I was on vacation the past two weeks while America was reportedly falling apart.
In week one, Hillary Clinton proved herself, again, to be an avid liar but not a felon. And Donald Trump proved himself, again, to be an oafish flame-thrower but not enough of one for the Republican Party to dump him.
In week two, two more black men were tragically and inexplicably shot to death by police officers, with video from each shooting fanning justifiable outrage. Then a murderous sniper, looking to kill white people, took the lives of five police officers in Dallas.
Idiots shouted, “Race war!” Headlines questioned if America was being torn asunder, divided politically and coming apart at the seams racially.
Never miss a local story.
It’s unusual for me to stand outside the chaos — I normally write in the moment. So I took the time off to process all that happened, and I kept coming back to things I learned under a stand of redwood trees in California.
This may come as no surprise given the quality of our prospective leaders and the mindless screeching of self-serving pundits, but redwood trees seem more intelligent than most human beings. They’ve been around longer, more than 200 million years, and they form flawlessly civilized communities.
If a redwood is damaged by fire or lightning, it sends a signal to its root system triggering new redwood trees to sprout up around it, forming a family cluster.
And while the trees stand several hundred feet high, with massive trunks that make us humans seem like insignificant wildlife, their roots never push down deep into the earth. They spread out wide and seek out the root systems of other redwoods, intertwining with them and forming a network strong enough to support the weight of the wind-blown hulks.
They grow in a community, and without each other they don’t stay upright.
There was a time when these stunning trees filled swaths of America’s West Coast, some 2 million acres.
But we humans took care of that, chopping them down at a frenzied clip to build houses and towns and cities until only about 5 percent of the old-growth forest remained.
They’d be all gone now if not for the work of people like John Muir, a naturalist who helped get the federal government and the voting public to appreciate and protect forest lands.
In the early 1900s, Muir said of the redwoods: “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools.”
And that, perhaps, is where we are right now. We can’t seem to save ourselves from fools.
The fools who dismiss the killing of black people by police and the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement, letting their privilege blind them to racial issues that demand and deserve immediate attention.
The fools who join peaceful protests only to shout slogans of hate toward police or commit acts of senseless violence against officers.
The fools who use a few hateful shouts to label all protesters as “radicals” or “race-baiters.”
The fools who think the easy availability of high-powered weapons isn’t a problem when gunmen driven by whatever faith or movement they’ve bastardized murder brave cops and innocent civilians.
The fools who believe they’re qualified to lead us, when their focus is either on themselves or on dividing others.
I don’t think America is coming apart at the seams. I think we are, not too deep under the dirt, strong and held together like the intertwining root systems that keep redwoods upright.
When America’s redwood trees were nearly gone, people summoned the will and good sense to protect them and let them tower, overcoming the hollering of those few driven by selfishness and greed.
That’s an object lesson for this moment in history. God couldn’t save the redwoods from fools. God can’t save us from fools either.
We need to rise above them, face the stark reality of these issues head on and take action to protect and care for each other.
Rex Huppke is a Chicago Tribune columnist. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.