'I could really use a hug right now'

Three years after his passing, Sam Orbaum's view of Tu Bishvat is as fresh and entertaining as ever

If a tree could talk, what wood it ax for? Fir the first time, we cedar trees' point of yew. "Hey, you. What's today's date?" "What do you care? You're a tree." "Look, pal, there's a bunch of Jewish kids coming at us. Either it's Lag Ba'omer and we're about to be torn limb from limb, or it's Tu Bishvat and they're gonna hug us." "Don't know what you're talking about. I'm a new immigrant." "Just my luck, a babe in the woods. Where'd they dig you up?" "Well actually, I was raised in a nursery in Wisconsin, but my roots are in Colorado. Frankly, I don't know what I'm doing in Israel." "Like it or not, you're part of the Zionist plot - draining swamps, greening deserts, building malls." "But that sounds nice. Like, it seems they want trees." "Don't jump to conclusions, kid. They reflooded the swamps. Know what I mean?" "Oh. So what's this Log Ba'omer?" "No, not - well, that's a better name for it, actually. It's a fun little holiday: they celebrate the day when prohibitions related to mourning are lifted - by murdering trees, sawing them up and burning the pieces." "But that's terrible!" "Yeah, but look at the bright side: it's very beneficial to the marshmallow industry." "And what's 2B -" "Tu Bishvat. A sort of birthday for trees. They plant new forests so they'll have what to destroy on Lag Ba'omer. Tu Bishvat is about the only Israeli holiday where they don't commemorate destruction or commit one." "A holiday, special for us!" "Actually, it's all a scam. A global hoodwink to make millions. They put these little blue boxes all over the world and milk kids for pocket money with the promise that their nickels and drachmas will buy trees for Israel. And then they get volunteers to scoop up acorns and push 'em into the ground, which costs nothing." "Never mind. The important thing is, they love their trees." "Poo. You know what your problem is? You can't see the city for the people. We're being used, man. Tu Bishvat is just a fig leaf for a vast bureaucratic-corporate fundraising complex. JNF, they call it. Someday they'll decide to put a highway where I'm standing, then we'll see how much they love trees. You know how much they love us? Look around my trunk. Tell me what you see." "Piles of doggy doo." "Haw, haw. You're not exactly tiptoeing in tulips yourself, pal. They love me so much they've carved little hearts all over me. Dudu loves Dafna; Moshiko loves Ronit; Yasser loves Suha." "Isn't that sweet!" "Just my luck. A million forests in the world and this sonofabeech chooses this spot, right next to me. Do me a favor, will you? If you have to make noise, just rustle your leaves or something. I only have a few more centuries before I rot." "Unless you get lucky, like, maybe this is Lag Ba'omer, and you're about to becoming kindling." "Oh God, maybe it's Christmas season...." 'NOW THERE'S something I don't understand. Jewish people give money to plant trees in the Jewish State, right? Then the Jewish State cuts down the trees and gives them free as Christmas trees." "...or maybe it's Succot. Or -holy smokes, maybe they're Arab kids!" "C'mon. What can a couple of kids do to a big hunk o' timber like you?" "Ever hear of the intifada?" "No." "This is how it works: somebody comes into the forest, hollers 'God is great' and commits a heroic act to show he loves this country." "Sounds alright." "He burns down the forest." "Oh." "I'm telling you, kid; it's a regular jungle out here. You shoulda stayed in Wisconsin." "It's no bed of roses there either. You know what they got instead of Jews and Arabs? Woodpeckers." "What's that?" "A bird with a jackhammer between his eyes." "Stop already. You're depressing me." "Given the alternatives, I could really use a hug right now." "Y'know, I think it's time we stopped standing around doing nothing. Are we mice or trees? Dammit, I say, let's show 'em what we're made of. Trees of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your sap!" "Won't work. We're trees. We're kind of limited." "If not for these damn roots..." "Look, maybe I haven't been around as long as you, but I know what to do: think Israeli." "What does that mean?" "You've been out in the sun too long, old fellow. This country's changed, and we have to change with it. We're just not the ideological symbols we once were, when the Arab was committed to sitting under his fig tree for eternity, and the Jew swelled with nationalistic pride at an orange grove in the desert. When's the last time anyone stopped to marvel at a eucalyptus sucking up swamp? We're not the symbol of progress anymore, we're in the way." "Yeah, but the only hope of getting out of the way, is as a log." "Aha!" "You can't mean..." "No, no. I'm saying we have to get noticed again. Israelis can go through a full day in their concrete cities without seeing a tree, or at least, without noticing one. We need a new kind of tree to bring us back to the national consciousness. We need to get, you know, poplar again." "Yewish." "Right." "So... what tree are you barking up?" "I've given this some thought. We need something as Israeli as the Israelis. What this country needs is... tumbleweeds." "Are you nuts? That scruffy, rootless, undisciplined, ubiquitous, loquacious, rambling, perambulating, ever-underfoot, hither-and-thither, yackety-yack, in-yer-face gadabout?!" "Precisely. As classically, perfectly, Israeli as you can get." "It's not even a tree." "Pish-posh. We're branching out. The important thing is, can you imagine what it'll mean to have a few thousand tumbleweeds bouncing about the cities, flying around the Knesset?" "Frankly, no." "Advertising! Publicity! Creeping awareness that we're still around, that somewhere beyond the concrete jungle is the forest. Before you know it, somebody'll get wise and figure there's money to be made from tree holidays, and once that happens, we'll be safe, nobody would dare touch a leaf on us if it threatened profits." "It's not enough we give shade?" "Money, old man. Everything now is money. Shade may be noble, but it ain't marketable." "In other words, money doesn't grow on trees." "Smell the humus, man! What I'm saying is, trees grow on money. We can - ouch." "What?" "Ouch, dammit! Get these kids offa me!" Originally published on May 19, 2000 as 'If a tree could talk, what wood it ax for?' in the Friday Magazine.