Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Tree Grows in America

A big old tree sits right where the property lines of four backyards intersect. It's a massive tree, providing plenty of shade in Anderson's yard, but the branches that overhang Baker's yard drop leaves into his swimming pool. Carver has discovered that the tree's roots have stretched across his yard, making it impossible for him to plant his vegetable garden as well as starting to cause damage to the foundation of his house. Denton has severe allergies to plants of all kinds, including the tree.

One morning, the four homeowners converge at the tree. After a few minutes of discussion, they realize that there is no consensus about what to do. Finally, one of the neighbors says, "We each have our own needs and concerns. We should hire someone to come up with the best solution."

Independent of one another, each neighbor hires a tree specialist to come and analyze the situation.
Apple, hired by Anderson, says there is nothing wrong and, except for some minor trimming of dead branches, the tree should be left just as it is.
Birch, hired by Baker, decides that all the branches on the pool side should be cut off.
Chestnut, hired by Carver, says he will excavate the yard and remove the roots that are causing the problem.
Dogwood, hired by Denton, proposes cutting the tree down. 

Armed with the proposals they've gotten, the four neighbors reconvene. It does not take long for them to realize that no one's plan is going to satisfy the other three. The only thing they can agree on is that their four "experts" need to sit down together and come up with an answer.

Apple, Birch, Chestnut, and Dogwood, each happy to be collecting a "consulting fee," meet at a local coffee shop. Cutting off the branches near Baker's pool will take away the shade in Anderson's yard. Digging up the roots in Carver's yard would be dangerous to the tree's health as well as damaging to its structural support; in a bad storm, the tree could be blown over onto one or another of the houses. After four hours of debate, they resolve nothing.

Apple, Birch, Chestnut, and Dogwood report back, each telling the neighbor who hired him that they have made no headway, but that they should continue to meet until they can come up with a plan. Seeing no other alternative, each of the four neighbors agrees.

After six months of these meetings, all at the neighbors' expense, nothing has been accomplished.
Carver, frustrated that he has missed an entire season of gardening, confronts Chestnut. "These guys are intractable," says Chestnut. "They don't care about damage to your property."
Equally angered, the other neighbors meet with their representatives.
"They refuse to see the environmental impact of their plans," insists Apple to Anderson.
"Their response to your health issues," reports Dogwood, "is that you should take a pill."
Birch tells his client, "They say that if you can afford a pool, you can afford to clean it."

Each of the four neighbors is left with the same assurance, "Don't worry! I've got your best interests in mind. I'll keep meeting with these guys until we get our way." Left unsaid is, "And you will keep paying me to do so."

One day about a year later, Sycamore knocks on Carver's door and says, "Listen, Chestnut isn't getting the job done for you. Hire me and I'll make sure to convince the others that those tree roots have to go."  Carver agrees, fires Chestnut, and sends Sycamore in his place.
Realizing that getting someone else might be a good idea, Denton fires Dogwood and hires Hickory, who claims he can get the job done... and at a lower price than Dogwood would have charged.
Birch convinces Baker that he will have the advantage over the new guys and keeps the job.
Apple, pointing out to Anderson that the tree is still just as it was, says, "Hey, I'm doing my job and will continue to do so."

The four "experts" continue to meet. The four homeowners continue to pay them, a bit more, in fact, because the "experts" determine that their time is now more valuable.

One afternoon, weeks later, a man sitting nearby in the coffee shop listens in as the four "experts" debate. He has been there many times before and has heard them argue the same points again and again. After a few minutes, he says, "Pardon my interruption, gentlemen. It seems to me that you could cut back just a few of the branches, keeping most of the shade but reducing the amount of pollen and the number of leaves in the pool . And as long as you leave some of the roots in place, the tree should be okay; the garden might have to be a bit smaller, but you can stop the damage to the foundation of the house."

The four "experts" look at the man, shake their heads and smile. "You don't understand," says Apple. "We don't need to actually do anything; we just need the people who hired us to think we are."

"And these homeowners don't realize what's going on?" asks the man.

"Oh, no," laughs Apple. "We get paid to sit here and talk and blame each other for nothing being resolved. In fact, I've convinced enough clients of my expertise that having these meetings has become my career. I will never have to pick up my chainsaw again!"

The man walks away, thinking that, despite the fact he can't tell a palm from an evergreen, he would like to have a career as a tree expert. "Perhaps I should pay a call on some of those homeowners..."


  1. Why, Mr. Rozakis! Are you trying to use a metaphor to get people to think? And I'm not sure that a single tree counts as a congress of trees... but it would be kinda cool. Great piece!

    I remain,
    Eric L. Sofer

  2. And the moral --

    Nothing gets resolved in committee?

    A group of experts focused on a problem have more self-interest in not resolving the problem than a group of individuals impacted by the problem have in actually resolving the problem?

    Common sense was killed by professional consultants?

    All of the above ... and maybe more?