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The Wooden Nickel:  Trouble With Trees

The Wooden Nickel: Trouble With Trees

August 28, 2023

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas


There has been a lot of trouble with trees this summer.

First there were those Canadian wildfires. Thousands of acres burned in the unpopulated regions of Northern Canada. The fires were started primarily by lightning strikes, and there was much debate as to whether this was related to climate change. Regardless, what was not up for debate was the effect it had; dozens of US and Canadian cities were blanketed in fire-related smog that brought back memories of the terrible air pollution in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

These wildfires taught us that even when we are far apart, disasters like wildfires connect us all in ways we don’t always anticipate.


Now the trouble with the maples
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light


During a recent storm a massive limb fell from the 80-foot tree in our front yard smack-dab into the middle of our driveway. If either I or my wife had been home, our car would have been crushed! Fortunately, that didn’t happen. My neighbor not only provided the chain saw to cut up the limb, but he came over and did the job himself. 

This run-in with the tree taught me again that 1) sometimes avoiding disaster is only a matter of luck and 2) you never know when you’re going to need to depend on your neighbors.


But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade


Julie and I went on a nature trip to Alaska which included lots of hikes through the forests. I was amazed at the density and heartiness of the trees. Did you know that Southeast Alaska is a rainforest? I did not. What was most remarkable to me is how the trees that fall and die provide new growth for saplings. Dead trees become nurseries for making new ones. There are new trees growing right out of the old trunk! 

There’s a lesson in there for us. Our job is to perpetuate our species by making this world better for our children and grandchildren. That means taking care of others we know and others we will never know. Our society has marvels like medicine, roads, food systems and yes, forests to hike in because others created, developed and cared for these marvels. 

We are here, now. Our job is to make sure here is still here for those who come next. 


There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream, "Oppression!"
And the oaks just shake their heads


I was cutting the grass a few weeks back when I heard what I thought was a waterfall. I looked up and saw a 100-foot-tall oak tree fall from one neighbor’s yard and crash into another neighbor’s house.  Thankfully nobody was outside the house or they would have been severely injured. The house sustained major damage and is currently not livable. There was no storm and no warning. This mighty tree, superficially thriving, just keeled over. There are dozens of trees in our neighborhood that are that tall and provide shade and shelter from the weather…we think nothing of walking amongst these mighty natural structures, yet trees are falling all the time! 

The lesson here is obvious; live your life but always have plans for the unexpected. Insurance is good (my neighbors were fully covered), but you need to mentally prepare for the unexpected as well.  "Falling Trees" like illnesses, accidents, financial reversals are all a part of life. The world is the world, and it will do what it will do. We must make plans for them.


So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
They say, "The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light


Trees are wonderful providers of all kinds of benefits; food, shelter, shade, scenery, wildlife, oxygen. Trees are also, as my friend Lou recently called them, the “silent killers that live amongst us”, smashing cars and houses randomly.

Are we so different from trees? We are born, we grow, we thrive, and then we decline and pass on. We create the next generation, give them some soil and a chance to grow. We create structures and advantages as best we can to help the new trees. Forests of trees seem to enhance the world more completely than trees standing by themselves, unsupported. All the trees live in competition, but it is when trees are working together that we see the whole system thrive for trees, wildlife, and the land below them. 


Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw


The end of this Rush song seems to say that a law about tree height, enforced with sharp tools is bad.  Cutting down the bigger trees to make all trees the same reeks of “socialism”. It doesn’t make sense that we harm the best of us in the quest to make things better. 

However, I think the song sends another message as well. All the trees in the forest need light. Gigantic oaks taking all of the sunlight may be good for them, but the maples in the shadows suffer. If all trees don’t find a way for everybody to get some light, conflicts will arise.

It’s a lot like that in our world too, isn’t it?  Why do we celebrate a society where so few control so much while so many are in the shadows?  

Maybe instead of shaking their heads in frustration, the oaks should have allowed the maples a little bit more of the sun. Understanding between the oaks and the maples surely would have been a better outcome.

It seems to me that it's better to try to live in harmony with your fellow trees than to fight them all the time.  Otherwise, the ax may come for all of us.  Let the oaks grow tall, but make sure the maples are not in the dark.  That's a forest I want to live in.