“Where the coastline cannot be defended, the British government is trying to help communities move back from the sea.” (from “If Your House Were Falling off a Cliff, Would You Leave,” the NY Times)
“As science, the mothering, feeling tree is controversial. As literature for a political movement, it’s not bad, and, after all, nothing else has worked—” (from The New Yorker by Jill Lepore, “What We Owe Our Trees”)
Yesterday I finished Brian Selznick’s latest, Big Tree. Jill Lepore cites it in her article quoted above about the impact of the latest efforts to emphasize trees’ sentience, mentioning the research that Selznick primarily relied upon (and Richard Powers, too, in his blockbuster Overstory). Her conclusion is that humanizing trees, giving them emotions, communication skills, may be the only way to save them. She dispels the idea that planting tons of trees is a remedy—so does Selznick; diversity, not monoculture, is what matters.
I began today with an article about houses set on cliffs, now compromised by pounding seas, with no end —but their own—in sight. The poignant comment by one such homeowner, “I bought with my heart, not my head,” echoes, echoes, echoes. We act that way so often, heart-over-head, and often to our detriment.
Two days ago I watched a neighbor’s shore pine tumble down the richly verdant cliffside on which our family beach house rests. I was complicit in its demise, and all I’ve done since the scream of chainsaw removed it is regret that I ever took part, that I failed to consider what we owe the trees, how our continuation on that cliff depends on the health of trees.
Our house was first built in 1934 on this particular unoccupied stretch of Oregon Coast cliff and stood unaccompanied and proud for some time. Now, of course, the street is full of houses all reveling in, “the view, the view…”
I am ashamed to admit that when family members chorused their agreement to enhance it, the view, by cutting down trees, or dramatically topping them, I posed no opposition. And while I am somewhat assuaged by the proliferation of greenery on the cliffside that in my childhood crumbled in cascades of shale to the beach below, I will not support any more arbor reduction on our bank.
Our house, our neighbors’ houses, sits on the edge of the majestic Pacific. But the ocean will come; nature will rule; we are visitors here. It’s respect we need and to value this respite on our impermanent perch. Trees are our last best defense. I owe them.