I wrote this story a few years ago, when I came across a prompt asking for a myth that explained why something in the world is the way it is.
When Earth was still new to the world, she looked very different than she does today. She still had wide fields and snowy mountains, bare deserts and deep oceans. Animals still covered her from one end to another, and Sky blanketed her with his drifting clouds. But there was also a great canopy spread overhead. At that time, Tree lived with Sky, away from Earth. Tree was Sky’s most beloved companion, and she wrapped her roots in the clouds and drifted with them all day, always staying by Sky’s side.
At first Earth spent much of her time with her animals and flowers, telling them where to build their homes and which foods were good to eat. She helped them gather stores of nuts in the winter to save through the cold, and showed them how to pick berries in spring when they were ripe. They were happy together, and Earth never felt alone or sad.
But the time came when the animals did not need her help as often, and sought each other’s company instead of Earth’s. She took to watching Sky, who was always above her, and loved to see his colors change from night to day. Sometimes, though, Tree would pass by, and her long branches and many leaves would cover Sky from Earth’s sight for hours. Other times, Earth would watch as Tree and Sky danced together, passing back and forth overhead, happy in one another’s company.
But some days, it was just Sky, all above Earth and around her, embracing her so that she was not alone. Earth turned her flowers towards him and had her birds sing to him, and he answered back with shows of rainbows and fiery sunsets. She delighted in his company more and more as she watched him. But Sky would always turn to Tree when she drifted back, and they would move as one across Earth’s vision, leaving her alone and separated.
Earth grew jealous of Tree, and thought, If only I could reach up and brush Tree out of the way, so that I could be with Sky all the time, just the two of us. But Tree always came back to Sky, and Earth knew that she could not reach her while Sky was watching.
Then the first great storm came, and dark clouds separated Tree and Sky for many days. This is my chance! thought Earth, and she climbed her tallest mountain and reached up and up, until her fingers brushed one of Tree’s branches, and pulled her down to the ground. Poor Tree had no time to cry out before she felt herself pushed deep into Earth’s dark dirt, unable to see Sky, whom she loved.
Once the storm cleared, Sky looked around and asked the clouds, “Where has Tree gone?” But the clouds couldn’t answer, for they had been taken over by the storm.
Sky went down to find Earth, and asked her, “Do you know where Tree has gone?”
“No,” Earth lied, “I haven’t seen her since the storm.”
Saddened, Sky climbed back up the mountains to return home. As he climbed, he passed over the spot where Tree had been buried, but he noticed nothing.
Tree, however, felt him as he passed and called out to him, but her small voice couldn’t reach past the dirt the trapped her. So she dug her roots into the clay all around her, and pushed up and up as hard as she could, hoping to return to Sky. But when she finally broke through the final layer of dust, it was just in time to see Sky jump back up into his home without her. Still determined, she continued to grow and grow.
Earth was shocked and ashamed when she realized how hard Tree was trying to go home. Afraid that Sky would notice, she put fruit into Tree, hoping to weigh her down. But the fruit soon ripened and fell to the ground, and Tree grew on.
Seeing that she had failed, Earth then showed Man how to cut down Tree’s branches and build houses and tools. But Tree scattered her seeds to the wind, and in time she was spread all over Earth, always reaching up.
Eventually, Tree grew so tall that Earth could no longer hide her from Sky. Sky again came down to Earth, and asked her, “What is this? How did Tree come down here?”
Earth confessed that she had pulled Tree down during the storm and hidden her from Sky. As a punishment, Sky sentenced Earth and all her animals to fall back down to the ground anytime they tried to enter Sky’s domain. Then he went to Tree and said, “Come, it is time to return home.”
Tree moved to follow him, but found that she could no longer move. Her roots were too deep in Earth. Sky used his winds to pull at her branches until they were stripped of their leaves, but still Tree stayed firmly put. Finally, Sky saw that he could not move her, and knew that he would have to leave her behind. Tree cried out to him as he jumped up to take his place over Earth again, but he did not come back down.
For many days, Tree could only cry, for there is nothing more painful than seeing your home in front of you and yet not being able to return. However, once she could wail no more, she looked around and saw that parts of Earth were good. All her leaves turned to the warm sun in pleasure. The rivers around her quenched her thirst. She could still feel the gentle breeze ruffle her branches as she danced with the wind. But she never stopped hating the dirt that imprisoned her, and continued to grow as high as she could.
Then, seeing her tall branches, animals came to sleep in her shade and eat her fruit. Tree was happy to have company again. She gave the animals homes if they wanted, and even allowed men to take her dead branches for firewood. Her seeds continued to spread across the Earth until there were dense forests filled with life everywhere.
Sky watched her grow and adapt to her new life with Earth. He sent Tree small rains when she needed them, and covered her with clouds on days where the sun burned too brightly. Tree was still the most beloved of all his companions, even though they were not always together. In return, Tree grew higher and higher, so that the animals that Sky had sentenced to the ground could sometimes climb up and see beautiful Sky up close.
As time passed, men filled Earth and built their tall buildings, blocking Sky from Tree’s view. The less Tree saw of Sky, the more she forgot her home. Eventually, she did not remember living with Sky at all. “I’ve always been a part of Earth,” she told the animals around her. It seemed impossible that her roots had ever lived without the ground.
“I wonder why I reach so hard for Sky?” she sometimes asked herself. “All my happiness is on Earth. Maybe I should stay low to the ground, like everything else.” But it broke her heart to stop growing, so she always did her best to stay tall. Something inside Tree knew that the dirt wasn’t cradling her roots, but trapping them. The higher she grew, the more her roots sank into the ground, holding her so firmly in place that not even the wind could tear her up. She gazed at Sky when she could, and cried for reasons she had long forgotten. To make the days seem kinder, she often told herself that one day, she would touch Sky and remember.
That is why, to this very day, Tree continues to reach for Sky.