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Only God can make a tree

Remember kindly that old cedar

By Carolyn Pogue

Looking at that old cedar was like seeing an old friend after being a lifetime away. Graceful and tall, strong and powerful, reaching to Heaven and rooted in Earth, just as I remember. The lower branches that held me as a child would still hold me now, if I were brave enough to climb up. I visited her in May.

She was likely planted when the land around Vandorf, Ont. was settled 150 years ago. I’ve visited that tree in my dreams. She was in my mind, too, as we travelled north in July and saw kilometre after kilometre of smoking, ruined forest. Trees are ever on my mind, it seems.

This summer, I’m reading David Suzuki and Wayne Grady’s book, Tree: A Life Story. It has given me a new way to connect to trees. Remembering the cedar that sheltered me in childhood and gave me a magical place to play, dream, imagine and hide has made me look more carefully at the trees of my acquaintance today. The grove of willows in a little wild park near our home has become a beloved place to sit quietly, listen and pray. I’m becoming acquainted with a Griffin Poplar tree that lives on the property of our friend Doreen Orman, not far from our home.

This poplar and the province of Alberta are about the same age. Doreen has worked to protect and love the tree in her backyard — now designated a Heritage Tree both in Alberta and the rest of Canada. In fact, Doreen has lived with that tree for 65 years. She watched her young children swing on its branches, picnicked under its shade and dreamed the dreams of the young. Also under its branches, Doreen threw a birthday party for her century home. Today, she says: “I love to do yoga on the patio in the shade. I can lie on my back and look up and up.” Trees inevitably look down on our lives, too.

Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Trees bear witness. Doreen’s tree has seen the parade of young people going off to wars, marching along Memorial Drive; the Bow River has flooded its  roots more than once. Near where that poplar began its life, ranchers grazed cattle down to the riverbanks. Today, this trendy old part of Calgary makes its mark in the city with funky coffee shops, organic food stores, community gardens and a lively United church. 

Pat Kerr, of the International Society of Arboroculture, once wrote, “In 1970, Joni Mitchell hit the charts and brought the issue to the air waves with the line: 'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.' . . . It seems like Canadians are only just catching on to the idea that when you cut down a 200-year-old tree, it will be 200 years before it can be replaced.” In light of the fires still raging in northern Canada, it’s a sobering thought.

I hope that your summer gives you space to think about the trees around you and remember kindly the trees that you have known. It is heartening to know about organizations, such as Forest Recovery Canada. As poet Joyce Kilmer wrote, “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree . . .”
Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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