Wednesday Quotes
The Death of a Tree
March 11, 2015

CutPoplar1I have never thought much about the death of trees. Until today.

I have thought about the death of farm animals, since I kill with my own hands the pigs that I’ve raised, with my own hands. I have often wished they could supply us with the food that nourishes and brings joy and conviviality, without their having to die. But such cannot be. I am convinced that the meat of animals is a gift for human life—to be received with gratitude and care; and this requires that animals be killed. It seems to me fitting that I kill at least some of the animals that I eat. It helps me keep me in mind what my eating of meat requires—of people and of pigs.

Today a tree was cut down. It wasn’t a uniquely majestic tree. But majestic it was, while it still stood alive. Through a miscommunication with the men who are doing a selective cutting of trees in the woods owned—if one can speak of ‘owning’ things that are alive—by my mother, this tree (and indeed some others) were accidentally cut down. The reason this tree was special to me is not to the point. It just was. And now it is gone, on the way to a lumber mill where no one will ever know—will someone at least pause to wonder?—the majesty that belonged to it, and what it meant to me, in its native earth, the very soil I call home. Today was rather traumatic for me, and it gave me occasion to think about trees, and life.

Is it unfitting to be concerned about trees, when so many people suffer in so many ways? Perhaps. But then again, maybe having a true appreciation of trees is somehow a part of knowing who we are, and how to live.

I still intend to use wood and things made of wood, which nourish and bring joy and conviviality. But I resolve never again to take wood for granted; nor the trees, whose life and death, give us wood, and life.

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  1. A prayer we say in our family after shooting and before gutting a deer: Lord, as this deer died that we may physically live, may we be reminded that you died that we may spiritually live.

    1. Beautiful, Peter. Thanks for sharing.

  2. williamismyusername

    This reminded me of the Jacobite Oak that we were forced to cut down back on Oak Ridge Court.

  3. Uncle John,
    I remember several years ago watching 2 large beautiful trees knocked over by an excavator. I was saddened by how they seemed to strain against the metal teeth tearing at them. I thought of the gift of shade and greenness and life and beauty that they had brought to us and felt that no one was sensible of this in this travesty. People assured me not to be sad, that the “county would make the builders plant more trees.” But somehow that wasn’t the point. We are lords of creation, it is true, but sometimes we plan and zone and grade and de-forest and re-forest with no regard for all this life that we command.
    I like this Tolkien quote:
    “The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing. Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works, I take the part of trees as against all their enemies.”

    1. Mary, your recounting brings tears to my eyes. It is perhaps all too easy to relegate those feelings of sensitive people to being ‘unrealistic’ or something that simply needs to be overcome. Yes, sometimes those amazing trees do need to be taken down. But this should cause us genuine regret. And Tolkien’s general approach of being an advocate of the trees is worth considering more. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Dr Cuddeback, You have to watch this ICC talk to know about another tree as told in a poem. (The 2nd talk is not up yet but it’s really the one to watch and to understand the poem.) God bless you!

  5. But the good news is IT IS RENEWABLE..The hard wood will re-sprout from stump.

    1. Amanda, the amazing resilience of the natural world is always a wonder, and a gift. Of course, this does not absolve us of our obligation to steward it; indeed it calls us on to do it all the better.

    2. They do not flourish when they sprout again after being cut down. The roots are still alive and they send out shoots but the trunk, the armature of that tree’s live has died and paid a price. Hopefully it’s wood will see life in cradles and rocking chairs which enable both our young and our old places of contemplation and rest.

  6. Trees have always had a huge part in the human existence, beginning with the trees of Garden, including the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Remember the psalmist who speaks of the Cedars of Lebanon. Listen to Loreena McKennitt singing “Bonny Portmore” about the death of a tree. Recall how the British cut down the “Tree of Liberty” in Boston Common at the start of the American War for Independence. There is something in the permanence of a tree that appeals to us all!

  7. Randal Scott Romie

    Thank you for writing and grieving the loss of the trees. Yes we should be concerned about trees as much as people. All God’s creation has a role in the harmony and complete-ness of creation. Just because we are God-ordained stewards (Genesis) does not make us better than, it just gives humankind the greater responsibility to be humble and serve. Please note this observation and link from the Native American Indian’s wisdom: “that the old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.” I believe we witness this lack of respect for nature, and life in our country when it became legal to kill our unborn babies.
    Another note about trees:Trees are Friends

    No one really wants to acknowledge that time is passing or that we are getting older. Our pet friends enter our lives and leave way too quickly.

    Trees are generational – they give us a sense of history, they balance fast things with a very slow — a lasting-type pace. They teach us patience – a sense of God’s time for us. Can you think of a more gentle, comforting reminder or timekeeper of the passing of time -than a tree?

    Trees help us to feel good: they express serenity, peace, calm and coolness. We look up to trees, they can be so much bigger than we are and yet we don’t fear them – they are friendly giants. They are with us – not against us. They are ‘‘the big picture.”

    Can you visualize driving down a street with no trees on it?
    We count on their constant presence as part of our surroundings and like a close friend, feel a void without them.

    We plant trees for today and for the next generations. This is an act of unselfish service and an act of faith. This is what Jesus would do. It takes an act of faith to believe that sometime in the future, whether consciously or just because it’s there – that a planted tree will contribute to a positive God-filled and sacramental moment for someone.
    RSRomie, Landscape Architect

  8. Randal,
    You have some beautiful reflections here on the place of trees in our lives. I especially appreciate what you say about trees as time-keepers, and as reminders of so much that we have experienced in life. I also like how you link having a proper reverence for trees with reverence for the rest of God’s creation. As regards the opening thoughts of your comment, I would respectfully suggest that we should emphasize the special nobility and dignity of human persons in God’s creation–and that we can and should see ourselves as ‘higher’ than trees. This is far from a license to misuse trees. Rather, the special status of persons puts us in a unique position to appreciate trees, for instance, in a way that trees could never appreciate one another. As created in God’s own image and likeness, humans are called to exercise our stewardship of the rest of creation in humility and gratitude. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  9. Hi John — I posted this over at FPR but thought it might be appreciated here as well.

    I think you will find this essay by Bishop Kallistos Ware inspiring. It starts out:

    “On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: ‘Love the trees.’ ”

    And two delightful books which should not be missed are Thomas Pakenham’s ‘Meetings With Remarkable Trees’ and ‘Remarkable Trees of the World.’


    1. Rob, Thanks so much for sharing this.