October 26, 2010

What're a Few Trees?

I was in a photographic mood yesterday.  I decided that I was not using my camera enough lately and because I wanted to take a couple of photos for this post I ventured out in the drizzle to do so.  The light was not very good due to the greyness of the day, but I did what I could before it really started coming down. 

Our town is filled with trees of all varieties.  We have been home to a Federal agricultural research station for more than a hundred years and everywhere you look, there are ginkos, magnolias, white and pink dogwoods, copper beeches, every kind of maple, tulip trees, and a lot of other varieties I cannot name.  Across the street from us is one of the most stunningly beautiful copper beeches in the neighbourhood.  I cannot begin to express how much joy it is to watch that tree change with the seasons.  Last year the neighbour built a very tall garage for his boat.  An arborist was called in and began cutting off all the lower branches.  I immediately rushed outside and found the neighbour.  He assured me they were only trimming the lower half to make room for the garage (which I secretly call 'the fire hall'). 

Not so long ago a simple, white 1950's house sat elegantly in the middle of one of the prettiest yards in the town.  What made the yard so pretty were several mature trees, including a locally famous huge pink magnolia, and a well-kept lawn.  The residents of the house were quite elderly and employed a local landscaping business to mow, trim, and maintain their shrubs and lawn.  Just recently the house went up for sale, was sold in a week, and within days I saw a crew beginning what looked like a thinning of the trees on both sides of the house.  I wondered if the new owners had decided the yard needed more light, and I could understand that.  A few days later I walked by again and saw a certain local figure standing on the property overseeing the proceedings.  Several trees were now completely cut down and it appeared the lots on either side of the house, which was now rented out, were about to be nearly emptied of trees.  The shrubs and the beautiful magnolia which fill the lot of the rented house were left basically intact, though the magnolia had been given a major pruning.

The 'certain local figure' is a property developer who plans to build three new houses on the bare lots. Our town has a land use plan which preserves much of the agricultural land and encourages high-density new- builds, which is good, but there is absolutely no law protecting trees.  I remembered a Japanese student from my days as an ESL assistant, asking me why Canadians were so concerned about protecting forests when there were trees everywhere he looked.  As I stood in the rain looking at the stumps and rounds of wood across the street I wondered if I was being too sensitive. True, the city had just planted a neat and tidy row of baby trees all along the boulevard, the entire length of the street - although I couldn't help cynically imagining it was some sort of ploy to soften public opinion as a rather angry letter-to-the-editor had already appeared in the paper. 

I think I, and many other local citizens are upset for a few different reasons:  there was absolutely no public consultation before the cutting started and I have yet to see any statement of plans by the developer; we have lost about half an acre of beautiful, mature trees that were enjoyed by everyone in the neighbourhood, not just the owners of the white house; It seems that in this town, if it isn't in the museum, it's not worth a thought.  It's out with the old and in with the new.  I know the new houses will contain families and they will most likely plant shrubs, but their yards will be very small.  We are quickly losing many of the older houses and their trees as high density development charges ahead.  The road into town, which used to be lined with large properties and older homes of character, is fast being filled with cookie cutter townhouses.  I suppose this kind of progress is inevitable as more and more people move out to the Valley from the cities of Vancouver and Surrey, and they need homes, too, but it is still hard to witness the transformation. When I moved here, I never thought of this town as suburbia, the definition of which, according to Alfred E. Neuman is 'a place where they cut down all the trees and then name the streets after them,' but it certainly is starting to look like it in places.  I'm truly grateful that we can still take walks and runs and bike rides on the farm roads, where the fields and trees provide a much needed sense of space and beauty.

The other day I noticed yet another change on the street in question.  The house directly across the street from the white house is now for sale - further proof I'm not the only one a bit disheartened by this recent turn of events.

On a lighter note, Halloween is approaching and we gathering pumpkins, assembling costumes and making decorations.  My eldest daughter made a great skeleton out of plastic milk jugs on Sunday afternoon. She found the instructions on the web.  Note his friend the hatted spider to his left.

And while she made 'Bones Malone' and I prepared for a meeting, her dad watched the football game on his one day off of the week.  Yup, it's fall!


  1. Oh, Rebecca! You are using your new camera!!! I have not had a chance to read this (kid crazy around here) but I will be back.

  2. Oh, now I am sad. Trees take so long to grow, and there is nothing comparable to their beauty. Yup. Sad is what I am.

    But the skeleton gave me quite a smile. What a clever way to "re-use" those milk jugs.

    And, lastly, I love your front window!

    Keep up the good work with the camera.

  3. Love Bones Malone -- very clever!

    Hate the tree killers. Really, reading this post made me so sad, I think because I have perhaps idealized your life in rural BC, never realizing you are subject to the same urbanization pressures as we are here, 2000 miles away. Stick saplings in no way makes up for the destruction of mature trees! In Austin, there is a tree ordinance that is based on the diameter of the tree to protect older trees, but exceptions are granted all the time (though I have heard of great lengths being taken to save trees, including transplanting huge old oaks). We too have a plan to increase density to avoid sprawl, which does make the most sense but nevertheless is tough for those in the city who do not want to live in an apartment or townhouse.

    Just too many people. Sigh.

  4. I know it seems a crime but it depends very much on the tree, its size and how far from the walls of the house.
    Acer is a bastard for sending roots down and under the foundations, ditto tree type Magnolias. I made a very good living solving such in London.
    The general rule of thumb for tree planting and pruning. If you stand at the back of a room you should be able to see the entire tree and a good bit of sky.

  5. It's important to preserve things that are important to you whether it's trees or some other part of the landscape.

    We are having huge battles with developers who want to put up enormous wind-farms all around on this beautiful and historic landscape. Our govt doesn't seem to have put any regulations in place to control them so it's down to locals to try an hold them off by constant monitoring of planning applications and making objections. It's a worry that some get through and this creates precedent for more and more of them.

    I would write that letter which I feel is an unspoken sub text to this post. At the very least it will make you feel better. There are often ways to compromise which can help too.

    I love the creativity that's gone into the skeleton. It looks fantastic.

    Enjoy your camera. Strange but I have exactly the same 'I haven't used my camera for a while' feeling today. You may have just given me a kick in the pants!!!

    Shame it's blowing a gale here!!!!

    take care....Al.

  6. And I also meant to say that's a nice new profile pic. You look very happy in it.

  7. Our neighbourhoods have changed as well with the elimination of the tall trees. It can be a brutal contrast. Last summer a tornado devastated the trees in a very scenic area by the lake....I like your shot of small trees lining the boulevard. There is hope that new ones will always take the place of the old.

  8. Great comments everybody. Thanks! I also have a new computer which makes uploading photos so much easier. I just take the memory card out of the camera, stick it in the slot, and voila! And so fast! Now if I could just become a decent photographer that would be something else.
    Tracey: I love that window too. Today it is clear enough to see Bear Mountain from my window - a little peak in the distance. No snow on it yet.

    DFG: I know the photo doesn't show the stumps but some of them were really big. Today there is just a bare, muddy lot - the final clearing began yesterday. I suppose we North Americans have been spoiled with all our space and we don't like sharing - my German born friend tells me so, but then he lives in a beautiful three story house he built in the woods by a lake.

    Vince: I understand what you are saying, that new houses cannot be built right next to large trees due to the root systems, but it is still hard to see them go. I wish I had a 'before' photo so you could see what has been lost.

    Alistair: Glad you like the new profile pic. I gave my little girl the camera and said, 'can you take my photo for my blog?' Then I took a whole bunch of self-portraits and ended up choosing hers. Oh, those wind farms are such a contentious issue. Thank goodness for red tape sometimes, at least we can slow things down enough to give them some consideration. I guess that's what is upsetting about the neighbourhood trees - it all came without warning and was such a shock.

    Paul: Trees do grow very quickly here, Paul, so yes, there is hope for the neighbourhood :)

  9. I suspect that there are Tree Ordinances if not in the town then in the Province or at National level.
    But the trick that a developer does where an existing house stands is use the Health and Safety legislation. Therefore they can cut the trees that are within reach of the building.
    There is a sequence though. The trees go first, then the house. If the house goes first, then it is very likely you could have injuncted the cutting of the trees, this regardless of any planning guidelines regarding intensive use.

  10. OH dear! I absolutely HATE to see a mature tree just torn down. MURDEROUS I will say!

    Emma did a fabulous job on "Bones." He is AWESOME...and the spider as well. He looks a friendly sort of spider and I am NOT a fan of spiders. I just had my Emma look at the photo and she was VERY, VERY impressed with the re-use of milk containers! Love it!

  11. So sad they cut own the trees...I'll never understand whst some people consider progress.
    The skeleton is so creative...love the spider too!


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