Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Forest Fire

Once, there were two wise women who lived as neighbors in a village near a dark forest.

The land near the forest was fertile, and the village prospered. But every few years, a drought would sweep across the land, and fires would break out in the forest. For this reason, for generations, the people of that village had built their modest homes at a distance from the forest, and had taken care to keep the field between the forest and their village free of brush, so that the fire would not spread. And whenever the fires did come, the villages would work together, digging trenches in the field, and bringing pails of water from the river nearby to douse errant sparks and soak the ground around their homes.

But then a more than a decade passed without a drought, and as the prosperous village grew more prosperous, and crowded, young families began to build homes in the open, empty field near the forest.

The two wise women considered it folly to take such a chance, and both shook their heads. They both advised their neighbors not to move into the field. But, enticed by the space and beauty the rich, open field afforded, the villagers continued to build there despite the advice of their elders.

Before long, the baron who controlled the realm around the village noticed this trend, and he began to encourage it. Because every time a new farmstead was created in the baron's jurisdiction, he could tax the family that lived there for the use of the newly cultivated land. "Build near the forest," the baron urged. "The climate has changed. We may never see a drought again. You are safe from the fires. Build larger homes and farms! Take all the space you want!"

And the loggers selling wood to those building new homes, and the merchants selling furniture, and the roadbuilders who were hired to build new roads into the new part of the village also found reason to encourage this trend. And some villagers even began to borrow money to build new, empty homes, in the hopes that they might encourage people from other villages to move there, and sell the homes at a profit. And so, people began to build houses right into the forest.

And still, both the wise women protested. Hadn't the village prospered for centuries by living prudently, and taking precautions against fire? But the villagers did not listen. The wise women stayed in their homes, far from the forest. But the village continued to move.

And then one year a drought did come, and with it came the fires.

At first only the homes built directly in the forest were destroyed. And the first wise woman said to the second wise woman, "I told my neighbors, again and again, not to build their homes in the forest! I told them the drought would return! And so did you! And yet, they did not listen. Now they reap what they sowed."

The second wise woman replied, "Indeed, we did tell our neighbors not to move. I am sorry they did not listen."

And the first wise woman sat in her house, content that she had given the right counsel.

The second wise woman went down to the village to console the families that had lost their homes, and offer them what extra food and clothing she had.

Now a second round of fires came, and this time many of the homes in the field were damaged or destroyed. And the two wise women spoke with one another, and the first wise woman said, "Such fools! If only they had listened to our advice, or even taken a moment to think with their own heads, they would have known not to build their homes there. Look at us, safe and sound. We did the right thing. That is why our homes are still standing."

And the second wise woman said, "I tried many times to convince our neighbors to listen to reason, as you know. But so many others, respectable-seeming folk, too, were giving our neighbors poor counsel. How were they to know whose advice to take, not being as experienced as you and I are in these matters?"

The first wise woman replied, "Well, next time they will know to listen to me, and follow my example!" and went back into her well-protected house to work on her knitting.

The second wise woman went down to homes near the forest that were still standing, and told her neighbors, "If we are going to save our village, we must work together. Let me show you how to build a firebreak, and soak the ground, the way we all once used to." And the villagers, grateful for her offer of help, listened and began to work to protect their homes.

As the drought continued, more fires came, and though by working together to fight fires, the villagers did manage to save many homes, many homes were lost. Without an open field to protect them, even many homes in parts of the village that had been safe from fires for centuries were burned to the ground. The second wise woman began letting displaced villagers camp out in her wheat field.

The village elders petitioned the baron for help, but he responded with a letter stating that the royal tax coffers had been depleted in an effort to save the Roadbuilders' Guild, the Furniture Merchants' Association and the Forest Home Promotion Service from collapse.

When the first wise woman heard that the villagers had petitioned the government for help and been denied, she snorted and said, "Losers. My tax gold shouldn't bet spent to fix their folly. I built my house in the safe part of the village." She looked out her window at the second wise woman's yard, which had turned into a tent city. "She's our of her mind," said the first wise woman to herself (for there was no one else around for her to talk to). "Wasting her time helping a bunch of fools. Well, a friend to fools is a fool herself, I say."

As the fires raged, flames finally engulfed much of the old part of the village. Unable to beat back the flames on her own, the first wise woman was forced to flee as her home burned to the ground.

The second wise woman, with an army of fellow villagers defending her home and field from the flames, saved much of her property. The next day, it rained, and the fires were doused, and the day after that, the second wise woman was elected to lead the village's effort to rebuild.


Leighann of Multi-Minding Mom said...

Jaelithe, what a wonderful story. At once you have managed subtle commentary on so many of our nation's problems: from environmentalism, community, and even the current banking problems. Well done!

Tricia said...

I love this essay. The story, the's all perfect. Found my way here from Blognosh.