Another Tree Parable: The Dynamic Adaptation of American Culture

There’s a giant silver maple tree growing in our backyard. Maples generally grow pretty quickly, especially when they get plenty of water, but the silver maple is among the fastest growing maple species. It appears strong and solid, seemingly a formidable foe against the wind, rain, and lightning that is so frequent during the summertime in Minnesota. Occasionally, some stronger high winds do bring down a smaller branch void of leaves. I find it lying on the deck or in the backyard after the winds. This little branch breaks easily.

*snap*

It’s in two pieces.

*crack*

Now it’s in four.

I toss the broken sticks into the fire pile by our garden shed and move on with my day.

At the front of the house grows a sycamore maple. It’s a mature tree, but it’s definitely younger than the silver maple. This one must be between 20-25 years old, so it’s firmly established. Sometime after the beginning of spring, lightning struck one of the bigger branches at the top of the tree. We noticed it only because of the brown, dead leaves through the tree’s otherwise thick green crown. One day, as the wind picked up to usher in a thunderstorm, the branch fell straight to the ground.

*swoosh*

The branch slides through the green leaves and its neighboring braches.

*rustle*

The sound of the rustic leaves as they hit the ground.

The next day, we saw the branch in half and haul it to the backyard. We create a new pile of wood to accommodate the large downed branch.

Trees do a lot for life. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide through its leaves and release oxygen. They provide food and shelter for both human and non-human animals. We use timber to build many of the structures we see around us everyday.

Although strong and solid, trees are also flexible enough to give way under some pressure, such as high winds and storms. Sometimes when the tree’s branches have experienced enough stress, it breaks. It falls to the ground, and the tree is done with that branch. Assuming the branch is fairly small, the tree can heal itself sooner and continue to live. This is a very natural part of the tree’s life. It does not resist the new change, even though it may be uncomfortable for a brief amount of time.

I liken this to what we see happening in the United States today. We have been hit with a pretty big storm and our culture and values – the tree – is experiencing some stress. Some of its branches, the vast array of cultures, viewpoints, and worldviews that make up American culture itself, may very well break. We should not resist this for, like the tree, we will continue to exist as Americans representing many walks of life. This is beautiful, not only because this is the spirit with which this nation was founded, but also because it protects American culture by making it more resilient. The more branches we have, the stronger the roots our tree establishes in the ground. We become healthier, happier, and stronger.

For example the amplified racism that we all see today, whether we allow ourselves to see or accept it for what it is or not, is a broken branch from Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves. Some mending of that branch was attempted with the implementation of so-called Jim Crow laws, but that simply delayed the inevitable: at some point this branch would fall. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s further broke the branch, but it was not good enough to completely fell the branch. The 1970s continued this breaking, but then the 1980s sought to reattach the branch. Since the 1990s, the branch has been hanging and we have yet to see a gust of wind strong enough to completely remove it. I think the storm to do that has arrived, but it’s going to hurt a little more before we can begin to heal more meaningfully.

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