Happy Trees

For a number of reasons, but mainly curiosity, I’ve been reading a lot about trees. One of the things I’ve been struck with is how much botanists and ecologists use the language of economics to discuss trees. Some forms of reproduction are more expensive than others. Some leaves are more efficient than others. Forests are, by nature, competitive environs—some trees having to “decide” whether it’s more advantageous to grow wide or tall, since each move has its own costs. The fig tree and the fig wasp have a true economic relationship, the tree paying the wasp for the service of pollination. This is the driving force of adaptation—how a population of trees have passed down different ways of spending their resources to the next generations.

Garry Oak

It’s been a good summer to get into trees since we’ve done a bit of traveling around the area and the weather’s been extremely nice. We’ve gone island hopping most recently and just based on what I’ve read in the few books I’ve checked out, I came up with a hypothesis of why Bowen Island has so many alders and no Garry Oaks and Saltspring Island has Garry Oaks but relatively few alders.

The problem with becoming fascinated with trees and how they grow is that to really get to know them requires time and rootedness (no pun intended). We do not feel permanent. While on the different islands I dreamt of buying some land and just watching what happens on it. In the process of that longterm experiment, my kids would have their own hundred-acre woods (more realistically, a five-acre wood). I can picture, with little effort, my daughter taking her friends on expotitions to find heffalumps and backsons and all that. Doing such in this area, however, requires more than just permanence and rootedness, even with all the time in the world. It requires independent wealth. And so we returned from our trip, refreshed, but a little wistful.

The weather, however, was still nice, and we do have an old Western Red Cedar growing in our courtyard, so we had our first supper back in town outside under the tree. It wasn’t quite the same without the waves crashing onto the shore below us and the seals swimming by, but it was nice.

And then a man started yelling from the house next to us. The window of the shared kitchen was open and the words poured out. “Shut the f*** up!” he yelled. Over and over. No one responded, but he kept yelling it. Even if my daughter didn’t know the meaning of all the words, she was scared. We moved our supper inside.

I called up to the window, “Hey, could you keep it down? You’re upsetting my kids.”

“Shut the f*** up!” he yelled, but I could tell it wasn’t at me.

I circled the house but found no more clues until a friend came by. He knew more of the people in the house so I thought he might be able to guess who it was. He handed me the leash to the dog he was walking, jumped up to the fire escape ladder, and climbed up into the house. I walked to the front of the house, which was now silent. From the park across the street the words of a man filled the void: “And then I knocked her on her f***in’ ass!” he said and followed it with a chuckle.

My friend came out the front door and said that people heard the yelling but no one knew who it was. He had his suspicions but no proof. It had stopped, in any case. I went back inside and finished eating with my family.

There’s a good chance that the person who was yelling didn’t know he was doing so. He didn’t seem to be talking to anyone in particular. He could have been on the phone or off his meds. I suspect it was the latter. And if that’s the case, he’s probably less rooted than we are.

Garry Oak

A couple weeks have passed since our island hopping vacation and the aborted supper that followed. As much as I would love to try living in my own forest, protecting our vegetables from deer rather than our ears from aggressive language, I wonder how much I would appreciate the payoff versus the costs. My daughter will start French immersion kindergarten next week. It’s a full day with a very good teacher and it’s three short blocks from our house. That would not happen in the forest. We rode our bikes to an excellent aquarium yesterday (though we did see sea anemones, dolphins, and seals on the islands, the aquarium has more) we’re biking to a world-class children’s library today, and walking to a good science museum later in the week. I’ve become too used to the city and would find it difficult to live elsewhere. I suppose I’ve adapted like a tree. I don’t suppose trees second guess their decisions much.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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