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TREES, PLEASE! Aesop And His Tree Fables

By Tim Clancy.

Scarlet oak in springtime, Temecula, CA.

I am sure most of you are familiar with the great storyteller Aesop and his fables. The most famous one being the The Hare and the Tortoise. I am particularly fond of the The Dog and his Reflection fable. Aesop used both plants and animals (including humans) in his works. One day I got to wondering if there were any tree related fables in Aesop’s canon. Sure enough, amongst fables warning about “vanity” (The Eagle and the Jackdaw), “kindness” (The Ant and the Dove), “lying” (The Monkey and the Dolphin) and “deceit” (The Birds, The Beasts and The Bat), there are two fables that use trees as metaphors to deliver the message.

Wikimedia Commons.
An oak overhangs a pond in which bullrushes are growing; illustration of a fable by Aesop. Etching.

If you look around you will find trees used as metaphors in many instances. A Mighty Oak has Fallen is sometimes used in eulogies. How about the Tree of Life? This metaphor can be used for many different meanings. Did you ever think you needed to get to the “root” of the problem? Tree roots represent the origin in that case, though the practice of giving political speeches on actual tree stumps has been long abandoned, we still refer to campaign speeches as “stump speeches” to this day.

So, besides all the practical uses for trees, their use as metaphors helps humans navigate life. The two fables follow that demonstrate the use of trees to teach.

Plane tree in Fall, Thousand Oaks, CA.

The Plane Tree

Two travelers, walking in the noonday sun, sought the shade of a wide spreading tree to rest. As they lay looking up among the pleasant leaves, they saw that it was a Plane Tree.

"How useless is the Plane!" said one of them. "It bears no fruit whatever, and only serves to litter the ground with leaves."

"Ungrateful creatures!" said a voice from the Plane Tree. "You lie here in my cooling shade, and yet you say I am useless! Thus ungratefully, O Jupiter, do men receive their blessings!"

Our best blessings are often the least appreciated.

The Oak and the Reeds

A Giant Oak stood near a brook in which grew some slender Reeds. When the wind blew, the great Oak stood proudly upright with its hundred arms uplifted to the sky. But the Reeds bowed low in the wind and sang a sad and mournful song.

"You have reason to complain," said the Oak. "The slightest breeze that ruffles the surface of the water makes you bow your heads, while I, the mighty Oak, stand upright and firm before the howling tempest."

"Do not worry about us," replied the Reeds. "The winds do not harm us. We bow before them and so we do not break. You, in all your pride and strength, have so far resisted their blows. But the end is coming."

As the Reeds spoke, a great hurricane rushed out of the north. The Oak stood proudly and fought against the storm, while the yielding Reeds bowed low. The wind redoubled in fury, and all at once the great tree fell, torn up by the roots, and lay among the pitying Reeds.

Better to yield when it is folly to resist, than to resist stubbornly and be destroyed.


Tim Clancy,

Tim Clancy & Associates LLC

P.O. Box 1180

Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007

- International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist No. WE-0806A

- International Society of Arboriculture

- Tree Risk Assessment Qualified


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