Two tall fir trees stand in our front yard. They were there when we moved in, decades ago. At that time, their tops reached the height of our roof; now, they’re at least thirty feet in height, so tall that I would have to stand down the block, in the middle of the street to photograph them in their entirety. These twins have sheltered various creatures over the years. When the children were small, a nesting pair of robins built their home in a branch in full view of our picture window. We spent weeks watching the birds build the nest (with a stray bit of my yarn incorporated by chance), warm the turquoise blue eggs and raise their greedy hatchlings with a constant supply of insects. We kept the cat inside when the fledglings spread their wings. I kept a record of the process. Those drawings and paintings are among the work that pleases me most, not for the quality of the artwork, but for the memories of days past.
|One of the nests I've collected over the years|
That spring, all the babies took flight safely. The next season, we were not so lucky. Crows moved into the neighbourhood. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t fend off that particular murder. My children learned some heart-breaking lessons that day: all creatures suffer. Sorrow will come, no matter how desperately we fight to drive it away. The robins never nested in that tree again, but every year since, we have had a family of feisty birds, living in a tree behind the backyard shed or in neighbouring yards, hunting the grass for their constant meals and boldly taunting both dog and cat from the safety of our fence. I like to think that they are descendants of that same first family who gave us such pleasure all those years ago.
Now, the trees are home to several screaming squirrels and a rabbit who kicks out the dirt by the trunk of the northern most tree and spends his winter(s) there. I say “winters” because, much like the robins, there has been a resident jackrabbit under that tree for several years. Sometimes, he sits on the walk at the base of our front steps and looks in the window. As soon as he sees me looking back, he’s gone. Usually, we do no more than greet him, but last year, in the winter that would not end, the snow was so deep that we feared for his safety, so we bought a sack of alfalfa hay which kept him warm and fed until spring finally arrived. That rabbit was a bit bolder. Once he recognized what we were doing, he would no longer sprint away when we came down our front driveway. Other than calling out that greeting, which seems only polite, we don’t encourage friendliness with humans. That way trouble lies.
The trees are old now, and sick. Despite years of futile effort on our part—for what can we do for creatures like that?—unsuitable ground to grow and the simple passage of time has thinned their branches and weakened their trunks. They’re not yet a safety hazard, but we know that someday, down they’ll come, so we make contingency plans for their removal. The next door neighbour comments how much she enjoys seeing those trees from her front window and watching the squirrels and rabbits come and go and we think, “One more year.”
Here’s the thing: this Christmas, Young Mr. DD, who has spent the past several years working in forests, planting trees, measuring the growth and health of the flora there, stood at our front window and watched our trees. After a few moments, he said something which shocked me more than all the environmental studies and messages I have heard the past few years. His comment? “Those are pretty healthy trees you have there.” I looked at him in disbelief; his father and I both argued that the trees were definitely not well and would have to come down soon. Mr. Young DD’s response was this:
“You don’t see the trees that I see every day. They are far worse than those two out there.”
Take a moment to think about that and what it might mean. Two old, sickly, out of place fir trees are healthier than what a forest worker works with every day. Draw your own conclusions: I’ve heard the stories about what happens in the woods and I know the sources to be reliable, but they are not my stories to tell. Consider this: everything has an end and there will come a time when the forests are gone, but perhaps we should not be in such a rush to help that process along. For no matter where we are, in the heart of the woods, on the tops of bare mountains or on a city street deep in the prairies, those trees give us and all beings, Life. When that last tree falls in that last forest, there will soon be no one left to hear it. And that will be another kind of murder.