The Giving Tree

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News of California's $19 billion budget deficit, endless cuts and finger pointing in Sacramento is so disheartening, I'm often tempted to just switch off. But, this month, when Governor Schwarzenegger said "California no longer has low-hanging fruits...we have to take the ladder from the tree and shake the whole tree," it suddenly made me pay attention.

A tree? It reminded me of Shel Silverstein's poem, "The Giving Tree," the story of a boy and a tree. At the beginning, the boy is young and the tree is his playmate. He climbs and frolics in the tree, but as he grows older, he keeps wanting more from the tree. The shade, the fruits, the wood. He wants to make a house, a boat and finally the tree makes the ultimate sacrifice. It's cut to a sad old stump, and the boy goes on his way. Many years later, the boy -- now an old man -- comes back from his adventures and the tree says, "I have nothing left to give to you." And the old man says, "I just need a place to sit and rest." He then rests his weary limbs by sitting on the tree stump. And the tree is happy.

At that point in the story, when I read it to my kids, I always choked up. For me, the tree is symbolic of the endlessly giving mother, the giving mother earth. But I'd never quite seen it as symbolic of California, our beautiful, bounteous, but almost bankrupt state.

Are we now at the point that we're cutting down the things that made this golden state great? The fine schools, colleges and excellent universities? I know that the politicians in Sacramento have inherited a challenging political system and an overhanging debt, but maybe our governor and our Legislators ought to read "The Giving Tree" once more and make their own conclusions about where the cuts must come.

If we don't make the right choices, we going to be left with a stump, a bankrupt state that says, "I have nothing left to give you."


With a Perspective, this is Alison van Diggelen.