18

The setting: Humanity has spread through the galaxy, but there is only one tree left on a remote planet. It seems that Earth was the only planet where trees evolved; there are tall grasses and such elsewhere, but no tall woody plants. A visitor finds a caretaker who has carved out pieces of wood from this unique survivor to provide wood for making musical instruments. The caretaker is old, and when the visitor returns, he finds that the caretaker has passed away and the tree has been cut down. Only the music remains.

The story was in English, probably in an anthology published in the 1960s to 1970s.

  • 3
    "Spokesman Mark Myers said Rondell Bailey, 37, was doing donuts with his truck in a parking lot near the Oklahoma City Civic Center when he hit a trash can, making the truck go high center and get stuck. Bailey then walked to the Oklahoma County jail, where he walked in with a tree branch he claimed was the last tree in the universe and tried to use the stick to pay for charges to be dropped." - oklahoman.com/article/3444999/… – Valorum Jun 13 at 15:19
  • Probably not scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/174362/… – FuzzyBoots Jun 13 at 16:42
20

Wings of Song by Lloyd Biggle Jr.

This seems to be an obscure story. Apart from its magazine publication it has only appeared in a few obscure anthologies none of which I have. I found this almost by accident in a PDF of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction November 1963 that I'm reluctant to link as I suspect it isn't a legal upload. However user14111 has managed to find a copy on archive.org (thanks :-).

Anyhow, the protagonist Karl Brandon visits a curiosity shop and finds a violin made from an unknown material called wood. However the violin is broken and no-one knows how to fix it. Eventually a reference is found in the bowels of a library:

“Information about wood, sir. I’m afraid not very much is known about it. But I did find one thing. About a hundred years ago, on the planet Beloman - that’s in the Partu Sector - there was a man who gave his occupation as woodcarver."

Brandon goes to the planet Beloman where the last tree in the galaxy is still standing:

It stood near the house, a straight, rough-textured finger pointing upwards into a top- heavy crown of green foliage.
“Is it . . .”
Parker nodded. "A tree.”
“I thought there wasn’t a tree left in the galaxy!”
“Evidently,” Parker said, “there's one left.”

The caretaker is Peterson, but he refuses to repair the violin and Brandon is forced to leave empty handed. Eventually the violin is repaired using wood from a wooden box found in a museum, and Brandon returns to Beloman to show Peterson the repaired violin. But:

"The tree’s gone,” Parker said.
"He said he was about ready to use it,” Brandon said.
They headed directly for the workshop, and Brandon had his hand on the door when a call stopped him. The young woman they had met on the first visit hurried towards them. “What was it you wanted?” she asked.
“We’d like to see Mr. Peterson,” Brandon said.
“I’m sorry. Father is dead. He died a month ago.”
Brandon could manage no more than a deep breath.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said again.
“I’m sorry, too,” Brandon said.
They turned away. Slowly they walked back to the aircar. Slowly they flew away.

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    Great Hannes Bok cover for "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" on that magazine. – Organic Marble Jun 13 at 20:01
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    Sitting here wondering why the guy didn't save some seeds from it and plant them. – jpmc26 Jun 13 at 23:58
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    @jpmc26: It might be too late due to self-incompatibility. – Henning Makholm Jun 14 at 0:30
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    Bravo! That is the story -- and with A Rose for Ecclesiastes in the same issue, a nice discovery. Like other readers, I found the hopeless ending of Wings of Song poignant but unsatisfying. Today, the tree would be cloned, the collector would revive interest in trees throughout the galaxy, and people would start making and playing violins again -- but the story would lose its poignancy and become trite. I do not recognize any of the covers for this story in its ISFDB page, so where I read it remains a mystery. Possibly a library book whose dust jacket had been removed. – Invisible Trihedron Jun 14 at 13:15

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