Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Weed Tree: A parable from Tom

Tom wanted me to share this some time ago but I never found a place or a time for it until now.

He thinks of it as a living parable or an allegory for, well, other situations. It really happened though. I can take you to right now to the spot where the weed tree grew.


Some years ago we found we had a problem at one of the corners of our yard that head back into the wetland forest. A nasty brush kept springing up and spreading into our yard from the direction of particularly nettlesome scraggly tree. From a distance the rapid growth looked encouraging, even quite cheerful, but up close all its fruit was unpleasant, not a solid nut, a blackberry, or even a honeysuckle vine to be found. Worse, it invariably turned out that snakes, foxes, and other bad-tempered creatures were settling in and and making life a bit dangerous for us & our kids. You could hear soft growls if you even walked too closely to it near dark.

Such growth wasn't unusual but it was odd that it should be so invariably venomous. Forests here always encroach on the meadows they encircle. Brush grows up quickly everywhere. The neighbor's old shed in front of us is full of brush & the shy, friendly wildlife that usually inhabit it:: rabbits, squirrels and the occasional cat or skunk. We've left an old vine to grow in the meadow for the use of the birds and small creatures here. We've seen raccons & possums, moles & foxes in that part too, but these are usually good neighbors. In other places, even the forest brambles have been known to produce blackberries, flowers, and other pleasant things. Not so in that corner. The deer began to avoid it.

Tom cut back the brush year after year to what appeared to be a circle of bramble hedge, nettles, & saplings just around the tree, but in a few months you couldnt tell he'd done a thing. The saplings must have laid down when he'd try to cut them, for they would be back in weeks. The brambles had their own huge root system and grew back their outlying branches very quickly.

Tom says he left dealing with it way too long, not wanting to endure the painful process he knew would accompany taking down the stand, and so it got worse and worse. The vegetation seemed ever more dense & unmanageable... but then one day while cutting grass, he heard long, rumbling growls from something hiding under its cover, and knew he was being directly threatened in his own yard. He decided right then that corner was going to go! now!

It took solid days of labor, and he was fought every step of the way. The saplings & brambles would whip away from his machete, ax, & weedwhacker and swing back to grab his legs. Occasionally a branch he thought he had fully severed would spring up in front of his feet and nearly trip him. He came in each day covered with cuts, insect bites, & scratches ~ even under his jeans. I seriously wondered why he felt the need to take it on at all. He'd cut back the worst encroachments to the yard already. Surely the hostile creatures had also fled.

But the day came when it became clear his concern had been completely warranted. He'd realized he was working at a slant fairly early in the proceedings, but one day he discovered we had an actual pit around that tree, a mini-ravine which was way bigger than it looked from the outside. Its depression was filled with nettles, spiny saplings, and brambles. & Whats more something quite large (we're talking bear or coyote pack-sized) had an enormous den right smack in the middle of it all!

and there was that perverse tree, which still loomed large in the dusk through its twisted, spine-encrusted branches. It was still surrounded by a low fence of supporting nettles and thorny brambles which seemed to protect its green, leafy trunk, and seemed ready to move right in again. "You can't get rid of me without hurting yourself,' it seemed to say, "and I will soon own this corner again. My growths will spread, my creatures will return and you will fear me and them."

Tom wanted to start a fire on the whole mess, but he knew it would endanger the larger forest. He settled for waving an ax in its general direction and waiting for the next weekend. "We'll see about that," he muttered to the gloom.

It was actually 3 weeks before he found a few days to devote to the issue. As expected, new brambles & saplings grew out at ridiculous speed in the interim. But the final round wasn't like the others. I was with him and I'd swear the tree actually shuddered when he finally took an axe to the root of the oldest brambles and carted away the garbage to his trailer with gloved hands. Then the weed tree finally stood bare before the world. The transformation was amazing. I don't think I've ever seen an uglier, scrawnier tree. Turned out even its spines were borrowed from other plants, the stems actually protected by the bark of the tree. By now, I felt a little sorry for it, but even if we wished to spare it, the tree was too heavily compromised by the spiny growths that infested it trunk to crown. There is no reason to suppose the same situation would not recur if it were left entrenched.

So now it was time for the tree itself. The twisted, nettlesome arboral came down with a crash not long after the chain saw bit into it. Guess what? It wasn't even good for firewood! Its heart was completely rotten.

The last thing we did was to pray over it as a family, to break whatever curse might be on it.


Amazingly (to me), his work has proved sufficient. The corner has grown back, but with the pine & hardwood saplings the forest usually produces. I know I saw deer peering at us through the low growth. There were even a few blackberries there last summer.

May his story bless you.

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