Once upon a time, there was a tiny acorn, who lived in a remote brown valley.

She was a very sad little acorn because there was always fighting there, and black soupy clouds that hung low and heavy like soot which made it difficult for her to breathe.

The little acorn hated it there and was desperate to escape.  But as she looked around, she could see nothing but hills.

‘Oh, dear!’ she thought. ‘The only way out of here is to roll uphill!  I don’t think I can do it!’

But it was either that or stay in the dark and toxic valley where nothing grew and nothing could breathe.

So the little acorn made the arduous journey uphill, where she came to rest in a lovely, sunny spot.

Over many years, she grew into a grand old oak tree.  There were no other oak trees up there because no other acorns had been brave enough to make the journey up that hill.  If not for the little birds who nested and sang amongst her beautiful branches, and the squirrels who ran up and down her sturdy trunk, chattering and chasing each other on a summer’s day, the oak tree would not have had any company at all.

The oak tree could not help but envy her little friends. They had all the freedom in the world, while she was firmly rooted to the ground and could not move from that spot.  Smiling a sad and wistful smile, she watched in silence as the squirrels darted here and there, playing hide and seek, and the birds flew in and out of her branches, chirping and singing their sweet songs of freedom.

Her little friends felt her sadness, but no matter what they did, nothing cheered her.  She would not play with them.  She would not speak to them. She just wished she could be them.

Unbeknownst to the oak tree, there was a horrible black disease growing deep within her trunk.  It had been there, lying in wait, since she was a tiny acorn choking on the heavy sooty air of the valley below.  After many years, it was finally cutting off the tree’s supply of food and water.  Her pretty leaves began to turn yellow and fall to the ground.  Her branches began to dry up, and tiny twigs snapped at the slightest touch.  Little holes appeared in her trunk, as the black disease ate its way to the outside world.

Fearing the worst and not wanting to upset her little friends, she said not a word. There was nothing she could do, nowhere she could go.  Unlike the birds and squirrels, she was stuck well and truly into the ground with no freedom to move.  All she could do was pray silently that one day, she would be well again.

But of course, her friends could see that something was wrong, even though the tree smiled bravely and insisted that she was fine.

Eventually ignoring the tree, a very colourful but somewhat bossy bird took it upon herself to fly to the home of a wizard who lived some distance away.

After relating the tree’s story, the bird begged, “Please, would you help my beautiful friend?”

“Of course I will,” the wizard replied.  Hastily, he scrawled on a scrap of paper and handed it to the bossy bird.  ”Gather these ingredients and put them in the holes in her trunk.  And soon, she will be healed completely.”

The bird put the list in her beak and flew back to her friends.  Everyone was excited to learn that their lovely friend would be well if they could just get everything on that list. After a discussion about where to find the ingredients, the birds flew off to the furthest places and the squirrels scampered up and down the hills nearer their home.

When all of them met up again, they had collected an abundance of exactly what the wizard prescribed.  Specific bits of berries and bark, leaves and moss lay beneath her boughs, sweet medicine brought by her friends.  And they brought even more birds and squirrels back with them, along with some bunnies and chipmunks, and some other new friends.

Following the wizard’s instructions, the squirrels ran up and down the trunk, filling every hole with the herbal concoction that would kill every bit of the black disease and bring strength and healing to the beautiful tree.

When they were finished, all the birds and animals gathered on the ground in a huge circle around the tree.  As per the wizard’s instructions, they huddled together and envisioned her being strong and well. They prayed for her healing. Old friends and new, they wished the Black Disease would be gone.

Suddenly, the holes began to close.  The twigs were green again.  New leaves were budding and sprouting and the lovely old oak tree was even grander and more beautiful than before.  Never had she felt so well in her life.  Everything looked bigger, brighter, and more wonderful.

And when her little friends played in her branches, scampered up and down her trunk or played at her feet, she laughed and smiled along with them, teasing and giggling and being a part of their games for many long years.

And she was never lonely again.