by Gregory Bateson
I owe this story to a man who was I think a New College student and was head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, where he told it to me.
New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was probably founded around the late 16th century. It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top, yes? These might be eighteen inches square, twenty feet long.
Some five or ten years ago [as of 1980 -- ed.] so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in dismay, because where would they get beams of that caliber nowadays?
One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested there might be on College lands some oak. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked him about oaks.
And he pulled his forelock and said, "Well sirs, we was wonderin' when you'd be askin'."
Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks had been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for four hundred years. "You don't cut them oaks. Them's for the College hall."
A nice story. That's the way to run a culture.