On What Even the Lowest Forms of Life Can Teach Us of Redemption


Like Ann Coulter, the ailanthus tree is noxious, unsightly and invasive, and can be found almost everywhere in the United States, not only in vacant lots and highway meridians, but in once pristine forests, where it wreaks havoc on local ecosystems. It does not favor diversity or nuance, but — and with just the most trace amount of nutrients — manages to endlessly replicate, with no regard to the more sensitive and robust beauty offered by the species it so mercilessly replaces.

In the past we have tended to view this tree with nothing but disdain, wishing that we could wave a magic wand and erase it from the landscape. But now we are not so sure; at this time of year, there is a vermilion tone in its autumn leaves that speaks to us of fire and the certainty of death. It reminds us that no matter how much we wish to think otherwise, in this final result we are all the same.


Correction: A kind reader possessing serious qualifications in the science department (obviously this was not Ann Coulter) wrote to us and pointed out that the tree featured in the photograph is in fact a sumac (Rhus sp.), a relative of the ailanthus. The sumac is a native species, whereas the ailanthus is orginally from Asia (both are commonly found in vacant lots and on highway meridians); the leaves of the smaller sumac turn red, whereas those of the ailanthus become a “rather bland yellow” (our reader’s most excellent characterization). What — if anything — this means to the above analysis we will leave to speculation (and beg your indulgence in our poetic license), but we do appreciate the comment/clarification. For more information on the two species, click here.

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