Why trees?

I had coffee yesterday with someone who had spent 7 years in Halifax and most recently one year in Vancouver. I asked her about the differences. She loves the Oceans, Atlantic and Pacific. She told me that the diversity of life in the Pacific Ocean was more apparent but that that rugged quality of the Atlantic coastline had a beauty all its own. This reminded me of conversations I would have when living on the Prairies, when I would come “home” Atlantic Canadians would say, “you must miss the Ocean.” Indeed that is precisely what most transplanted Atlantic Canadians say when they move to another part of Canada (excepting BC of course). But I must confess (at risk of public stoning) that I did not miss the Ocean.

I am a city lad, born and raised in Halifax. The mid-sized city is part of my DNA. Even though I grew up in the west end of Halifax (I joke I was raised with two shopping centres, Halifax and Bayers Road, as neighbours) I strangely feel most at home when walking in Point Pleasant Park. Walking amidst the tall trees I feel deeply connected. But for ten years I have lived in Tantallon and enjoyed it. My wife often reminds me that even though I publicly dis suburban life I like living in our subdivision more than I am willing to admit. As usual she is correct. But why?

I’ve thought a lot about this affection I have for this particular subdivision, city lad and all. And I’ve thought about my relative indifference to the Ocean, heresy to my fellow Atlantic Canadians. I remember hearing from friends who had visited or lived in Vancouver, they were mesmerized by the mountains. One friend told me he would wake in the morning to see the mountains appear like they were in his back yard.

Years ago I took an elective science course from Dalhousie professor Dr. Kraft von Maltzahn. The course was titled Man in Nature. The reading material was a thickly bound series of articles about the relationship between humans and landscape. Though officially a science credit it was really more of a philosophy course. Professor von Maltzahn reasoned that protecting and preserving our natural environment was never going work until we moved from the recent relationship of utility back to something more primal and emotional, namely an intimate relationship which validated the feelings we have for our landscape. https://issuu.com/ukings/docs/kings_tidings_s13_web_2/41

What I remember most about the course was the assignment Dr. von Maltzahn gave us, to find a landscape that had been formative to us in our youth and still had an emotional claim over our lives today. I wrote about trees. Trees are what I missed most about the Prairies, they are what I loved about Point Pleasant Park, they are what I love about this subdivision, and they are the one remaining item on my bucket list, I would love one day to see a Redwood tree up close and personal.

Why trees? First, I should say I do not care for manicured trees. We lived next to the Governor General in Ottawa and the trees on that property did nothing for me. Trees that look too perfect, too sculpted and shaped have no emotional impact on me. I love trees with branches that are messy, abundant, all over the place. But below I like a tree with a sturdy thick trunk, bark with obvious lines. I like an older tree with a sense of permanence. I feel trees speak to something deep inside me that yearns to be connected to the eternal and yet that which flows into a messy uniqueness, where what grows from order is wild and unpredictable. The Ocean does not do this for me, nor mountains, nor the big sky (Prairie folks love their sky).

I love trees, Birch being my favorite. But one day when I finally see a Redwood up close and personal that may change.