CATE GABLE PHOTOS
Destroying a rainforest for economic gain
is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.
— E. O. Wilson
The benefit of trees
“We’re old,” says a friend. I guess I have to agree. Recently cleaning the shed, I found my childhood sled hanging on the wall: it’s skinny metal runners rusty; the “steering mechanism” a simple twisting of the stiff wooden cross-brace. No plastic on it anywhere; no high-tech design — lie down on it face-first and bomb downhill!
I remember when we got up in the middle of the night to watch rocket launches on a snowy, black and white TV. Most often it was a false alarm. I remember the national anthem playing at midnight, then the test pattern filling the screen until morning.
I remember when Kennedy was shot, and walking home from junior high across snowy fields, oddly, in the middle of the day. I remember trees.
Oh wait. Trees. We still have a few of those. But probably not for long.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the trees cut down along 270th, a street that crosses from the ocean to the bay at Nahcotta. Many of these giants were over a hundred years old. We lost them because there is a road improvement project going on. According to the nice guys working there, most of these trees were rotten and dangerous; though now that they’re cut down to the stumps it’s impossible to tell if any of them could have been saved. They were spruce; they have become chips.
I’ll come back to the details of the road, just for the moment, let’s talk about trees. According to the listing of Monumental Trees, there are none in Pacific County (tinyurl.com/Local-Registered-Trees). How can this be, we who’ve been blessed for centuries with magnificent forests? (Maybe there are a couple on Long Island that could be on the registry?) But, oh, that’s right — in order to have an old tree, you have to let a younger tree grow up, something we appear not to be inclined to do.
Even if we don’t or can’t acknowledge that trees are magnificent in themselves, let’s ponder the many services they provide us humans. Trees clean the water and the air. They provide shade in the summer and protection from storms in the winter. They help us combat global warming by sequestering carbon dioxide. (“In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.” See more data points at www.treepeople.org/resources/tree-benefits). Trees in a neighborhood increase the property value of the homes in their vicinity. They muffle sound. They provide habitat for our wild neighbors. Not to mention their many uses in art, medicine, industry.
These are all pragmatic reasons to retain our trees, but there are more profound benefits too; benefits that are just recently starting to be proven in various studies. Trees make us happier. A simple walk in the woods can bring your blood pressure down. The view of a tree out of your hospital window helps you heal faster. Even murals in a waiting room help patients feel calmer. (There’s some great data here about the healing effects of nature: tinyurl.com/Nature-Wellbeing)
E. O. Wilson’s book Biophilia, published in the 1990s, proposed that humans have an innate need for connection to the natural world. Disputed initially, it has now been proven without a doubt. Of course, we are creatures of nature. Though our human-made culture has evolved at breakneck pace; our “wet-ware” equipment — our brains, our impulses, instincts, reflexes, behaviors — are so much slower to evolve. We need trees, though we seem to be doing everything in power to exterminate them.
OK, back to 270th. Of course we also need safe roads. No one will argue with that. In the case of 270th I was told by Clinton Baze, the past mayor of Goldendale and now South County Road Supervisor, that this road was originally the railroad cross-over from the ocean to the bay and it hasn’t been improvements in years.
Baze says the road was degrading and notes fraying edges of blacktop. He also remarked that several of the neighbors were worried about those big trees coming down and that the drainage at several corners of 270th were bad. Baze walked me around the project, showed me the gravel shoulder being added.
Last week I called county operations manager Tom Gradt to get more details. “The resurfacing will cost about $56,000 and that’s federal money. Our part of the project will cost the county $20,000 for this prep work. We try to be good stewards with the taxpayers money.”
When I ask about traffic volume, he cites my guestimate as low. A traffic count from 2002 showed that there were 120 cars a day, in both lanes, although this was in July at the height of the season. (The county is in the process of getting an updated count.) As Baze reminded me, “We get a lot of truck traffic from Port of Peninsula that comes across this road.” Although the prep work is happening now, the resurfacing won’t happen until later this summer or early fall when the weather is better.
Safer roads, OK, however, as I pointed out to both Gradt and Baze, the county would be doing itself a favor if they talked to us beforehand; if they let the community know what was going to happen and why and how it might benefit us. When I said I’d heard from many people — both in casual conversation, letters and email — shocked that all these old trees had come down, Baze said, “Well, customers know when stakes get placed that they should call us to find out what’s happening.”
I disagree, that’s not the way it should work. We’re all in this together — the county’s money is our money! Let’s talk about what we want our community to look like; what projects are important to us; and how and when they might need to take place. In a healthy community — in any healthy relationship — conversation and communication are the key. Yes, it may take longer to identify goals and complete projects but in the long run everyone is happier.
Elders — trees and people — need to be supported and treasured; there is great value embedded in every cell: memories of times past, wisdom, hidden resources. Northeast of Osaka, the Kayashima train station was built around a 700-year-old tree (tinyurl.com/Kayashima-Tree ). When the locals found out it might be destroyed they protested; a new platform was designed to save it and a shrine was built in its honor.
That’s the kind of community I want to live in. A culture that asks, “How can we keep our trees?” I’d like to keep them, wouldn’t you?