Once upon a time there were two trees. One of them was a very well known tree – the Tree of Knowledge. The other – the Tree of Foolishness – well that was a little less famous, but nevertheless it stood proudly beside it’s sibling. Though most never guessed they were related. Where the roots of the Tree of Knowledge plunged themselves deep into the Wells of Wisdom, the Tree of Foolishness was quite content to feel the wet squish of mud between it’s toes. Where the branches of the Tree of Knowledge pirouetted gracefully in the wind, the Tree of Foolishness could be heard grunting as it thrashed around in the gales. Where the Tree of Knowledge gained the patronage of mythical beasts and the Gods themselves, the Tree of Foolishness attracted only wandering sheep who would nibble at it’s bark before moving on.
Despite their differences the Tree of Foolishness attracted almost as many devotees as the Tree of Knowledge. In fact many mistook the Tree of Knowledge for it’s brother and would spend months listening faithfully to the steady fall of pigeon droppings, imagining them to be golden droplets of inspiration falling from the branches. When they realised their error they would dust themselves down and start packing. The Tree of Foolishness would sigh and watch them leave, their footsteps making their way up the muddy hill, always in haste to be away.
However, not all seekers were looking for the Tree of Knowledge. Some came especially to seek out foolishness. The Tree would watch them with equal fascination as they stumbled through the mud, falling over each other to get to their prize. When they reached the trunk they would kneel before it, certain that they would be favoured above all others. The Tree of Foolishness would call Wind to rush through it’s branches and the two of them would delight in tossing long branches across the heads of the people gathered.
“Why do they just sit there and let us do it?” whispered Wind to the tree.
“I don’t know” giggled the tree “they must be foolish already”.
Over the centuries many people came and left the Tree of Foolishness. The tree grew older, though not significantly wiser, and contented itself with the idea that while it may never shine like it’s brother, it had it’s own quirky charm which was not to be sniffed at. Little did the tree know that in a village beyond the mountains, lived a devotee like no other. Like many before him, this devotee believed that the tree would bless him in ways that it had blessed no other, that he was truly deserving in his dedication, that he understood the meaning of foolishness in ways that no other human being had ever done. However, in his zeal he also came to believe that he had been chosen to lead a mass pilgrimage to the holy tree. Over many long years the devotee worked tirelessly, amassing followers, convincing them of the importance of his vision to build a community of idiots, truly committed to following a life based upon the core values of foolishness: greed, selfishness and conceit.
“Follow me” he said “and all these things can be yours. Come with me to the holy tree and show the Tree of Foolishness how great my vision is, and we shall receive the tree’s blessing. You will be important. You will be special. I will make it so, I will make sure that everyone knows of your foolishness. There may be sacrifices along the way but no price is too high for greatness. Together we can do it”
The people stood in awe. They had never believed they could be important before. They joined with him and began to help him plan the pilgrimage that would take them out of the village and across the mountains to the foot of the hill where the Tree of Foolishness stood. As the devotee shared his plan there were many questions in the minds of his followers, but they kept quiet for fear that they would not become important and would miss out on everything they had been promised.
The day that they set out it began to rain. Not small, dainty droplets, but little cannonballs that pelted hard at the heads and shoulders of the train of people setting off up the path into the mountains. As they continued the wind started to buffet them along the high narrow ridges.
Image by Juni from Kyoto, Japan
“Maybe we should turn back” muttered one.
The others murmured in agreement, starting to doubt the devotee as their feet slipped and slid along the muddy track for mile after mile. Suddenly one of their number lost his footing and before anyone could prevent it, he was tumbling down the rocky outcrop, screaming on his way to the bottom. A distant thump preceeded a few moments of shocked silence.
” We should go back” they cried in unison, clinging now to the grassy verges as the rain bent the trees around them.
The devotee turned to them and said “surely a little wind and rain will not deter you. Remember you are idiots, you are born to be foolish. This man is but one small sacrifice on the road to greatness”
“But Master” – they called him Master in honour of his great foolishness – “our feet are sore, we are soaked through and shivering. We cannot go on, why can we not at least rest?”
“Rest?” cried the devotee “to be truly foolish we must not rest, we must remove our shoes so that the stones cut our feet and continue walking”
There was consternation amongst the followers.
“Cast your shoes off the hillside” cried the devotee “prove that you are worthy of being important”.
So the followers took off their shoes and cast them from the hillside.
“But Master, you have not removed your own shoes”
“I do not need to remove my shoes, for I am already worthy and important” he replied.
With that he turned and led the way onwards up the hillside, his followers behind him, sharp rocks cutting at their soft feet.
Image by Conrad Nutschan
The next day they continued on their journey and though the wind had dropped and there were even tentative signs of sunshine amongst the clouds, they were not covering the ground as fast as they had planned.
“If we had not thrown away our shoes, we would walk faster” one complained “my feet are so cut and swollen I can barely stand to walk”
“Shhhh” whispered his fellow “the Master will hear you and will doubt your foolishness” but the follower was not to be silenced.
“Master” he cried “why did we have to throw away our shoes? It will make the journey take ten times as long. I have a family at home who need me. They will become destitute if I abandon them like this. I love them, I can’t do that to them. There was no need for this, surely it is just common sense…”
His voice trailed away as he uttered those last words and the devotee turned on him.
“Common sense? COMMON SENSE?!! I am an idiot through and through, what use have I for common sense? Have you learned nothing that I have taught you? Do you not wish to be an idiot too? Do you doubt me? Your family should feel priviledged to become destitute for such a noble cause as mine. They should delight in it, as should you if you wish to be important”
The man considered this for a moment before turning on his swollen heels and heading back down the hillside under the frightened eyes of his companions. As he faded into the distance, the remaining followers turned to their Master for guidance. The devotee shook his head.
“It is regrettable that he was not as foolish as he could have been. He has thrown away the opportunity to be a true idiot. He will never be as important as all of you”
The followers smiled with pride and puffed out their chests a little like preening birds, trying to ignore the searing pain in their feet. The devotee smiled and they continued on their long, painful journey.
It was another week before one of the devotees dared to remark that because they were now moving at a much slower pace than they had intended, they were about to run out of food.
Image by Paul Mashburn
Some of the followers had also developed infections in their feet which were threatening to immobilise them altogether. They were becoming increasingly afraid that they would die out here on the hillside, unable to walk or find food. The devotee, whose feet were dry in his shoes and whose pack contained an extra stash of food, stood before them.
“My foolish followers, do not give up now. You are so close to being truly idiotic. Look at all the wonderful sacrifices you have made for me, look at what lies beyond this time of trial. Think of my…I mean your…greatness. You are all so wonderfully stupid.”
“But Master, the rations are almost depleted. We are only half way there. If we don’t turn back now we will starve”
“Some of us are sick Master” chimed in another “we need medical care. We must turn back”
“Nonsense” cried the devotee “that is not in the spirit of the foolishness that we have built together. If you truly believe in my vision then that will be your food, that will be your healing. You need nothing but me and my great foolishness”
The followers looked at one another doubtfully. Some shook their heads and gathered together the little they had before beginning their journey back towards the village. A small group remained, unwilling to give up on their dream of being important. The devotee smiled.
“Once more, those who are truly worthy have stayed faithful. Do not trouble yourselves with thoughts of those who have given up on greatness, who have abandoned their right to be part of my foolish vision. Together we will become the most foolish idiots that the world has ever seen’.
He led them on.
Image by Heather Sunderland
Another week passed and the small group that (with the exception of the devotee) staggered with hunger and exhaustion, emerged from the mountains. With a final push over a grassy ridge they were looking down into a great valley. On the tall hill opposite stood the Tree of Knowledge, the Northern Lights swirling in it’s branches, it’s grace shining like a beacon to illuminate all around. The devotee turned his eyes from the glare and directed his gaze down to the foot of the hill. There, with it’s air of unassuming nonchalance, stood the Tree of Foolishness. The devotee’s heart jumped.
“There it is!” he cried enthusiastically as he set off down the steep incline.
His followers grunted, and stumbled after him, eyelids drooping, only semi-aware of their surroundings and what they were doing. They descended until they stood level with the Tree of Foolishness who had just awoken from a snooze and was now looking at the curious group on the other side of the field. It’s heart sank as it it saw the devotee gesticulating wildly with excitement. It caught the words “…my moment of glory…” and wondered how these funny ideas got about. It was nice to be known but sometimes the tree wondered whether Foolishness had managed to pick up a bad name somewhere. It blamed the pigeons.
As the tree mused it’s eye was caught by the devotee motioning to his little group to lie down on the ground. It frowned. Just at that moment, Wind dropped in to see it’s old friend and the words of the conversation were blown across the field.
“Master, we are sinking in the mud”
“I know, it must be all the rain”
“We cannot cross the field to the tree Master”
“No, we cannot, though I know you will feel honoured to act as my bridge so that I might reach the tree and receive it’s blessing”
“But Master we will sink in the mud”
“And your sacrifice will make you a truly important idiot”.
Image by Oven Fresh
One by one they lay face down in the mud, forming a human bridge across the land to the foot of the tree. The devotee, so consumed with the prospect of finally reaching the tree did not stop to thank them or to help them. Instead he strode out hard, each foot planted firmly in their back, pushing them down and down into the choking mud. One final leap and he was at the tree. He was reaching out and touching it’s bark, standing beneath it’s branches, hearing the wind in it’s leaves. He had dreamt of this moment all his life, ever since the first time he had known that there was such a thing as foolishness.
“Blessed, Holy Tree, I have longed with each breath to stand in your presence. I am your humble servant…”
The tree raised it’s eyebrows at this as it could see nothing humble about this man.
“…I have gone through great trials to reach you, made many sacrifices…”
” He made sacrifices?!” whispered the tree to Wind. Wind shrugged in confusion.
“…I promise to dedicate my life to foolishness if you will just grant me your blessing and make me more foolish than any other person has ever been…”
The tree smiled to itself and spoke:
“Truly my dear, you are more foolish than any who have ever come here before…”
The devotee almost burst with pride.
“…you have come all this way, you have sacrificed all your companions and friends…”
The devotee nodded, rubbing his hands with anticipation.
“….now who is left to help you out of this place?”
The devotee’s smile dropped from his face. He turned and looked back at the field of mud that was shimmering under a thin ray of sunshine. His followers’ bodies had all been sucked deep beneath the surface. There was no way out. The devotee was alone beneath the Tree of Foolishness. The tree sighed with satisfaction as Wind lined up the first branch at the devotee’s head.