Wednesday, December 13, 2006

SStub: The Forest (A Societal Parable)

The forest was almost square, a diamond to the poles. On its north-eastern border, a small gently sweeping stream and the prevailing wind kept its edge tidy. The trees that lined the water's inside edge were old and withering in some branches, various white and bristlecone pines in an uneven set. At the base of the trees, the clumped scrub and some farming debris completed the demarcation. On the southern ends of the forest, an unnatural straightness trimmed the treeline, a monument to industrial revolution efficiencies. The forest had long ago spread deep beyond its current borders, but the value of the land required its curtailment. Each year more seemed to retreat, and only some latent nostalgia perhaps could account for its remaining presence.

There were three farmers at its edge. The land itself was owned, in the modern parlance, by the farmer to the south. Two farmers each owned the north-western and north-eastern edges. The farmer who owned the forest and the land to the south was of wealthy and prosperous stock, and a man of no small importance in the county. On the north eastern fringe, a relatively poor farmer supplemented farm income from a small amount of stream fishing, while on the north west a large farm had over the years been complicated and compromised by its pastors' undue attention to whiskey.

Inside the forest a small badger colony sheltered from the tractors, jeeps and guns of its neighbours. Some protection was afforded by local mythology about the forest. A handful of red squirrels, an assortment of birds, and an interloper gray squirrel called the forest home. There were no great trees left, no towering oaks or shimmering beech. Only the hardy pines could linger in what had become a dangerous place for trees.

The carpet of needles was soft and warm for the animals most of the year. Most of them ventured out on occasion, but endeavoured to remain within the confines of the trees whenever possible. There was limited sustenance, particularly for the badgers, and their number had been reducing over time.