Once upon a time an old man lived on an old farm that had been in his family for many generations. He worked very hard on the farm--twice as hard as other farmers--and it showed by the beauty of the farm and the lush and abundant produce, which he sold for a very good profit. Of course, he hadn't always been old. He had inherited the farm when he was young from a great uncle, who had in turn inherited it himself. His great uncle showed him all the work that needed to be done, which was quite extensive. It took a while to learn, but the old uncle insisted things must be done his way or not at all. One day, his great uncle took him out to the back of an old barn and showed him some old apple trees. He told the man that he must tenderly care for the trees, that he could eat and sell the fruit (which was the finest in the land), but he could never cut one bit of wood from any of the old apple trees for they were magic trees that guarded the farm and kept it so beautiful and lush. He had a gleam in his eye as he told his nephew this, which did not go unnoticed.
The next day his great uncle disappeared and was never heard from again. So the young man began to work the farm. He worked year after year until he was old and crooked and bent, but he kept the beauty of the farm intact as instructed. All the while, he kept thinking of the old apple trees out back. He always counted them--16 in number--and wondered what kind of magic they possessed. Finally, he decided he would pass on the farm to one of his nephews. He also decided that he would cut one of the trees down when he left and keep the magic wood for himself, which he was certain would keep him healthy far into his old age. So he sent for his nephew and went through the same procedure with his nephew that had been done when he himself was a young man. His nephew was a quick learner, and finally he showed him the 16 old apple trees out back. With a gleam in his eye, he told his nephew of the magic they possessed and all the rules that went with them. His nephew agreed to the terms and was fascinated by the idea of magic old apple trees.
The next morning the old man crept out very early with an axe in his hand, determined to take one of the old apple trees down and leave with it that very morning. How his eyes gleamed as he gazed at the magic old apple trees! So enthralled was he that he did not notice an old root sticking up from the ground, which tripped him and nearly sent him flat on his face. When he collected himself and went to move, he noticed that the root had somehow wrapped completely around his ankle. He stared in disbelief, but before he could say a word, another thick root quickly wrapped around his other ankle, holding him firmly in place. Now he began to panic and tried to cry out, but roots and stems and bark were flying out of the soil everywhere and wrapping around him with lightning speed! Within a couple of minutes, he was completely covered by bark, branches, twigs and leaves. In fact, he was entombed within an apple tree. He tried to cry out, but now he had no voice. And now he realized that he had become an old apple tree himself.
Later that morning, the young nephew came out back and stared at the old apple trees, counting them--17 in all. He wondered about the magic they possessed and thought it must be great, indeed, to have kept the farm so beautiful and profitable. He decided that he would work very hard just as his old uncle had asked him to do, but that one day he would come and take some of the magic apple wood for himself when he retired to ensure his health and success into his old age before passing the farm on to a nephew. "After all," he reasoned with himself, "I will deserve one of these old apple trees for my very own."