If I had a better math ego I’d probably have been a forester.
When we moved onto our one-acre property, there was one tree in the front yard – a stately, if messy, slash pine. In the first year alone I planted over two dozen more.
I love trees.
It’s the scale, I think. The variety is thrilling too, but all plants have that. Trees are the only plants that are much taller than we are and can live longer. They are the only vegetables we can climb or under which we can sit and write a blog post (I’m under a post oak now). Successive generations can admire the same specimen, like an heirloom. They make one feel small in the best way.
Trees also sustain us physically. We breathe the air they make, drink the water they help clean, eat the food and medicine they produce (heck, we burn them to cook the food), and build our homes of the lumber they die to provide.
Humans calm down under trees. We lower our voices and throw back our heads, inhaling new oxygen. When I stand in my back yard under our colossal river birch, watching the hens bustle, I can’t help but feel that we belong around and under them. Or at least are better for their presence.
Given the effort, then, required of these beauties to reach their peak, and the undeniable debt we owe them, it is a wonder that, when building our homes, the first thing we do is level them.
I travel a lot for work and it’s always with a pang that I look out the airplane window at a modern suburb. They’re easy to spot, even from tens of thousands of feet. You’ll see a puffy green ribbon outlining a flat green square with something like a centipede crawling through it – a burb with a thin stand of trees between plats. They, of course, stretch for miles and signal an approaching city.
Nothing against suburbia per se. I spent the majority of my childhood there and loved it. And I know why builders denude a property before construction. It lets them fill in low spots, grade for drainage, and move heavy equipment around easier. It is efficient, and they have a business to run.
Wouldn’t it be neat, though, to live in a neighborhood built around and through a forest, rather than in place of it? Where the flow of homes followed the contours set by the previous residents and you didn’t have to travel to hear birdsong? Kids would at least have something to clamber up and fall out of, a valuable life lesson.
In a country known for heralding the individual, it’s odd that we fetishize sameness and sterility in our home sites. Wouldn’t it be more American to leave as many trees up as possible in our neighborhoods, if for nothing else than as living symbols that consistent striving over time produces beauty, strength, character, and fruit?
I’d live there.