“Are trees sad when people cut them?” The little boy came out of a week of school focus on earth, nature, resources, deforestation, and endangered animals.
“What do you think?” I returned the question. He has a reason for asking, after all.
“Yeah,” the seven-year-old sobered. “I think trees get sad because then they die and they can’t make leaves and flowers and acorns anymore.”
I nodded, sensing he has not quite finished and wanting to give him time to find the words.
A quiet moment passed, then his right eyebrow shot up the way it does when he gets an idea. Ideas for mischief, yes; but also for an answer that eluded him or a solution he did not see before. He touched the top of the table with his fingertips, and his eyes wandered over the floor, the bookcase, the closet door.
“You think maybe the trees are also not so sad,” he continued, “if people make stuff from them and then they get to be other things?”
“Um…hmm …” I noted in agreement, letting him work this through.
“Like if the tree gets to be a table or a chair or even a book then it is still important, right? But …” his young face wrinkled in too-old-for-his-age consternation, “but … maybe the trees are sad if they get burnt in the fire or something … because then they’re gone and can’t be anything anymore?”
“I see what you mean,” I offered, “but what if burning the wood helps keep people warm in the winter or cook their food?”
He brightened. “Yeah! I think maybe then the trees don’t get so sad … because they kind of make the food … ” His face got transformed once more, this time to seriously didactic, “But … but people still have to be very careful to not cut too many trees, right?”
“Right … ”
“… because the trees want to grow and be happy and also the squirrels and the birds need trees and monkeys and other things. Bugs, even. Some animals live on trees,” he instructed me, “That’s where they build their home. So people have to be careful because it is not fair to break all the animal homes and chop off all the trees to make things …” he paused. “And anyway, you can make tables from other things, too. Like plastic. Or maybe even a rock … I think …”
He quieted for a moment, his eyes wandered again around the room and rested on my bookshelves, on the National Geographic magazines on the side table, and the paper-packed folder with his work peeking out of the backpack on the wooden floor.
“I think trees really don’t mind if they get to be books, though” he added, satisfied. “Because then they can tell stories even if they can’t talk. I love trees and I love books.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.