Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Trees and Developments

I was sitting outside of the Starbucks at Tillicum and Gorge and noticing that the trees in the parking lot were getting to of a size where they added something to the landscape, that they could offer some shade. I also know that this little strip mall is very likely in its last ten years of life. With these two thoughts something came into my mind - the lifespan of most trees is at least twice as long as the lifespan of any development.

The average apartment/house/strip mall etc... has a realistic lifespan of about 4 to 50 years. One only needs to look around the neighbourhoods first built in the 1950s and 60s to see how many of the houses have been torn down and replaced with something newer. A strip mall that makes it past 40 years is rarity. We can look further back and see how few of the buildings built between 1890 and 1930 are still around, many of them were torn down with a generation of being built.

In drawings of developments there are always these wonderful mature trees, trees that take 40 to 50 years to mature. And there is the problem, by the time trees begin to leave their youth the development they are around gets bulldozed for something new.

Many of the trees that are planted have lifespans of several hundred years, they barely have started and we cut them down. The problem is that we can not think in timeframes that are tree like in length.

As a nine year old child I was in Finland in 1975. With the family over there we visited a church yard where there was a grave of an ancestor of ours, a grave from the 17th century. There was a wonderful big tree growing out of this grave, a tree about 300 years old, a tree not close to the end of its life. The tree was over growing the whole grave. The tree had been there for generations, it was a direct link between myself and my 17th century Schulmann ancestor. The three century timeframe is beyond human understanding.

As humans we perceive the world in a few generations. We tend to divide our world into the recent generation, the past generation and our parents youth. The last two meld when we are young into one. 25-30 years is our limit of what we consider recent and current, something older than that on the landscape is something from a past generation. We see things more than a generation old as being old, but we do not value you them till they are from a time before our parents.

This means that the developments we see become old long before their time. We can tear it down and build something new. With it we tear down the trees just as they are becoming what they could be.

Even trees planted for a purpose can be lost to future generations. The trees along Shelbourne were planted some 80 years ago as a living memorial to all the men killed in World War One. The trees are finally reaching the age where they are truly stunning, but so many of them have already been cut down. Their purpose has also been lost to the people of 2009.

People are also unable to see the life of trees when it comes to logging, they only see the clearcut, not the forest emerging again. Forests take generations to grow and clearcuts look bad in the present generation. We do not seem to have the patience to wait for the forest to come back.

As I was sitting their looking at these trees outside of the Starbucks I was struck with sadness that odds are very high they will not see another ten years. Sad that the hard work of the people building the small strip mall would also be lost.
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