The man quailed at this sight, and his legs straightened to touch the gravelly bottom without a thought. The water continued to flow, and the fish was forgotten.
"A tree..." he whispered. "Trees normally play the role of minor challenges as part of a larger challenge. Such was the case when I was forced to climb the forested mountain some years ago. Other times, trees have served as the solution to a challenge. When I was stuck in the canyon five months ago, I was able to climb a tree to escape. But this..."
The tree was truly a magnificent sight, towering up out of a patch of simple green grass, even the tallest stretches of its strong boughs still meters below the high rocky ceiling. It was in the full life of summer, even while no sunlight fell upon its shining leaves. Its roots were tough and split the earth with their grip, the bark was textured and aged, and the leaves were green and full. But the man could see no reason for any of it.
And then he heard a chirp. He frowned and glared up into the full branches of the oak. The chirp repeated, and a slight brown bird darted from one branch to the next.
"A bird too? I have never had so many ambiguous clues at once!"
The man climbed from the water with careful movements, his head still up, and his eyes still watching. As far as he could tell, the oak tree was completely alone on the banks, with the rock walls more than ten meters away on all sides. Climbing it would be useless. Picking its leaves would be useless. Could the branches be used for something?
The man, knowing this would be a difficult challenge to overcome, sat down on the unprecedented grass and gave the tree some thought.
After a few hours, he hunted around the plain patch of grass. Then he scoured the rock walls. Then he dove in the canal again. Then he climbed every single branch of the tree and inspected every single leaf. The bird chirped and flittered around, and the oak stood in silent peace without a single explanation.
The man's frustration slowly began to grow. Challenges were supposed to have real, concrete solutions. The existence of this tree, and that bird, seemed to have no relevancy whatsoever. Why were they here?
And so the hours continued to flow, passing by even more quickly than the waters of the canal. After some time, the man grew angry. But he was used to being patient, used to being slow, and used to the long hours of silence. The only reason he had such anger was because of the lack of progress. There was no encouragment, no feedback, no response. How was he doing? The solution could be a minute away or a hundred years away! How was he to tell? He was as lost as when he'd first began.
Soon, his anger and hopelessness transformed into boredom. He had never been bored before. There had always been a challenge to work through, and a solution to create. But now he was at a standstill, a deadlock with a mystery that refused to be seen.
And then, just as he was about to rip every blade of grass out individually, a fly buzzed into the cavern. His eyes went wide, and he gave a deadly stare to the peacefully humming fly. But still, he did not move, did not react, did not jump to any conclusions. His mind hurt. His thoughts were violent and bitter. He tried his best to ignore the fly. It too must be a solid dead end.
Another hour passed. And then a frog leaped from the waters and into the grasses. The man gave it a look of utter exasperation.
It was soon followed by the sprouting of a new plant.
And then the leaves on the oak began to turn color.
And then a second bird joined the first.
And one by one, life began to flourish all around him, joining the scene with joy and dancing peacefully around the exasperated, sulking man. Squirrels played amongst the boughs, birds made nests, gophers dug in the grass, frogs lept about the water's edge, and the oak leaves turned golden, then rusty, and then fell one by one to the ground.
And all this while, the man continued to sit against the trunk of the tree. His mind had ceased to think. His logic had ceased to analyze. He only observed. And it was here, after he had given up, relaxed, and let go that he made his first true realization.
He stood up. "These mysteries cannot be answered."