Once there was a tree. And she loved a little boy (which really should have been the first red flag). And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves. And make them into crowns and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree very much.
But time went by, and the boy grew older. And eventually, the boy’s parents told him he either had to move out of the house or learn to climb trees in an intentional, organized, educated way.
“But why?” asked the boy, “I like playing on the tree without any rules or regulations.”
His parents sighed. They were tired of his shit. “In this economy, you can either learn to play the right way and use that play education to get a good job, or you can get out. You’re 18, we aren’t legally required to care about you anymore.”
And with that emotional slap in the face, he decided he would keep playing on trees. The boy left his old, in-state tree behind and decided to begin playing on a new kind of tree, one with a career center! The new tree was delighted.
“I’m so excited you’ve decided to continue your play, becoming a well-rounded tree climber at a nice small liberal arts tree like me is going to be so good for your critical thinking, which you can then apply to your future career endeavors,” beamed the tree, leaves quivering with excitement.
“Well,” the boy said, “I’m young but smart enough to recognize a bunch of buzzwords when I hear them. It seems like I don’t have much of a choice though.”
“That will be 76 thousand leaves,” the tree muttered under her breath.
“…What?” The boy was confused. “I’ve been playing in trees for the last 13 years and I didn’t have to pay for anything.”
The tree had an answer prepared, “Well yes, that’s true, but an education in the liberal arts is invaluable. It prepares climbers not only to make a living but also to make a life. It can, for example, prepare climbers to reckon with a broad variety of lived experiences—work, love, death, joy, creativity, sorrow, faith, passion, pain, injustice, disagreement, conflict, intolerance, pleasure, forgiveness! You know, they call me the ‘crimson tree of the west,’ and I make a mean Mongolian wok-”
The boy was pummeled into submission.
“But-but-but I don’t even know where I would get 76 thousand leaves! Besides, you have tons of leaves, why do you need so many???” the boy stammered.
“I can loan you some leaves, subsidized of course. And a contribution of leaves is important because it funds things like gardens and shade and Ath Tea.”
“I didn’t say Ath Tea.”
The boy heard the tree say Ath Tea, but the moment was over before it began.
A signature, a lack of financial literacy, and 76 thousand leaves later, the boy had already completed his first semester in the “City of Trees.”
He was excited to come back to his family over the break. At Christmas though, all his aunt could talk about was how her son (his cousin) plays at an Ivy Tree, and how he already has an internship lined up at Magnolia & Company.
Years passed. The boy went to parties where he consumed every part of the tree. His liberal arts tree education taught him a few things: how to pretend to analyze Kafka, that he’s gay, and that the only way to make money after the higher education tree is to hate yourself and hate other people.
Once it became clear that his dreams of climbing a graduate tree weren’t going to happen, the boy took a job on The Hill as a scheduler for senate minority leader Charles E. Schumer. He then tweeted something a little problematic following the death of a celebrity with a mixed past (who do you think I’m talking about) and was let go. The tree didn’t prepare him for this. But, the Monogolian Wok did slap.
This has been the extra credit creative writing assignment “The Real Trees Were The Friends We Made Along The Way” for Pitzer’s anthro class “Queering Ethics of Socio-Conservation within the Body Politic.” A reception will be held at Oldenborg.