The Forester’s Tale
A Modern Parable
Once there was a Forester who, with his lovely wife, had a small cottage. The Forester was a man of trees and understood the forest but his wife understood the smaller plants and flowers that make a house a home and she turned the area around the cottage into a fairyland of color. Though the Forester did not understand her work, by the time she was done, he had carried and toted and dug enough that he felt her plants to be his own and thus it was that both the Forester and his wife had a pleasant home surrounded by foliage they both adored.
Sadly, the Forester lived near a City. It was not a very big City, which may explain why it had such a terrible attitude and always acted horribly toward everyone it dealt with. The City did not like the Forester, for he was a different kind of man than it preferred, it did not like the Forester’s wife because she loved plants which it did not, and the City absolutely hated the Forester’s cottage because it was not the kind of thing the City would have built if it had owned the Forester’s land. And what the City did not control, it hated.
There was trouble from the beginning.
“Your grass is too long,” the City would yell at the Forester.
“I daresay, sir, no. Your grass is too short, for it is not long enough to hold sufficient water within its leaves and will burn and brown in the summer sun. To cut it shorter is to lose it all and harm the land.”
“Better that it be destroyed than different from what I wish,” growled the City. “Cut down those weeds”
“I daresay, sir, no. For those are not weed, they are day lilies, planted and beloved of my wife.”
“And those weeds there too!”
“Those you now insult are peonies, sir, and will soon flower a lovely pink. I shall not cut them for they are deliberate and things of beauty. Neither shall I cut the hyacinth nor the lilac which you also impugn. If you would but tarry a bit and listen, sir, I would tell you of each planting and why it is and then you, too, may have things of beauty for, forgive my saying so, your own lands are blasted ground and pavement. It is not hard, sir, and I will help if I can.”
“Better that it be destroyed,” roared the City, “than different from what I wish.” And so it went until the Forester learned to remain silent but he would not destroy the cultivations of his hands and the things of beauty on his land.
Now, the City had a ditch that ran against the back of the Forester’s land and, when the spring storms came, the sides of the ditch crumbled away and the City’s ditch flooded the Forester’s land. With reluctance, the Forester went to the City.
“Excuse me sir but your ditch has flooded my land,” the Forester explained. “Might I ask you to repair it?”
“There is nothing wrong with anything of mine,” the City replied. “The fault must be yours.”
“I daresay, sir, no. I have seen it with my own eyes as have my neighbors. We sought the council of the ditch diggers’ guild and their journeymen have inspected it as well. All agree that, indeed, the fault is yours.”
“There is nothing wrong with anything of mine,” the City thundered and drove the Forester away.
For days, the conversation was repeated until the Forester was of a mind to seek redress from the local Lord and the courts of Law. Then suddenly, strangely, the City declared that, though there was neither need nor reason, the City would rebuild his ditch but to reach it, he must come in through the Forester’s land.
The Forester thought the City’s behavior exceedingly strange but he did not argue. “Indeed, sir, you may cross my land to work upon your ditch. I ask only that you tread with such care as you can lest the cultivations of my land be unduly harmed.”
The City did not repair the ditch itself but sent other men to do it for him and these men came with heavy equipment, great noise, and no regard for the affairs of the Forester. Once their work was complete and they took their leave, the City’s hirelings left the land behind the Forester’s cottage a great torn gash of mud and rock and barren, hard-packed soil.
“Alas,” sighed the Forester’s wife, “all my work is ruined. The land is hurt too deep and shall now be as the City’s land, blasted land and pavement.”
“I daresay, wife, no,” the Forester answered. “You are wise in the way of the land and my back is yet strong enough. We shall rebuild and heal this land.”
But the City, having once set foot upon the Forester’s land, now began to command the Forester as if the Forester’s land was its own. “You will cut down this tree and root out these weeds as I have told you before.”
“I daresay, sir, no. This land is mine own and I shall care for it as I see fit.”
“Better that it be destroyed than different from what I wish,” spat the City and stomped away.
The Forester set to work, thinking the matter done, but soon the City returned, bringing with him a vassal of the local Lord who thought himself to speak with the voice of the Law.
“The City has told me of your defiance,” the vassal said, tying a blindfold across his eyes. “Now that I see for myself, I agree: better it be destroyed than different. Your land is a blight upon the kingdom.”
“I daresay, sir, no. This land is mine and my wife agrees with me that it is a place of beauty. It is no blight.”
The vassal laughed and handed the Forester a scrap of foolscap. “Now, it is a blight.”
The Forester looked at the parchment which read only: “Blight-weeds.”
“Cut down that tree, it is a blight,” ordered the City.
“I daresay, sir, no. It is an apple.”
“Tear this strange vine down here, and this one here too. Rip up this flowering thing that covers the ground and plant short grass instead. Burn down that pile of leaves there within that box, I find it ugly. And,” the City gasped in horror, “is that a garden?”
“The vine here is porcelain berry and this one here is wisteria. The flowering groundcover must stay. The grass will no longer grow here, for your hirelings have made the ground too low and wet. That box is not of leaves alone but compost that I may return health to the land you have injured and allow it to grow again. And, indeed, sir, it is a garden and for its success you may thank the compost bin which you find so ugly.”
“Destroy it!” the City screamed. “Destroy it all!”
“I daresay, sir, no. And twice again, no. You presume too much. By both Law of God and Man, you have no right to demand these things.”
The City’s hissed and glared. “I shall set this vassal to torment you. I shall speak lies of you in court and I shall devote my full attentions to the destruction of all which is yours.”
“As you will,” replied the Forester, “but I council you one final time toward wisdom. The land is afire with brigandry and war. Men go homeless and hungry upon your lands. These are dark days and you could do much good. But the choice is yours and I cannot make you do otherwise.”
The City did not heed these words and long years passed, filled with pain for the Forester and his wife for it was more important to the City to have its way than to do things both right and good until one day the Forester’s wife said to him, “Husband, this place will be death to you. With every day I see you grow older and weaker while the City does not age and his minions are endless. Let us go away and return to your people in the free lands of the south where you may regain your strength.”
“As always, wife, your council is wise but who shall watch the cottage to keep out the robbers while we are gone?”
“The Traveling Woman has no home. Let her come and stay within our cottage. In this we will all be well served.”
“You are wise indeed, beloved wife.”
And so the Forester and his wife left the lands of the City to rest and heal and the homeless Traveling Woman was given a home and all seemed, indeed, to be well.
And it should have been but, like most honest people, the Forester and his wife could not conceive of the selfish and evil depths creatures like the City can stoop to. The City went to the vassals and demanded that the Forester be punished because the Forester did not get permission from the City to let someone else stay in his cottage. “And surely,” the City told them, “he obtains money from her as well and we should receive a portion of this as well.” This was not true but, just as the Forester could not conceive of the selfish things the City would do, so too the City could not conceive that someone would act out of kindness or compassion. The City would never let someone stay upon its lands without paying a steep toll and therefore that was what the Forester must be doing as well.
By now, the vassals considered the City’s words to be the words of the Law, so they did not bother to seek the truth of the matter but instead ordered that the Forester be captured and placed in irons and that all his good and assets should be forfeit to the City. Mind you, the free peoples of the south would not raise hand against the Forester for he had done them no wrong and they were not such fools as the people of the City to believe everything the City said. Still, by this the City was able to continue its attacks upon the Forester and he continued to sicken.
Dear children, if this were a fairy tale, I would tell you of how a champion emerged to defend the Forester or how, with her vast wisdom, the Forester’s wife tricked the evil City with her cleverness or how the land itself rose up to drive the City away from the cottage and the Traveling Woman or how the City had a change of heart and chose to do those good and right things that were its duty and leave the Forester to live in peace, but, alas dear children, this is not a fairy tale, it is a parable. Unlike fairy tales, parables must show the world as it is.
So, the Traveling Woman was again without a home, the Forester and his wife were forced to remain with the southern free people, never to return to their cottage again, and the City got exactly what it wanted, as it always did, and was free to turn its attention to destroying someone else.
And now you know, dear children, why there are neither Foresters, Authors, nor any beauty in Center Line, Michigan.