War Trees

(A side conversation, edited out of The Human Scale)

“You know how sometimes, in a grove of oak trees,” Indy began as though they had already been chatting, “sometimes there are little groups of smaller oaks clumped together?  I mean, there might be lots of giant oaks in the grove, of such size as would take two or three people to touch hands around the trunk.  But then every so often you will find a clump of smaller ones, and these will always be arranged in a ring.  You’ve seen this?”  Jill wasn’t sure, but nodded anyway, and Indy continued, “This happens when one of the big trees has been cut down.  Fifty years ago, or maybe a hundred.  Just long enough for some branches to form around the remaining stump, and those branches to eventually grow into trees. That’s why they form little rings.  The stump may be long gone now, leaving only a little circle of sister oaks.”

Jill realized that there were trees outside like this, on the property.  “Yes,” she said, “that makes sense.”

“Sometimes, you will see a forest composed only of such tree-rings. Ring after ring, easily mistaken for branching trunks, but really all growing from old stumps.  A forest like that would have been, at some time in the past, completely razed.  Lots of clear-cutting went on during the Gold Rush. Whole hillsides of nothing but stumps.”  Indy paused, and added, “But now there are how many trees?  Three, or even four of them for every one that was cut?  Like a slow-motion hydra, over hundreds of years, many lifetimes, the forest multiplies in the face of injury.”

“Did you just read that?”  Jill was looking at the stack of books on the coffee table, trying to see which it might have come from.

“No,” Indy said. “I don’t really know where that came from.  It sounds like the kind of thing my mother would have told me, but I don’t recall her saying it.” He paused. “I think of it now, because it describes martyrdom, in a way.  If the tree had lived, it would have grown old, and eventually fallen over.  However, by being cut down, its power is multiplied.” Jill stared blankly, as though the room were on fire, and no one else was noticing. 

“You’re telling me that Desirae’s death will be worth it,” Jill said, “is that what you mean?”

“No.”  Indy was shaking his head. “Desirae is more powerful now that she is gone than she was while she carried the torch for us.  Now her plans have been picked up by a mob of people who will storm the castle in her name.  They will probably make a difference.  In fact, this generation of activists will likely change everything.  But, no, it’s not ‘worth it.’ It isn’t, in the same that the little rings of oaks have not replaced the groves.  The old forest is gone, it is not coming back.  The new forest remains to be seen.  It’s different.  It’s unstoppable.  It’s a miracle. It’s a radical evolution, and an overwhelming wave of progress.  It’s many things, but there is no worth here, no value in conflict.” Indy paused. “There is no trade, no exchange.  More trees do not make more value. The river only flows one way.”

Jill started to speak, then stopped.  After several minutes of contemplation, she said, “I’m going home.”

Indy nodded. “Good call.”  He stirred the embers of the fire a bit and closed the damper.  He gathered the empty teacups from the coffee table and followed Jill out of the room in silence.

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