Monday, 19 May 2008

murdering trees

this is a story that ran in the waikato times yesterday, about a developer who chopped down some trees last year on a property that is pretty central in hamilton. the trees went to make way for a shopping centre. most of the story concentrates on trying to link the developer to the action of chopping down trees, and i'm not exactly sure why it merited the front page.

however, whether this particular person was responsible or not, the loss of the trees has plenty of meaning and caused considerable outrage at the time they were removed. until this summer, i have to admit that i was pretty unsympathetic to this kind of thing. not that i didn't care about trees. just that i thought there were more important things to be outraged about, like people dying in the wars in iraq & afghanistan, or child abuse, or sexual violence, or many other topics. my outrage tended to be pretty used up by the time i got to trees.

but then we lost a tree over summer. it was a huge silver birch that grew on the property behind my parents' house. the tree had been there when we moved into that house back in 1975. it dominated our back yard, as it was just behind the fence.

all the years of my growing up, i remember playing in the shade of that tree. i remember the carpet of leaves every winter. i remember its majesty and beauty; the silvery white of the trunk providing such a contrast to the green leaves. i remember peering through its branches to try to find the new moon that would herald the beginning of ramadan.

but then we went away for a three-week trip to the south island over the summer, and when we came back it was gone. just like that, it had disappeared. developers had cut it down and removed the house on the property. what's going up now are some 2-storied flats that will destroy the privacy of my parents' backyard, and at this stage (half-built) are pretty ugly to look at.

we had no warning. we had no choice, no say in the matter at all. it's really strange, but the word that immediately came to my mind was "murder". someone had murdered the tree, our tree. it seems to me that it belonged to the whole neighbourhood and we should have at least had the chance to try to protect it.

i guess in this modern capitalistic world of private property rights, trees only belong to the person who owns the land where they grow. but it shouldn't be that way. not for such an old landmark. not for something with roots so deep in the ground and branches that touched the sky.

so i lost a valued companion of my childhood. it's created in me a greater appreciation for trees, and the loss of them is certainly worth a bit of outrage. it's not a human life, but it's a life that gives meaning to our humanity. we need some better way to protect them.

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