Friday, September 23, 2022

Can I chop down this oak tree?

An oak on the banks of the branch of the Chicago River in Northbrook.

     Northbrook boasts a park in the heart of its downtown, with a ballfield and a playground, a gazebo and a river — the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. A person could, theoretically, with a shallow-draft kayak and about 12 hours effort, paddle to Marina Towers.
     Too much work for me, more given to meandering through the park, my wife’s arm tucked snugly in mine. All is right in the world as we stroll under the towering old oaks, past younger trees planted to comfort future generations.
     But what if all weren’t right? Let’s say I take offense at one of those saplings. Perhaps I decide there are too many oaks already. Perhaps I bear some grudge against the person honored on the bronze plaque. Perhaps I am worried an inept village child could be tempted to climb this tree, because of a low branch, say, and, in doing so might fall and be injured. Even killed. The reason doesn’t matter.
     So I take it upon myself to go to the park with a chainsaw and cut down the offending tree.
     How do you think passersby would react? Would they say, “There’s old Steinberg, responsible citizen, exercising his constitutional right to live in a community free from the menace of perilous trees”? Or would they call the police, who’d haul me away for destroying public property?
     The second scenario is a sure bet. And I think we can all agree: They would be right. The park is for everybody, not to be defaced by irked individuals following the random dictates of their disordered minds.
     Given that, why do we tolerate people plucking books out of public libraries? Unlike trees, which really do occasionally cause injuries to careless climbers, no child has ever been hurt by a book. The damage imagined by alarmed parents is purely notional and, when you think about it — someone should — quite ludicrous.

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1 comment:

  1. Thomas Hardy, whose fine novels often drew the attention of censorious fools, once wrote the following. "A novel which does moral injury to a dozen imbeciles and has bracing results upon a thousand intellects of normal vigor, can justify its existence; and probably a novel was never written by the purest minded author for which there could not be found some moral invalid or other whom it was incapable of harming."


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