The couple next door is a disturbing spiritual/philosophical study. They run a lucrative business from their home–as foster parents for abused and neglected children of all ages, including babies. There are legions of them in this land.

They severely test my premise that there’s an intelligence in the universe that cares about the fate of humankind. But even the most ignorant people can be sources of learning, if one asks non-personal questions and understands that the lessons are first and last within one.

The houses on this quarter-mile long block are relatively new, which means that the trees are relatively small. Before the conduits in question moved in, the largest, shapeliest, and most shade-producing trees anchored the center of the neighborhood, where their house stands.

When the wealthy rancher John Bidwell made a covered wagon trek across the untamed American West before the Civil War to found this town, he and his wife Annie planted many trees in what had been a savanna-like landscape. In the century and a half since, sycamores, maples, and other introduced varieties have made Chico verdant, complementing the magnificent oaks that line the creeks that flow down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

By the middle of the 20th century, Chico went from arid, rich grassland to the definition of sylvan.  With temperatures that often reach over 100 degrees (40 Celsius), trees are obviously an important and highly valued aspect of the town.

One of the reservations I had about moving into this house was that with few exceptions, the trees on the street and in the backyards were fairly small and immature. The most notable exception was an oak tree next door, which threw welcome shade onto the front office for a good portion of the day.

Within a few weeks of the new couple moving in, the tree was gone, with only a bare spot on the mounded front lawn marking its grave. I wondered if it was diseased, but had a bad feeling about it.

My suspicions were confirmed when, soon after the oak was cut down, a smaller version was felled in the backyard. A few days later a smaller fruit tree, an ornamental plum, was taken out, thereby completing their treeless landscaping design.

Theirs is a nice house, but neither the man nor woman is employed outside the home. When brand new vehicles were purchased, and improvements such as granite countertops were made, a few neighbors openly wondered if they were drug dealers.

As far as the trees, I’ve come to the conclusion the guy is simply anal, and leaves intrude upon his little, well-ordered world. He spends long sessions with his phallic leaf blower getting rid of stray detritus blown over from my yard.

Kids soon began to be dropped off at the house by vehicles with “Become a Foster Parent’ bumper stickers. First they were older kids, in their early teens. Younger children were added until, along with the eight and ten year olds that came and went, they had their prize–twin babies, no more than a few months old.

Often the man will slowly parade by in front of my house, holding one of the baby girls like a totemic possession. The little girl now reaches for leaves hanging low over the sidewalk, but he won’t allow her to touch them, or to get down when she squirms to do so. He holds her with fixed, false, and chilling equanimity.

“People who kill healthy trees shouldn’t be caring for small children,” someone said. That’s true, but as a philosopher such people make me doubt whether intelligence is operating in human consciousness at all.

They sorely test my feeling and faith that there’s a cosmic intelligence (not as a separate deity) that cares in some inscrutable sense about sentient, potentially sapient creatures such as ourselves. I still feel there is, but it can only act through us. The notion of a higher intelligence shaping human consciousness over millions of years, like through the Black Monolith in “2001, A Space Odyssey,” is as much a fantasy as a Father God.

Our brains have such a huge potential for cosmic consciousness, and it takes evolution such a very long time, in its haphazard and largely random way, to develop brains capable of awareness of Mind.

Cosmic intelligence however, cannot save a species from itself. We alone have to awaken ourselves and our children.

Children don’t belong to their parents, much less to foster parents who suck life and money from them. All one can really do is keep watching, and learning within oneself.

Martin LeFevre