Elmer was a smart little tree.
So smart, in fact, that he planned his life while still a seedling just tamped into the soil at Shady Acres Tree Farm. He and several thousand others were set into neat rows. It was a lot more spacious than the greenhouse where he had sprouted, and he liked it.
“This is GREAT! Lotta sun, room to grow, and even- what’s this? Company!” he yelled as a robin settled by him to look for worms in the disturbed soil. “Hey, you! Where am I?”
You’re in a tree nursery,” replied the bird. “They’ll feed and water and take care of you here for six or seven years.”
“Wow!” Elmer whistled. “Then what?”
“Then people will take you home with them and plant you in their yard.”
“How? I’m stuck in the ground.”
“No problem. They just dig you up.”
Suddenly it didn’t sound so good. “But I like it here! I don’t want dug up!”
“Too bad,” said the bird. “If they want you, off you go. But don’t worry. Yards are a lot nicer than here. Not just dirt between the trees, but real grass and gardens. A land growing with mulch and bunnies.”
“Naw, there can’t be any place nicer than this! I’ve never seen what you’re talking about, so I don’t believe it.”
“Okay, be that way,” replied the robin impatiently. “But it’s true whether or not you believe it.” He started to hop off. The worm hunting wasn’t going too well anyway.
“Wait!” Elmer yelled, an idea forming inside. “What makes people like a tree so they’ll dig it up?”
The robin stopped. Maybe the tree was reconsidering. “Oh, I don’t know it all. People are pretty strange. But they seem to like trees that look healthy: good color, even shape, no holes in the greenery, no fungus, that sort of thing. That’s why the nursery people trim your branches and squirt you with fungicide.”
“Ugh! I bet it hurts something awful. And what if I like fungawhatevers? They never hurt me. And the growers never trimmed me either.”
The robin could see that it wasn’t going well. “Maybe because you weren’t ready yet. And they’ve protected you from fungi already.”
“Huh! Some fairy tale! What are you, a preacher?”
“Nope, just an old bird trying to keep you out of trouble.” The robin flew off.
Elmer made up his mind. If good color, even shape, and no holes meant eventual uprooting, he would do without them. If other trees were dumb enough to believe snipping and squirting would prepare them for a better life, fine. They deserved some pain for their stupidity, and what would they become for it? Firewood, probably. That’s what trees got, not free lawns. No, Elmer would be the ugliest tree in the nursery! Nobody would want him and he could stay put. But how?
Just then a dog wandered by. That was it! “Hey, you!” yelled Elmer.
The dog ambled over and sniffed. Nothing too interesting, but it had spoken to him. “You called?”
“Yeah,” responded Elmer. Would you mind sitting on me?”
The dog wasn’t too bright, but this sounded stupid even to him. “Why? I’ll squash you.”
“That’s why. If you do, I’ll grow up bent and nobody’ll want me. Then I can stay here.”
“Dunno why, but your wish is my command,” shrugged the dog. He sat.
Elmer’s stem cracked. It hurt worse than he had expected. Besides, the dog smelled like a dog. But it would be worth it. So much for good shape.
It worked. As Elmer grew, he leaned to the north. But he didn’t stop there. He grew a forked trunk. He insulted thunderclouds to attract lightning. He invited every passing fungus to make itself at home. The itching was awful, but at least he could stay put.
After five years, Elmer looked terrible. He was misshapen and had bad color. In truth, he felt awful too, but his plan was going well.
The sixth year was the worst. Trimmers came and lopped all the trees, including Elmer. He screamed as loudly as the others, but he smiled inside for two reasons. First, the other trees got pruned even if they tried to be perfect, so they were no better off than he. And second, Elmer was really a mess. He didn’t see any way they could ever make him beautiful enough to dig up. He was a little worried about the robin’s statement about no holes, though, so one day he invited an itinerant porcupine to take a big bite out of his least bad side.
Finally the big day came. People dug up Elmer’s neighbors, roots and all. Then they were gone, leaving only a few scraggly extras. Elmer was proud to see that he was the ugliest tree standing.
He had gotten his wish. He was not sent to a lawn, but instead stayed where he was. What had happened to the other trees? Who knew? What had all their primping and pain done for them? Nothing that Elmer could see. He was the wise one, the one who had fought off the people! He congratulated himself…
…as the bulldozers drove into the field.