|Tom Brown's Tree Farm
by Brandt Morgan
Near the entrance to the Pine Barrens camp where Tom holds his classes, there is a
small, diamond-shaped plate nailed to a pine tree that simply says, "Tree Farm".
Not many people who enter this place give it much thought, but it is worth a closer look.
First of all, the camp area is actually a part of the tree farm. Here many naturally
occurring oaks and cedars are harvested for commercial uses fortunately, in this case, by
a fifth-generation "Piney" who has more than an average feeling for the land he
works. But for those who come to Tom's classes, it is more important to know that about
fifty acres here are also reserved as a sanctuary. This sanctuary - the heart of Tom
Brown's tree farm - is dedicated to the planting and cultivating of a very unusual species
of oak called Quercus humanus.
To understand how the farm works, it is important to know a little about the lifestyle
of the humanus acorn species. This nut customarily inhabits crowded cities and
towns. It is very rarely found in wilderness areas. When it is, more often than not, it
does not stay in one spot but rolls frantically from one place to another, always keeping
itself busy. It is addicted to noise and confusion. It thrives on the deafening hum of
modern civilization and takes no time to be just alone. Because of its perpetual movement,
it only skims the surface of the earth and rarely takes root. In fact, the most curious
trait is that it prefers not to germinate at all, but to stay safely and comfortably
within the confines of its own shell. This shell is so thick that the acorn can hardly
communicate with the world around it. It is isolated, blind, deaf, dumb, and spiritually
dormant. Never having experienced the joy of opening up, it does not feel its connection
to the earth. Nor can it sense its unique potential or the great purpose of its existence.
With traits such as this, one might ask, "Why would anyone want to plant Quercus
humanus in the first place?". As a matter of fact, very few people do. Many
people have given up on it. But Tom and a handful of others can see redeeming qualities
behind the shells of humanus. For one thing, Tom knows that most of these acorns are just
dissatisfied; they sense there is something more to life than hiding in comfort and
accumulating mold. He knows, that in moments of quiet, they even sense faint flutterings
from deep within their shells - troubling visions of sap and sun that will not let them
But Tom also realizes something else about Quercus humanus - what goes on
inside its shell affects the growth of everything else around it. If the mold grows, it
will thicken and spread. Time is short. Humanus acorns must somehow be made aware of the
dangers that exist and multiply while they sleep.
Acorns who do feel greater yearnings must be preserved and encouraged to save the
species from extinction. It is estimated that only about one percent of all Quercus
humanus acorns have enough substance to even want to open up. (The rest, though not
yet dead, are already like empty shells.) Tom seeks out that one percent and transports
them to the Pine Barrens. Once there, he informs them that they must do all the
cultivating and planting themselves. But before they go to find proper ground, the acorns
are given a powerful pep talk. As for the process, it is simple: The acorns are instructed
to sit alone on the Tree Farm in a ten-foot circle of ground for four days, being
nourished by a diet of nothing but pure Pine Barrens spring water.
Unlike the native acorns, Quercus humanus is a tough nut to crack.
Customarily, the first two days are spent in varying degrees of boredom and frustration as
the outer shell is softened up by the hot Pine Barrens sun (or rain, as the case may be).
The weather hardly matters though, it is only a stage setting for the great internal drama
that is going on. Gradually, little inklings seep through the shells to nourish the
yearnings within. These impulses are provided by thousands of friendly entities that
surround the acorns in their lonely outposts. The plants, animals, trees, rocks, clouds,
stars, and spirits that have been trying to get through to humanus for years are suddenly
overjoyed at the chance to pass on their wisdom. Insects buzz and scamper, birds flutter
and peck, plants reach out with their roots and tendrils. Stars twinkle, rain scours, and
the sun bakes the acorns through and through. Everything goads and teaches. As the acorns
battle to purge themselves of their accumulated mold, the Pine Barrens becomes a symphony
of cheers. All the earth has a stake in the struggle.
Eventually, if the acorn's desire is great and it sincerely prays for guidance toward
its higher destiny, its shell begins to crack. Now for the first time it begins to feel
waves of peace and tranquility. It begins to get a vision of who it is and what it can
become. If its desire remains strong and the acorn continues to listen, the crack widens
and the shell falls away. Roots reach into the soil, shoots rush upward to the sun. The
acorn is reborn and joyfully begins to grow toward the stars.
Relatively few acorns reach the seedling stage during their four-day stay on Tom
Brown's tree farm. In fact, most of them experience only slight cracks. But that hardly
matters. What matters is that they have all gotten rid of their mold and absorbed some
nourishing new insights. And even with those who think they have not expanded at all,
there are hairline fractures that wait to be pried open by new experiences.
After four days and nights, all the acorns and seedlings are gathered up and
transported into their former habitats. There they will continue to grow. Roots will reach
deeper into the soil. Seedlings start to spread their leaves and produce energy. Twigs
turn to branches. New branches will grow, and old ones reach in new directions. The
seedlings blossom into bushes and trees.
As the trees mature, they see more clearly their connection with other life forms and
become concerned with more than just their own growth. One day they realize with a burst
of joy that their roots help to hold the earth in place. Knowing this, they freely offer
their leaves to worms and insects, their limbs to birds and beasts. They offer their light
and energy to the scarred and suffering landscape. Ultimately, some of them even give in
completely to the winds of their inner voices - to a life that is very difficult but far
more magical and joyful than they could ever imagine possible.