Homeless in Vancouver: What’s the story with this forest fire painting?

Every painting tells a story. The painting I saw out by a Dumpster last night tells the story of the scrawny little pine tree that was always being bullied by the other trees in the forest.

It goes like this…

The story of Jeffrey Pine

Once upon a time in the north, there was a forest by a lake.

It appeared to be a beautiful and majestic forest. The trees all looked very good, but in fact most of them were not very nice trees at all.

The bigger trees in the forest were always mean to a little tree named Jeffrey Pine. He was smaller and younger and he was different: he was the only Jeffrey Pine in the entire forest.

The other pine trees needled him constantly; they called him a “sap head” and declared him “beetle bait”.

The Lodgepole pines in particular made it known he would never be invited to their lodge meetings.

When the malicious rumour spread that the little tree was infested by mountain pine beetles, all the other trees in the forest became very afraid and wanted nothing to do with Jeffrey Pine ever again.

They all pushed him to leave the forest. And inch by slow inch, he pulled himself by his roots away from the other trees until finally he was on the shore of the lake that bordered the forest. (Jeffrey didn’t know that trees can’t do this.)

But even when his roots were firmly anchored in the lake bed and water lapped against the bark at his base, the trees of the forest were still mean to him.

They constantly rustled at him, and when he wasn’t looking, the other pine trees threw their cones at him.

The companionship of birds

Jeffrey survived his first winter away from the shelter of the other trees—there was surprisingly little snow and the lake didn’t even freeze.

With the arrival of spring, Jeffrey welcomed the return of the birds.

In truth, he was lonely, and the birds, far from shunning him, flocked to sun themselves on his branches—their company and sweet songs gladdened his heart and made him feel good again.

Jeffrey wasn’t touched by the weeks of scorching summer heat, not like the rest of the forest, because his roots were fed by the fresh water of the lake—but he knew it was so.

He could feel the dryness in the air. He could hear it in the melodious complaints of the birds. And he could see how parched the other trees of the forest were.

Soft rains before a storm

One night, it finally rained.

Jeffrey could hear the whole forest sighing in relief. He too was happy to see the rain, to feel it splashing on his needles and running down his bark.

He also enjoyed his novel vantage point on the shore of the lake. He could not only see the play of the rain on the surface of the water, but he could see the clouds in a way he had never been able to see them before.

Everything alive in the forest heard the thunder, but Jeffrey was perhaps alone in seeing the first lightning flash, so big and bright and close as to be nearly beside him.

And then another and another and another. The jagged forks of lightning stepped boldly across the lake until they walked among the trees of the forest.

And the forest cried in alarm.

“FIRE! FIRE! FIRE”

Everything in the forest that could, fled before of the flames. Everything that couldn’t, burned where it stood.

The whole forest was engulfed in a firestorm—the crowns of the trees literally exploded—and in short order, the entire forest was reduced to nothing more than blackened stumps and ash.

Jeffrey, just metres away from the hot flames, watched it all happen. Only the water of the lake surrounding him and flowing through his veins protected him from destruction.

He survived the fire unscathed but for some scorching of his upper branches.

The rains eventually mastered the forest fire and largely extinguished it, though for some weeks afterwards Jeffrey still saw drifts of smoke here and there and the occasional red glow of subterranean fires.

After the conflagration

Following the fire, Jeffrey’s only companions were the birds. They sat on his branches and under the shade of his canopy. The sang him to sleep at night and woke him in the morning.

They felt the pain of his loss and did their best to console him.

One day, not long before the birds knew they would have to fly south for the winter, they and Jeffrey regarded the blackened plain of the burnt-out forest.

In truth, there were already flashes of green amongst the ash and stumps.

Life would return—was returning—only it would be different life. It might not be a forest at all.

Some of the birds looked at Jeffrey and straightaway they went to work with great determination.

Soon all the birds joined in.

What the birds did was carefully pick through all the pine cones that Jeffrey had dropped. Starting with the very best, the birds carried all the pine cones one-by-one and dropped them all over the burnt expanse, making sure to give each cone a good amount of room to grow.

And when the birds had distributed all of Jeffrey’s pine cones they flocked to distant forests to each bring back other cones and nuts and berries and seeds—enough to create a strong, diverse forest.

As the autumn rains came to water the ash, it was time for the birds to bid farewell to Jeffrey until such time as they would return in the spring.

Jeffrey planned to spend one more winter on the shore of the lake, but come the spring, the returning birds would find him back where he belonged, at home in the heart of his growing forest.

THE END

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