Once there was . . . and once there was not . . . a farmer who, having decided to settle in the country east of ranges . . . went into the forest to cut trees to clear the land so that he could graze sheep and cattle and grow pasture and crops - and earn an honest living. The timber he cut he used to build his house and to fence his fields.
Each day he started out before the dawn had scarcely lighted the horizon, his old leather bag slung on his back. In it was the food his wife had prepared for him and a bottle of fresh spring water. Sometimes on a cold winter’s day she’d pour hot tea into the bottle and wrap it tightly round and round with old newspaper to keep the heat in.
One day the farmer marked out a huge old white gum. It would give him plenty of wood. And now that his house and his fences were complete he could sell the wood to the timber yards. He took his axe in his hands and swung it round his head with such a swing that you would have thought he wanted to fell the tree with one stroke.
But before he had time to deliver the felling blow, he heard a cry. He stopped mid-swing and looked around. He saw nothing but trees. The wind murmured. The trees rustled their leaves. He was about to raise his axe a second time when the sounds on the breeze began to take shape like words. And the words were coming from the trees themselves. "Habitat! . . . Habitat!:"
He saw a young brushtail possum among the branches - scurrying home as though the dawn had caught him unawares. The farmer gazed across the clearing, deep in thought. Just then, the wind lifted and soil began to blow down into the creek bed. The trees about him seemed to whisper . . . "E-e-e . . ro-o-o . . . sion! . . . Sa-a-a . . . li-i-i . . . ni . . . ty-y-y!"
One young sapling leaned towards him. Shaped into the bark, the farmer could clearly distinguish its face . . . its mouth . . . its eyes. The tree peered into the man’s face. "Spare us," it whispered. "Don’t destroy us! Build and fence with mud and wire and brick and iron. Spare us. You won’t regret it! We offer clean air and fresh water . . . and much more."
The farmer was so shocked that, at first, he couldn’t make his mouth utter a word. But when his tongue came unstuck, he managed to stutter, "Ri-ight! Ri-ight! I promise I will think again about what I do in the forest."
"You’ve done better for yourself than you know," whispered the trees all together, "and you will not go unrewarded. We show our gratitude in unexpected ways. There could even be three wishes in it for you."
And with that the trees all stood straight and tall as though they had never breathed a word.
The farmer slung his old leather bag over his shoulder and started for home. He knew it was long before knock-off time but the trees had rather unsettled him and set him wondering. Along the way creatures - a bung arrow, a carpet python, a honey-eater, a bush mouse . . . and others he had never seen before . . . crossed his path. All seemed to be saying: "Look at me!" "Watch me!" "This is my home!" Even a gecko eyed him solemnly for a moment, then darted past his foot and away among the brush. 2.
One of his boots kicked against some soil covered by rotting leaves and twigs that formed the forest floor. He was surprised at how moist it seemed . . . for there had been little winter rain that year.
Although the journey home was long, the poor man was so preoccupied with the events of the day he scarcely noticed. When he reached home he sat down by the blazing fire to warm himself and to wait for his evening meal for he was feeling quite hungry after all the excitement of talking with the trees.
When his wife entered the room, he said to her: "Is the meal nearly ready?"
"Why no!" she exclaimed. "It’s early yet. The sun is still high in the sky. Our meal will not be ready for another couple of hours. But let me make you some hot milk."
As the farmer sat with a jug of hot milk before him at the kitchen table, he told his wife about his encounter with the trees and their whispered promise. She smiled knowingly. "The poor man’s worn out!" she thought. But nonetheless she got to picturing the wonderful things they might have were it true . . . a silver Porsche to ride in, a purse full of money, a dress of silk - or satin! It did no harm to dream.
The wife leaned over and took a sip from her husband’s mug. She smacked her lips. "What this needs to go with it is a string of sausages ... " Too late she bit her tongue! No sooner were the words out of her mouth when with a clatter, clatter . . . rustle, rustle . . . what should come down the chimney but a dish - and on it a string of the finest sausages you could wish for.
"Sausages!" the farmer moaned. "What a dreadful waste. I could wish they’d stick on your nose!" At once the sausages jumped up and stuck fast to the end of his wife’s nose. "Husband! What have you done? ... and ... with all the things we could have wished for!" Mortified, the farmer exclaimed, "For two cents I’d chop - " He stopped, horrified to think he had been on the point of wishing his tongue chopped off. ... But, as he looked at his wife he could not help but burst out laughing.
"If only you knew how funny you looked with those sausages on the end of your nose!"
The wife tugged the sausages, but they wouldn’t budge. She pulled again and again. It was no use. The sausages were firmly attached to her nose. "They’ll be here for the rest of my life!" she wailed.
"Here! Let me try," said her husband
"What shall we do now?" they said looking at one another, each thinking the same thing.
"There’s only one thing we can do, isn’t there?" said the farmer’s wife timidly.
"Yes, I guess so," the husband sighed, remembering their dreams ... and he bravely wished the third and last wish. And the sausages lay on their dish on the table. Instantly, husband and wife hugged each other, laughing through their tears. And if the farmer and his wife didn’t get to ride in a silver Porsche, or have a purseful of money or dress in silk or satin - at least they had the finest meal of sizzling sausages that you could imagine.
But one thing is certain, that farmer never forgot his talk with the trees.