The Parable of the Village Mulch

October 11, 2020

What is it that makes a village a village? Is it the people? The buildings? The way the people interact - with their children, their parents, their neighbors? Or is it their collective action? That besides their differences in wants and needs, they collectively decided to settle, together, in one place? Be it what it may, once upon a time there was such a village. The people in it wined and dined merrily, for their village home was surrounded by plenty. Vast pastures full of grazing bison, deer, and plentiful grain rest to one side, while on the other they kept a tall, dense, hearty forest full of pine trees for lumber, and others bearing fresh fruit and nuts.

When it came time to build their homes, they built fortuitously and wastelessly - taking care to use every bit of the tree for lumber, the needles for roofing, the sap for glue, even the cones as decor. What little they did waste, they left besides their dwellings as mulch, hopeful it would become fertile once more and keep their giving earth juvenile. Nonetheless as the years bore on, the merry villagers had children - and so the village grew. To house the new children they continued their tradition, using what they could, and leaving what little waste they had as mulch behind, but over time the mulch grew.

It was at a small evening gathering of the elders that the concerns were first raised. A man, nary a year over 50, raised a hypothetical. There had been a small structural issue, you see, with one of his grandchildren’s dwellings. Everyone was fine, but it was one of the larger structures the town had had built, and a piece of lumber in the wall had come unstuck, leaving the children shivering cold in the night until one of the builders could come make the repairs. The wise old man reckoned that it may be not a coincidence that it was the largest structure they’d built so far - what if one day, we built a structure so large that we all lived in it? And what if that structure, large as it would need to be, were also more likely to suffer structural issues - wouldn’t its collapse mean the demise of their village? Surely all would immediately perish. The man hadn’t slept since the realization. He cherished his grandchildren so dearly, and he couldn’t be sure when such a thing were to happen, but surely it were to happen at some point. And be it his grandchildren, or theirs, or theirs’ theirs - someone would bear the responsibility. The elders conferred - it was true. Such a structure could be built, and were it to fall it would be truly catastrophic. They agreed to reconvene on this issue at the end of the gathering, for it was far beyond the scope of what they’d yet discussed.

For the next topic, again appeared a usually joyous elder riddled by dread and sleeplessness. He, too, had witnessed something grave which concerned him for the future. A few nights ago, during a lightning storm, the lightning struck the nearby forest, and while he and his were fine, the lighting had struck a tree in the forest. The elders were no strangers to wildfires, but the embers traveled far in the wind, and one had landed in the mulch pile near his godson’s home on the edge of the village. That ember may not have caught the cabin on fire, that’s for sure, but the mulch quickly lit stupendously. It burned quickly and ferociously, enough that it caught their dog’s cabin on fire - and the dog ran for its life, never to be seen since. The elder reckoned, as they’ve built their homes up over the years, so had the mulch built up. In some parts of the village, the mulch piles were dozens of feet tall, and on windy days it swept all over town. What were they to do if one of the larger mulch piles caught fire? It was only a matter of time. Already two others conferred, their houses had been singed by the mulch once before. They sought to move inwards, but were they all susceptible eventually? Murmurs grew amongst the crowd into a frenzy until the eldest elder slammed his foot onto the hard earth.

He beseeched them all to be calm - they have dealt with fires before, and they will be able to deal with more. Buildings collapsing, however, and especially one they all lived in? That’s not something they’d ever conceived of. It would be truly catastrophic. The townsfolk need not worry now, but in generations to come this could become grave indeed. What were they to do? To much the mulch miser’s dismay plans were quickly set afoot to begin building more tall structures. The thinking went - if they were to learn how to avoid future catastrophe, they would need some experience.