in payment for its long torment. But she knelt in a barren place and moved the earth with her fingers. She placed the seed in the ground and covered it and sang a song over it before she walked away and left the land, by all accounts, unchanged.

That’s years ago now.

When I came upon the tree, I’d spent what felt like half my life plodding through a wasteland. The road was no more than a rut between scattered stones, and the sun beat down on my head with scorn. The little weight in my pocket had grown over the miles until my gait was uneven. I had walked beyond the memory of the past, and without hope for the future. I knew the road and the glare of the light and the golden haze at the edge of the horizon, and nothing more.

Well, one thing more. On some mornings I woke to a throbbing point of heat in my forearm. The irritation grew until I thought my whole body pulsed with the fury of this little thorn. I slipped the blade of my knife beneath the skin of my inner arm. A drop of blood welled up, then another, then a rounded fragment of something. Not a thorn. Something tiny and rounded, like those already in my pocket. I pinched it between my fingers and held it up, squinting, trying to unravel its mysteries. But like the rest it was unremarkable, and I dropped it in my pocket and went on.

On that day, instead of dropping the seed into my pocket with the others, I remembered the shade, and the Artist. I took two long strides away from the road and dug a hole in the dusty soil. I planted the seed and covered it up. Helena Sorensen

It was at a point of utter weariness that the tree caught my eye. I’d run out of defiance. My feet shuffled through the sand only because they feared to stop. Then I saw it. A fragment of darkness bisected the sun and settled into a larger darkness. Another joined the first, sinking into the branches, and I heard a cry of greeting from its fellow. Birds. They’d come to make a home in the wide, welcoming shade of the tree.

I sprinted for the cover of the tree, for the break in the glare. After uncounted days in the white heat, its shade felt like the beginning of the world, like the cradle that soothed me before I set out on the road, like a home that waits at journey’s end. I sat awhile with my back to the trunk and watched how the green of the leaves altered the sunlight. I watched the birds assembling their nests and listened to the music of their comings and goings. I fell asleep and dreamed of water—deep, subterranean wells of clear water. It’s the dream I carry with me now, and the memory of the shade.

Understanding came later, on a day when the sun pressed so hard I sat beside the road and hung my head. I felt the familiar prick of fire, this time beneath my tongue, and in a heartbeat, with the flick of a blade, I had it. I held the thing between thumb and forefinger while my mouth filled with saliva and blood, and I thought of underground springs. On that day, instead of dropping the seed into my pocket with the others, I remembered the shade, and the Artist. I took two long strides away from the road and dug a hole in the dusty soil. I planted the seed and covered it up.

I would like to thank the Artist, the one who waited, the one who planted. Were it not for the memory of her courage, I would have stopped there to watch, to see what grew. But she didn’t think that task worthwhile. She pressed on along the road, along the path of heat and sorrow, to the edge to plant the seeds, and back to the road, and the road again. So I set my eyes to the sun and walk. One day something may grow so tall its shadow falls across my back. And if I feel its shade, I will not turn, but smile. There are seeds to be planted, and the road is calling.


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