I think it’s the writer and historian Mike Davis who has a piece about the ironies of American suburban development. We all know the trend: new subdivisions come in and they are named “forest view,” “pheasant ridge,” “fox run,” and so forth. The problem is, as Davis (or whoever the author is) notes, often the names of the subdivisions describe precisely what’s just been displaced: the forests have been cut down, the pheasants have been pushed out, the foxes have run away.
Our future house is hardly a suburban development, but it is with irony that I confess that we just had two white pine trees cut down. They were too close to where the house is going to go. Plus they were going to block some of the passive solar of the house design, especially during the winter months when we need it most.
I’ve been feeling sad and sentimental about the trees the past week or so. Why should they go? What did they do? I came home from work yesterday afternoon with more than a bit of trepidation, knowing that they were going to be gone. There’s definitely no going back once trees are taken down–not for at least several decades.
Turns out it’s fine.
The land is more striking without the two trees because they were pretty much in the center of the property. Now we have a really expansive meadow. The view of the lower meadow is much clearer and we can also see the trees of the wetland forest below us. With fall here, their colors are changing and they are really beautiful. The sky is more visible as well, whether it’s sunny days, cloudy brightness, or stars on a cold, clear night. The whole property just seems bigger.
Plus the reality is that the trees weren’t that special. They were native white pines, which are very nice trees and a very nice species. But based on old aerial photos, Ron thinks that they were only twenty to (at most) forty years old. Of course, the goldfinches and jays might disagree. They liked flying to the top of those trees before continuing on. The deer may disagree, too. They will have less of a passage point across the meadow where they can be less visible. To help the nonhumans, we left a big honeysuckle bush (notably, a non-native species!) and I had the tree dudes cut the trunks about knee-height so I can put birdbaths on them later.
But there are other ironies. Many critters benefit from and like humanized landscapes. Too many houses, too many people, too much impervious surface, too many chemicals, too much noise, too many lights, and so forth certainly create many, sometimes serious problems for nonhumans. But many species actually do quite well in habitats where people live and manage the landscape, even fairly intensively: many birds, deer, and coyotes, for instance.
These two white pines may be gone, but that small decision is part of a larger project to cultivate the land responsibly, not just for us, but also the nonhumans.