The Congress of the Forest

A parable for Leap Day, with apologies to Aesop or whomever.

One momentous day, the Forest Congress assembled to debate the burning issue of the hour: a bill had been offered declaring every acorn a tree, and, thus, all criminal penalties should accrue to anyone disturbing an acorn just as they would to anyone cutting down a tree.

The Animal Caucus

The beaver delegation had boycotted the meeting in protest, but the deer and squirrels, especially targeted by this proposed ordinance had caucused earlier with the other animals and insects to prepare a unified front in opposition. Following the reading of the Bill, the leader of the Trees, a firebrand Oak named Orville took the floor to speak:

Senator Orville, an Oak: As I come before you today to defend the sanctity of all vegetable life, I know that I speak not only for my kind, but for all trees and shrubs everywhere when I tell you that a tree is a tree from its first moment as a seed on the ground.

The branched representatives shook and rattled their approval. There was a rustle from the gallery.

The representative of the Insect and Animal coalition was a clever Squirrel named Sparky. He began:

Senator Sparky, a Squirrel: My friends, no one here doubts the incredible contribution that trees have made to this forest. And no one here does not honor them for that. If you remove the trees and brush from the forest, all that remains is desert, and we are all most solicitous in wishing health and prosperity to them. But I am troubled by this new law. There is no shortage of trees! There are seven billion of you. And the animal life of the forest depends on the seeds that don’t make it. The deer live on the bark during the winter; we squirrels survive on the nuts we store away, as do the woodpeckers and others. The beavers could not build their magnificent dams without strong green tree trunks to anchor them. We prune you throughout our short lives and when we die, our bodies fertilize you.

Orville the Oak was not swayed. “A tree is a tree, and all trees are sacred. Therefore all seeds are sacred, because they are trees.”

“No!” said Sparky the Squirrel. “A seed is only a potentiality. It is not a tree, it is only the possibility of a tree, which is why so many seeds are produced and so few trees come from them. One in four young trees dies before poking its head above the forest floor. How can we call them ‘trees’?”

“Poppycock!” sneered Orville. “Your anti-tree, anti-Life agenda is clear!”

Sparky continued, “The nature of nature is competition. The lion improves the deer and the deer improves the lion.”

Hear, hear!” growled the lions.

“You have no feelings for trees,” Orville exclaimed. “You speak only of animals! You have no heart or caring soul. YOU are a liberal!”

The Unified Trees

The debate continued all through the day, and well into the night. Sparky the Squirrel kept scoring debate points with smart and probing arguments, but the trees remained inflexible; nothing could sway them, nothing could move them.

And when, in the wee hours of the morning, the vote was finally taken it was bitter irony that the absence of the beavers proved the difference, and the vote passed. Seeds were, thereafter, considered to be trees in the eyes of the Law. All were equal and all had equal protections under the Law of the Forest.

But the animals starved and the forest sickened, as a profusion of seeds, stripped of all natural enemies, sprouted everywhere, shutting off the sunlight to the bushes and undergrowth, and creating a forest too thick for any but the smallest animal to pass through. And while the trees grew in undreamt-of profusion, the soil, no longer fertilized, was leeched of its nutrients, and the trees were sickly and wan.

And when the fire finally came — for fires always come to forests, from the time before time — the conflagration was tremendous, a holocaust with no firebreaks and no partially burned trees.  And the fire did not discriminate between “pro-tree” and “pro-diversity” factions.

All were extinguished with perfect equality and magnanimity. For fire plays no favorites.

And the forest, without life, became a desert.

Which relieved the Congress of the Forest from having to attend meetings or take votes.

Courage.

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