The Demanding Tree

Today, the Rev. Thomas Schade of Worcester gave a shout-out to two of his parishioners for creating a re-telling of Shel Silverstein’s classic tale of a masochistic co-dependent relationship, The Giving Tree. I once loved The Giving Tree myself, until I came into a feminist awareness that revealed to me that this was the ultimate sentimental re-imagining of how patriarchy really works to dominate and amputate female power and presence (including Mother Nature’s power).

In 2000, I re-wrote The Giving Tree and my version has subsequently been used by Unitarian Universalist congregations all over the country: at least 34 by my count, as that was the last time I counted the requests by colleagues to use it in their worship services. And so my friends, I give you, “The Demanding Tree,” by Victoria Weinstein.Please share with attribution.*

*Amazing illustrations for “The Demanding Tree” were created by Jessica Alexander at the time, and I hope to be able to find and scan them soon.


The Demanding Tree , by the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein, April 2000

(revised January 2003)

With apologies to Shel Silverstein…

Once there was a tree.  And she loved a little boy.

And every day the boy would come, and he would gather her leaves

and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.

And the tree loved the little boy, but the tree was a bit irritated.  “King of the forest, my trunk,” she thought. “Wherever did those human beings get such an attitude problem?”

Time went by, and the boy grew older, and the tree was often alone, which was nice and quiet, but she missed the boy.

Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree called out to him, “Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat my apples and play in my shade and be happy.”

“I am too big to climb and play,” said the boy.  I want to buy things and have fun.  I want some money.  Can you give me some money?”

“No chance,” said the tree.  “I have only leaves and apples.  Why don’t you go get a job if money’s so important to you? I hear that the Nature Conservancy is looking for clerical staff.  Why don’t you apply?”

And so the boy applied for the job and stuffed many envelopes and encouraged paperwork reduction and processed many donations to the Nature Conservancy, and the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree was sad.  And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, “What took you so long? You don’t call, you don’t write, how’s the job? And tell me, who do you think really has the better record on environmental issues, John Kerry or this new fella from Vermont?”

“I am too busy to talk politics with you,” said the boy.  “I want a house to keep me warm. I want a wife and I want children, so I need a house.  Can you give me a house?”

“Of course I can’t give you a house,” replied the tree.  “The forest is my house.  But you’re certainly welcome to pitch a tent on the ground here, and we’ll have a great time.”

“Thanks but no thanks, Tree,” said the boy.  “Maybe I’ll start an intentional community with some of my friends.”

“That’s the ticket,” cheered the tree.  “You Americans already have far too many houses. Why build another?”

So the boy went off to start a co-op with a group of vegetarians who all embraced voluntary simplicity and belonged to the Unitarian Universalist church.  And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away a very long time, and when he came back the tree was so happy she waved her branches excitedly.  “Well would you look what the cat dragged in!! Look at you, Boy! Good Lord, you look awful.  You humans just don’t age as well as we trees do, do you?”

“You’ve got that right, dear Tree,” replied the boy.  “I wish I could stay and shoot the breeze with you, but I am too old and sad.  I want a boat that will take me far away from here.  Can you give me a boat?”

“Whoa,” said the tree. “I don’t like the way you’re looking at my trunk there, buddy.  You want to get far away from here? You’ve got legs.  Walk. And on the way, why don’t you take some of these seeds and plant some more trees? Make like Johnny Appleseed.  It’ll do us all some good.”

So the boy embraced the tree, took the seeds and started on his journey.  And the tree was happy.  Really.

After a long, long time, the boy came back again.  “I’m sorry, Boy,” said the tree.  You have no more teeth to sink into my apples.  You’re too fragile to swing in my branches.  Your friends and your intentional community are long gone, and your old legs can’t take you around as they used to.  We both know that you are at the end of your story, and that I will long outlast you.  I just wish that I could give you something to comfort you. . . ”

“I don’t need very much,” said the boy.  “Just a quiet place to swing and rest.”

“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could. “Well, this old tree is good for swinging and resting.  Come, Boy, tie your hammock on this branch over here, and on this branch way over here.  Come, Boy, swing from my arms, and rest.”

And the boy did.

And the tree was very happy.


8 Replies to “The Demanding Tree”

  1. I, too, really dislike The Giving Tree. I probably liked it as a child, but as an adult I’ve always thought that the boy was a selfish brat and the tree was a doormat. I like this version much better. My only constructive critisism is the name: The Demanding Tree. I don’t think the tree was demanding at all, just expecting a little personal responsibility from the boy. I’d call this The Reasonable Tree. (I realize this doesn’t have the opposite-ness factor, though.)

  2. I don’t read The Giving Tree as offering a moral in the sense of “hey kids, be like the tree.” I think it’s supposed to be deliberately challenging. I may be wrong.

  3. Hilarious! Thank you.
    As an alternative for my kids, I like Eric Carle’s “The Mountain That Loved A Bird.”

  4. Thank you! I was very uncomfortable with The Giving Tree as a child, but unable to articulate why until I got older. Your feminist take on it gets at a lot of what bothers me about the story. I like alkali’s view that it might be deliberately challenging, though, because I want to like Silverstein.

  5. Great job, PB! Really wonderful. I hope you do find a way to make the illustrations available. But maybe there’s some way to get it published so folks can buy it?
    @ Natasha – I think we can still like Shel Silverstein, and just admit this isn’t his best work. Like PB said in Louisville, about Paul: He’s got some good stuff, and in other places, he’s just wrong. The Giving Tree is just wrong.

  6. I always pictured “The Giving Tree” as the relationship between God and his people. God’s unwavering, unconditional love is what provides everyone with the food they eat, the money they need to survive, the house they live in, and ultimately, a final resting place. Sorry, but I think this story took something that was beautiful and true and completely ruined it.

  7. Excellent! I was spared “The Giving Tree” in my youth. But discovered it when it was given to my daughter. My first impression was, “Wow, that’s depressing.” I’m no environmentalist but I truly expected a different ending. Here’s the fix I came up with: The old man returns to the tree, which is now just a stump, and says he’s saved all the tree’s acorns from its younger days and now will plant them all around so other trees can grow for other children to enjoy.

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