The children all listened attentively to the teacher's story except for three boys for whom this kind of story was not at all interesting. Slowly they moved away, and trying not to be noticed managed to escape into the depths of the forest.
"What nonsense! I will never believe that trees are alive and can feel," said the first boy scornfully.
With these words, as if trying to prove his point, he jumped up and caught a branch of a birch. He started to swing on it, forwards and backwards until the branch broke off with a loud crack.
"Certainly that's nonsense," laughed another boy. "Trees cannot speak! Look, the birch didn't say anything when you broke off its branch just now. Now I will carve something with a knife on its bark. Maybe this tree will write me something in reply?" he continued laughing.
"And I don't believe that trees can breathe. They don't have lungs" the third boy added, supporting his friends. "Here, come and have a quick look at this huge oak growing in this glade," he shouted.
The children began to run around the oak, kicking it as they did so and singing cheerfully:
"Hey, you old oak tree - tell us your name."
Suddenly all the boys felt as if something had seized them by their jackets and had raised them high above the ground.
"Oh, what's going on?" – shouted the children in fright. In reply the branches of the old oak rustled and a voice boomed out that made the boys tremble in horror:
"I am the keeper and the guardian of this forest. How dare are you ask my name, you shameless boys?"
The frightened children were silent and pale.
The voice of the oak was like a terrible whirlwind filling the wood.
"Listen to me, trees of my forest: birches and aspens, fir-trees and pines, lindens and maples. We'll have to decide together what to do with these naughty boys. Are any of you willing to take responsibility for them?
In reply the trees started to rustle in fright.
"No, please no, respected oak - I am afraid of them. All my leaves still tremble from the fright," - said the aspen with fear in its voice.
"And I don't need such naughty boys, what will I do with them? I am a quiet and decent tree," - answered the fir-tree.
"I've already got too much work without these boys," - explained the rowanberry tree. "I must grow berries so that the forest's inhabitants can be fed in winter."
"Ok. If none of my trees will take responsibility for you then I'll have to turn you into stones, you shameless boys," exclaimed the oak, making a terribly loud noise which terrified the boys.
"Oh, no, respected oak, please wait. All right, I agree. Give them to me, even though they broke one of my branches and cut my bark. All the same, people are not supposed to be like stones,"- rustled the birch tree with its branches. "Besides the Creator ordered us to serve people."
"Dear birch, you have got such a pure heart, just like your bark – pure and snow-white," rustled the branches of the oak more softly. "Well, take them and teach them how to behave, teach them good morals, kindness and wisdom."
The children were going to object, but suddenly felt like they were flying through the air straight to the birch tree.
The boys regained consciousness, but each in different place. One turned into the roots of the birch as if he had merged with them; another turned into the trunk and branches; and the third – into birch's leaves. The children didn't even have enough time to come to their senses and understand what had happened before they heard the birch ordering them:
"Let's start working boys, let's do our work. We can't allow ourselves to waste even one moment - trees have to do so many jobs during summer!
As for you, roots, you have the following task: first, you must feed me with food which you have to absorb from the ground; secondly, you must attach me to mother earth and support me against storms and strong wind."
"But I cannot work day and night. I don't have enough power and energy to support such a huge birch," the first boy started to object.
"You just have to do it," answered the birch. "If I won't receive enough food, I will die. And if you won't do your best to try to support me to stand against bad weather then even the slightest wind will blow me over. And you also will die together with me."
Then the birch spoke to the trunk and branches:
"And your work, my new trunk, will be this: you'll have to look after and protect my branches, leaves and seeds, and at the same time you'll have to pass them the food which is taken from the ground by my roots. The bark that covers you is your clothes - protection against the cold, bad weather and illnesses. You should try to heal as soon as possible all the wounds made by those silly boys otherwise the fungi can get inside and slowly destroy you - you will start to decay and will die."
"My shoulder is so sore – that shoulder from which my branch was torn off. And where the boys cut with their knife
– it is so painful," - complained the second boy.
"Trees never complain, instead they heal any wounds as soon as they can," - answered the birch, and then spoke to the leaves:
"You leaves, - my beauty and my pride - everyone admires you, especially in the spring, when after a long winter's dream you look so lovely, fresh, green and gentle. You, just like the roots, have to feed me, taking all the food you can from the air and sunlight. From this food extracted from air, and by means of the juices which have risen from roots, you'll have to develop different substances, from which I shall construct new layers of wood and new growth for the next year. But you'll have to hurry up and work day and night, as the autumn will come soon and you'll dry up."
"But I don't want to die in the autumn, it is very unfair, - I am still very young," - the third boy tried to object. "Besides I can't work day and night."
"There's nothing to be afraid of - all deciduous trees and even the keeper of a forest - a giant of an oak - all lose their leaves in the autumn. Only the needles on coniferous trees remain on through the winter," - explained the birch, and added "but if you, leaves, won't work, you will dry up immediately."
"Boys, here you are. What happened, did you fall asleep?" The teacher's voice seemed to come out of thin air, and the children found to their surprise that they had just woken up near the old oak tree in the forest glade.
"Please forgive us dear birch tree," whispered the first boy softly.
"You've got a very difficult life but still you are so kind. Thanks," - added the second boy.
And the third boy said nothing - he only stroked the birch's silver bark tenderly.