The Parable of the Pines

The pine branches creaked with the gusts, the sound reverberating through the trees. It made me wonder if some would crack and twist and fall to the ground. The two onlookers seemed oblivious to the sounds of the branches creaking and cracking and bending. They were mesmerized by the beauty of the trees.

“What beautiful trees,” one exclaimed. “Truly magnificent. The best,” said the other. They exchanged glowing praise for the trees and seemed very proud of themselves for having found them. It was a strange sort of self-congratulatory conversation about something for which they had no hand in growing, no part in bringing about. “How wonderful to live here with so many pines all around!” they said. “Who would want to live anywhere else,” they declared. They were so engrossed in their conversation, and mesmerized by the beauty of the pines, that they were oblivious to the coming storm that continued to bend and blow the trees.

Pine trees are indeed beautiful. Their tall, skinny trunks giving way to such flexible, prickly branches full of wispy, soft needles, green all year round. And these were as beautiful as any I’d seen. But I watched in quiet desperation from fifty yards away, the pine tree farm fully in my view. Rows and rows of carefully planted pines.

The onlookers seemed not to understand the purpose of the trees. They were being grown for the express purpose of their harvesting to feed the demand of hungry consumers. They would all be cut down in just days. They thought the trees were there for them. For their enjoyment and to please them with their beauty. But this was a pine farm, not a forest.

In a forest, diversity is its strength and beauty. Pines, however beautiful, are soft. They may well fall in a strong wind. But in a forest, the oaks will remain. The redwoods. And even if a pine falls, it is naturally and beautifully repurposed as a habitat, or food for some tiny creature, or simply to make room for other nearby trees. In a forest, when one tree falls the beauty remains. The purpose unchanged. Even from the complete devastation of a fire there springs new life in time from a forest.

Pines are beautiful. Of this there is little dispute. And pine farms are useful and even beautiful in their own ways. But pine farms are not forests.

Let us be ever mindful of the moments we are in our own “pine farms” of culture or politics and remember that we are, as humans, inhabitants of a beautiful “forest” of great diversity. And that diversity is our strength. Indeed, our very survival is dependent upon it.

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