Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Goddess of the Trees

I need to learn their names, the trees' names. I'll add that to my list of "Things to Work On".

A funny (i.e. slightly creepy, sketchy, greasy, questionably sober, but very polite and friendly) backwoods Vermonter with a visible lack of dental care and significant signs of dental caries uses a Stihl chainsaw like it's an extension of his wiry arm. He wears no chaps, no eye protection, no hard hat. He's climbed up the tree on an aluminium ladder propped against the three-trunked evergreen that fills the space between our house and that of our neighbors. He swings the chainsaw, pendulum-like, with one hand until it reaches where he's aiming to cut. One foot on the skew ladder, one foot on the protrusion of an already cut branch. He makes quick work of this tree that has been standing silent guard between these neighborly spaces for years.

I think of all the photosynthesis that's happened, all the water and nutrients flowing through the tree's anatomy, all the growth that's happened. And then I think of the more human-centered measures of time: who planted the tree and when, how many families have come and gone, how many tears were shed in these separate houses over the years while the tree stood silently by, how many chickadees have sat and cheerfully scolded those who forgot to put out seed, how many winters the tree has held up under the weight of snow and ice and that it won't do any of those things anymore. I know the tree doesn't really care about that stuff. But I do.

So when a tree's life ends abruptly at human hands I feel an ache in my heart. So much life, so much work of complex systems leading to seemingly simple, stately beauty comes to such an unsatisfying end. One funny man (as described above) with a Stihl chainsaw and a ladder kills and lays to the ground in an hour what Nature took years to create.

Most mornings for the past five years, I've looked at the tree from my place at the breakfast table. Recently a pair of blue jays have been claiming the lower branches as their place to fight and squawk noisily. Every evening I've watched it's green boughs slip into the darkness of the night. And now, instead of the tree, I see blue sky, puffy white clouds, and worst of all--the next door house that used to be so well concealed. We're all exposed.

If I ever get tapped to be the goddess of something in Nature--you know, called upon for ceremonies dedicated to birth, growth and death and that sort of superstitious stuff--I think I'll choose to be a Goddess of the Trees. And it would be hard to resist exacting some small retribution on those who made such quick work of our protector trees. A splinter in the finger, a speck of sawdust in the eye, a toe stubbed on a log, that kind of retribution is all I'm talking here. I'm not a Tree-Hugger in the hippie-tie-myself-to-bulldozer way, though. I know trees are renewable resources and that they get damaged, rotten, find themselves in the wrong places at the wrong times, etc. They come and go. Such is the way of Nature. It's just that my heart breaks a little at how long it takes for a life to grow and the illusion of strength a life can have but how quickly, and unceremoniously, life--any life--can be deleted.

Stage One:

Stage Two:

Stage Three

Stage Four


  1. Wow. How sad. What brought about such a senseless destruction of such tall, beautiful trees? How soon before the others are removed in a similarly unceremonious manner?

    At least the neighbors' yard doesn't have any unsightly clotheslines or above-ground pools. Now you HAVE to mow all that grass in your backyard on a regular basis...

  2. Well, see...that's the thing. It wasn't totally "senseless". The middle part of the tree showed serious damage. But, I'm not sure the whole thing needed to come down this instant. Mostly, though the whole ordeal just got me thinking about how long it takes to create large, living things and how incredibly fast that life can be eliminated. And that I have a thing for trees.

    "Have to mow" are words I don't understand. Are you speaking some crazy moon language, Alan? ;-)

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Hey hey hey...what's this talk of "unsightly" clotheslines. Jen and I just happen to have such a clothesline and it's awesome, thank-you-very-much. It saves power, it saves CO2, it saves money, and it lets all the neighbors giggle at the sight of my undies. Everyone wins.