CutPoplar1I have never thought much about the death of trees. Until today.

I have thought about the death of farm animals, since I kill with my own hands the pigs that I’ve raised, with my own hands. I have often wished they could supply us with the food that nourishes and brings joy and conviviality, without their having to die. But such cannot be. I am convinced that the meat of animals is a gift for human life—to be received with gratitude and care; and this requires that animals be killed. It seems to me fitting that I kill at least some of the animals that I eat. It helps me keep me in mind what my eating of meat requires—of people and of pigs.

Today a tree was cut down. It wasn’t a uniquely majestic tree. But majestic it was, while it still stood alive. Through a miscommunication with the men who are doing a selective cutting of trees in the woods owned—if one can speak of ‘owning’ things that are alive—by my mother, this tree (and indeed some others) were accidentally cut down. The reason this tree was special to me is not to the point. It just was. And now it is gone, on the way to a lumber mill where no one will ever know—will someone at least pause to wonder?—the majesty that belonged to it, and what it meant to me, in its native earth, the very soil I call home. Today was rather traumatic for me, and it gave me occasion to think about trees, and life.

Is it unfitting to be concerned about trees, when so many people suffer in so many ways? Perhaps. But then again, maybe having a true appreciation of trees is somehow a part of knowing who we are, and how to live.

I still intend to use wood and things made of wood, which nourish and bring joy and conviviality. But I resolve never again to take wood for granted; nor the trees, whose life and death, give us wood, and life.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is


  1. How we care for trees and how we care for people are intertwined. Brings to mind these words of Wallace Nutting:
    “We have no right to misuse wood. We did not make it. We found it, like air, water and grass. The only possible manner of acquiring any rights over it is by putting the stamp of character upon it. The theologians tell us of sins, as if we were under obligation to a spiritual world alone. But sheer wickedness in the use of materials ought to cause even a materialist to shudder. Wood is one of the best things we have. Whether Grinling Gibbons puts his tool to it or we make a milking stool of it, men will measure us by the manner of our handling it.
    Only people with a sense of reverence for materials can make good citizens. A man must use wood well, or he will mistreat his neighbors.”

  2. Lorine Niedecker has a lovely poem about the death of a tree:

    My friend tree
    I sawed you down
    But I must attend
    An older friend
    The sun

  3. John, you will find this essay by Bishop Kallistos Ware inspiring, I think. It starts out:

    “On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: ‘Love the trees.’ ”

    And two delightful books which should not be missed are Thomas Pakenham’s Meetings With Remarkable Trees and Remarkable Trees of the World.

  4. Thank you Rob, as well as Jim and Tim, for sharing these writings on trees.
    Here are some words from J.R. Tolkien that someone shared at my blog: “The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing. Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works, I take the part of trees as against all their enemies.”

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