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MLA Full: "The Broccoli Tree: A Parable." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 6 March 2018,
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Some thoughts on what can be lost, and what can't be, when we share what we love.

This video was produced, edited, and inspired by Seth Radley. Thanks to Patrik Svedberg for photographing the Broccoli Tree and for the rights to use his beautiful images in this video.
Additional images by Elna Dahlstrand, Nina Mattsson, Mike Beauregard, and Shutterstock.

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. So, imagine you're a photographer living near the southern shore of Lake Vattern in Sweden. On your commute to work each day, you pass a tree in a lakeshore park that looks kind of like a huge stalk of broccoli, and the Broccoli Tree always makes you smile. There's just something about a single tree in an otherwise empty landscape; something that makes farmers harvest around them, and U2 put them on album covers. And then, one day, in the spring of 2013, you take a picture of the Broccoli Tree on your iPhone camera and post it to Instagram. There's a bit of dirt of your lens. It's certainly not the fanciest picture you've ever taken, but people like it, 43 people in fact.

Over the next few months, you upload a few more photographs of the Broccoli Tree. The pictures aren't only about the tree, but also about the life happening around it: A bird in the sky, a jogger, a happy couple. In November, you post a picture of the tree with a caption saying that you are reminded of an old quote, "you don't take a picture, you make a picture." That one gets 107 likes.

By April of 2014, 11 months into the project, you're posting a few pictures of the Broccoli Tree every week, and you decide to give it it's own Instagram. The tree becomes the focus of your creative life. You photograph it through the seasons, and rain, and snow, and sunshine, capturing the people who line the beach for the brief and glorious Swedish summer, luxuriating in the Broccoli Tree's shade.

Your audience grows into the thousands. In the summer of 2015, you have an exhibition of your Broccoli Tree photographs, at the Broccoli Tree. And your pictures keep getting better as the project becomes more popular. The Broccoli Tree calendar is a success, and people all over the world buy Broccoli Tree prints for their homes. By 2016, the Broccoli Tree project is so successful that the Broccoli Tree is become, like, famous. People visit it as a tourist destination, and you find yourself in the surreal position of photographing the Broccoli Tree while people are photographing themselves with the Broccoli Tree. Type "the broccoli tree" into Google Maps, and you're taken there immediately. You can even street view it.

Sure, by sharing the Broccoli Tree so widely it has come to belong less to you and your close friends, but it's amazing that so many people are seeing your photographs and that what started as you looking at a tree on your commute has become this huge deal. The Broccoli Tree now has over 27 thousand followers on Instagram, which means that you are the photographic force behind the social Internet's single most famous tree. And then...

On September 27th, 2017, you go to photograph the tree in the morning, but something is different. Upon close examination, it become obvious. In a furious and heartbroken Instagram post, you write, "you absolutely cannot un-saw a tree." And, indeed, the damage proves irreversible. A few days late, it's gone. The Broccoli Tree, once your Broccoli Tree, is no more. You loved something, you shared it. Many people loved it, too. And then, one or a few people decided to cut it down.

Given enough time, such people will always cut down such trees. The Joshua tree from the U2 album cover, gone. The sacred golden spruce tree in British Columbia, gone. The location of the oldest tree in the world, a 5 thousand year old bristle cone pine somewhere in California is kept secret, because otherwise, we all know what would happen.

To share something is to risk losing it, especially in a world where sharing occurs at tremendous scale and where everyone seems to want to be noticed, even if only for cutting down a beloved tree. If you'd never photographed the Broccoli Tree, it might still be there for you to see on your commute everyday. It might still provide shade to the real people who live with you on the southern bank of that lake. But, then again, the far away people who loved your pictures of the Broccoli Tree were real, too. They took shelter under it's canopy as well, even if only virtually. And, the truth is, if we hoard and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we're alone in the loss. You can't un-saw a tree, but you can't un-see one either. The Broccoli Tree is gone, but it's beauty survives. Hank, I'll see you on Friday.