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14 February 1999 Issue

The Apple Tree and the Oak Tree

Original French title: Le pommier et le chêne

Once upon a time, a massive oak tree stood alone in a large field. The towering
oak had stood in this field for more than two hundred years. Much had
happened during those years, but trees have remarkable memories, and the
oak vividly remembered the very first moments of his consciousness.

The oak tree was then no more than a three-month-old sapling when its hazy
perceptions merged into awareness. He saw a haggard-looking old man in
front of him. Behind the man stood a red farmhouse. An elderly woman was
working in the garden. The old man had a gentle smile and was looking tenderly
at the oak.

"You're awake now my child, aren't you?"

"Who am I?" answered the oak.

"You are an oak tree," the man answered, "a symbol of hope for my children
and my children's children in this world. Until now, I used this field to grow
soybeans and wheat for cows and chickens. Only now do I realize how waste-
ful and needless this has been."

The old man's words flew by too quickly for the young oak. Several large
animals were roaming in the field; several small animals were pecking at the
ground near the woman.

"What is a cow?" What is a chicken?" asked the oak, perplexed.

Those large, four-legged animals in the field are cows, my child. They are
gentle, peaceful, harmless animals. Until recently, they would feed them with
the grains I grew in this field and then kill them so that others could eat their
flesh. I did the same with those small birds near my wife, called chickens.
Although people in this world are dying of hunger, I wasted the space of this
field and wasted the grains I grew on the animals. I could have fed many more
people by giving them the grains directly.

"I continued to raise and kill chickens and cows even after I learned that eating
their flesh is more wasteful than eating the grains used to feed them. Yet I
treated them nicely, until their untimely death, that is. They had better lives than
on those horrifying factory farms. In factory farms, thousands of chickens are
confined indoors, never see the light of day and are packed in cages so tightly
that they can barely move. And I also avoided using chemicals to kill insects in
the field and fight diseases in the animals, for these chemicals also poison the
ground, other animals and humans. In this respect, I was more compassionate
and caring than many of my fellow farmers.

"Nevertheless, I always felt guilt and sadness every time I killed a cow or
chicken so others could eat their flesh. My wife and son would hold a gentle
cow still, and I would break open her head with a large hammer. Her large,
innocent eyes would always stare bewildered at me, as if to say "Why?".
And when I would cut off a chicken's head with an ax, his poor body would run
helplessly around, looking for his lost head, desperate to be alive again.

"These thoughts weighed heavily on my heart and soul. And as the years
passed, I felt more and more saddened and helpless. Yet I had little choice:
I had borrowed much money from the bank and they threatened to ruin my
family and me if I stopped the killing.

"It was my son who freed me from this misery. He went to study in the city and
thanks to his job, my wife and I could finally pay off the bank. When I asked
my son, 'But what will become of the animals?' he answered, 'Make sure that
they cannot have children, and let them live out the rest of their lives in peace,
Father.' And when I asked him, 'But what will become of the field?' he
answered, 'Father, this field used to belong to the trees. Ever since we took the
trees away, much precious, life-giving soil in the field has been washed away
by the rain. Give the field back to the trees, Father. They will keep the soil in
place and give precious, life-giving oxygen back to the air. And if you choose
food-bearing trees, they will also feed people too.'

"That is why I have planted you, dear child. You will hold the soil in place, give
oxygen to the air and bear acorns to nourish us. And we can eat your acorns
without having to kill and destroy you. You are a blessing for me, and a symbol
of hope for my children and my children's children. And I will soon fill this whole
field with trees, so that you may have friends and work together."

But the old man died before he could plant other trees, and the wife moved to
the city to join her son. Other people later moved into the farmhouse, and
though they were forbidden to chop down the oak tree or raise animals, they
cared little for the old man's vision, and planted no new trees.

Many years went by before the oak tree understood the meaning of the old
man's words. And though with each passing year, the oak tree grew mightier
and mightier, it also grew sadder and sadder, for it had no friends, and rain
continued to wash away the soil.

Eight generations came and went. And though much topsoil had washed away
and the oak was still friendless, it learned through watching them that the world
had changed very much. People everywhere had stopped killing and eating
animals, realizing the senselessness of it all. People had also stopped killing
each other, and the world had become a great country, where everyone could
travel freely everywhere. The French language had evolved and changed and
everyone in the world spoke English as a second language, so that they could
communicate with each other.

A middle-aged man, his wife and their young daughter now lived in the farm-
house. The oak tree learned from them that much work still remained to be
done. Soil was still being washed away from former pastures and grain fields,
and large-scale tree-planting projects were taking place everywhere.

One day, the young girl from the farmhouse came to the oak tree. She was
smiling and holding a small notebook.

"Hello, oak tree," she said with a grin, her curly red locks blowing in the wind,
"I found my ancestor's diary this morning. He was the one who stopped raising
animals, I believe. I had difficulties understanding his French, but I believe that
he planted you as the first of many trees to give this weary field new life. I'm
afraid that my ancestors after him have neglected you. But that is going to
change now. In six months from now, the government is going to give us enough
saplings to entirely plant this field. After that, you'll never be alone again, and
you and your friends can feed us, clean the air and hold the soil in place.

"But fear not, oak tree, that you will remain friendless for another six months.
Tomorrow, I will plant a baby apple tree next to you. It will keep you company
and bring you joy. And thanks to your wisdom and experience, you can guide
and comfort it and the other saplings that follow."

The young girl was faithful to her promise, and the next morning, she planted
a tender, fragile apple sapling next to the oak. The sapling was too young to
be aware of its own existence. In the months that followed, the oak tree sung
soft and reassuring songs to the apple sapling, waiting patiently for it to
awaken.

Several months later, the moment arrived. The oak tree felt a slight shiver from
the apple tree, and knew that it was now awake.

"You're awake now my child, aren't you?" the oak tree asked.

"Who am I?" answered the apple tree.

"You are an apple tree, "the oak tree answered, "a symbol of hope for the
healing and betterment of this world. When I first came to life, this field had
been used to grow grains for cows and chickens, who were later killed and
eaten. Only later did my Master realize how senseless this had been."

The oak tree's words flew by too quickly for the young apple tree.

"What is a cow? What is a chicken?" asked the apple tree, perplexed.

"Never mind, my child," the oak tree responded, more slowly and reassuringly,
"For those sad times have passed and the world today is filled with hope and
promise. Give thanks and rejoice, my child, for together we can heal the earth,
clean the air and feed the people. And soon, very soon, many friends will join
us and help us in our task."

And the oak tree began to sing a lullaby to the apple tree. The apple tree was
comforted, and the oak tree was happy. And the sun set slowly behind the
large field of hope ....

Copyright © 1995-1998 by Mohan Embar. All Rights Reserved
May be used in unchanged form by avowed Animal Rightists if accompanied by
this copyright message.

 

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