LIFE IN THE OAKWOOD : A DRAMA IN THREE ACTS

IF we apply our cinematograph idea to such a story we shall be able to make some interesting comparisons with oak-woods, seashores and even deserts. Our film-record for a year’s life of an oakwood would probably do as well for one year as for another. Our first act would show the activities of the spring-flowering plants—bluebells, primroses and the like—and their suppression by the bracken and the leaf-canopy of the trees. Then we should see the principal units of the popidation working at full pressure : adding to their stature, producing flowers and maturing fruit. We might even see the oaks produce a second crop of leaves to replace those devoured by the leaf-rolling caterpillars of the oak-

moth. Towards the end of the act the leaves would begin to fall from the trees. The colder nights of autumn would prepare the plants for the third act—the Period of Endurance. The second act ends with everything closed down and sealed up against the cold, sun-starved winter months. In essentials the drama is the same year after year : the spring outburst may be a little early or a little late; the Period of Growth may be shortened a little or lengthened a little; but the actors and the parts they play are very much the same.

Our film-record beginning on unoccupied territory would show some important differences. The pioneer species would appear, hold the ground and carry on their lives for a season or two and then disappear for good. Their places would be taken by others for which they had prepared the soil. The colonisation of new territory by our own species is a very similar story. In the early days, there is need for men skilled in overcoming the opposition of other inhabitants. If a permanent settlement begins to take shape, the soldier and the hunter must be assisted by the cultivator, the builder, the smith and the host of other craftsmen who go to make up a stable human society. It is a commonplace of recent human history that mere strength and fierceness have been little rewarded. Highly civilised society puts a premium on intelligence : brawn gives place to brains. This is only to say that the qualities required for successful acquisition are not always those necessary for continued occupation. So it is with one species in competition with others for the resources of any place on the earth’s surface which is capable of supporting life.

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