Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guest post: The King is Dead

My friend Debra McNaught emailed me recently, indicating
"I was compelled to write this about the 1000 year old cedar that fell over last week in Stanley Park. i remember it, I loved it, and now it's ... well, dead"

I invited her to be a guest contributor, so the following essay offers her reflections.

Living in Vancouver’s West End is – for those enamoured of Big City Living – as close to paradise as you can get without leaving this mortal coil; one of the reasons, in my estimation, is Stanley Park. Vancouverites are justifiable in their love for Stanley Park, and when I lived in the West End I swear I was on a first name basis with every tree, every squirrel. Cue Far Side cartoon, one squirrel remarking to another, of a squatting spinster and her harlequin eyeglasses: They’re so cute when they sit like that.

So the news last week that “the 1000 year cedar” had fallen made me just a bit sad; I immediately pictured its’ oddly lopped top, remembered walking around the staggeringly enormous circumference and kind of smacking it with delight that it was just so freaking huge. I dug through boxes of unsorted photos in hopes I had thought to take one. No such luck.

Often taking the trail near Third Beach that passed it by, I remember thinking it was not long for this world, and that it had probably looked this ragged-ass at least since the first white Vancouverites “discovered” it in the late nineteenth century. For some, its glory might have been diminished by the missing upper third (half?) due, doubtless, to some cataclysmic meteorological event, but I chose to see it as evidence of ultimate survival. And considering it made me realize us rustic colonials, despite our status as the Least Important Outpost of the British Empire and long snubbed for our lack of historical legitimacy, had a heritage uniquely our own: nobody grew trees like we do here in British Columbia.

The towers now crowding the downtown peninsula are only pallid reconstructions of the original occupants; early Vancouver histories cite Douglas firs toppled from Georgia and Granville as averaging 350’, and reports of giants in the neighbourhood of 400’ are not uncommon. Before we started questioning the environmental cost of clear-cutting any tree that cast a shadow, the logging industry had made friendly with the governments of the day and stripped Crown Land of what is termed “old growth.” Easy in hindsight to point out the obvious, that re-seeding the now denuded landscape would a) ensure the renewal of a natural resource for the benefit of future generations, or even, b) provide for further profits fifty years hence. Them politics however, are bigger than this entry, but let’s call me a cynic: most of the logging companies of yore, having removed all easily accessible trees in BC, have abandoned logging for any port the Free Trade Agreement now rationalizes as sacrosanct in pursuit of corporate profit.

But back to the fallen monolith.

What kills me, in many of the media reports, is the fact that people are calling it “the National Geographic tree”; hey, maybe it’s just a Canadian Thing you have to be a Canadian to understand, but I kinda take offence at the implied ownership. OK, OK – it’s maybe excusable as a quick reference, as shorthand for “you know that tree that the Nat Geo featured in an article way back in the seventies before I was born” … so sue me: I’m Sensitive to Another Example of American Appropriation. But it’s not the Nat Geo tree – it’s not even rightfully the Stanley Park tree since the park has only been around since 1888 and the tree, it’s estimated, was a tender cone way back in the 11th century or maybe even at the time of the first millennia. It doesn’t belong to anybody, and our arrogant assumption that we consider what to “do” with the remains just boggles my mind.

Let it rot.

Maintenance superintendent Eric Meagher, who first noticed it ominously missing from the skyline, made the observation in the vid shot for the that all trees die eventually. This might seem obvious, yet those left wondering “what should be done” with the remains just strike me as people uncomfortable with the idea of something dead forcing them to detour around something unpleasant whether literally or no. Meagher’s assertion that not only will the tree “be left where it fell and allowed to rot away naturally”, the idea that park management is “considering having a small interpretive centre near the tree to explain what happens in a forest" absolutely warms my heart.

The big trees have to die so the little trees can grow; the act of being alive makes the corollary of death inevitable. Left to lie, the tree will become a “nurse tree,” supporting lots of descendant offspring that will one day exist because it died. And if we manage to somehow avoid catastrophic climate change, one day a tree just as grand may grow there.

The King is Dead – Long Live the King.

1 comment:

Miss 604 said...

Amen - this is why I get upset when they have piles and piles of fallen timber from the storm last winter all harvested and sold off. Let it go back to nature. Nature did this and nature will fix it as life goes on. It will not allow the Parks Board to clearcut and make room for a new parking lot either.