By David Clements/Special to Langley Advance Times
When I took a popular undergraduate course at Western University a few decades ago, I didn’t question the title of the class.
The title “Plants in the Service of Man” had a practical ring to it, and in fact, it did deliver a plethora of practical information on plants and people.
As I listened to poets reading poems about trees at the Ta’talu Festival on July 9 – hosted by A Rocha Brooksdale in South Surrey – it made me think about the folly of seeing trees only as something to be used…trees in the service of man.
North Vancouver Poet David Zieroth read about how once vibrant trees become utility poles.
His poem “in winter the lane is bleak, colourless” ends with “does the old dried trunk forced into modernity recall for that instant how it once also lived…not this upright, unending rigidity in the service of what it cannot understand and was never imagined in the time when the sap rose.”
Zieroth’s poem is part of a collection of tree poems published in the 2022 book entitled “Worth More Standing,” in reference to the many dire issues facing trees such as the threat of old growth logging in British Columbia.
Vancouver poet laureate Fiona Tinwei Lam also spoke boldly for the trees during the Ta’talu Festival.
Her poem “Utility Pole” also portrays how trees get pressed into serving many, many human needs: “Telegraph, telephone, smart meter backhaul, video service, internet, cable TV, transformers…”
Another reader who took that stage, Langley’s Susan McCaslin, wrote a poem inspired by a great black cottonwood tree that stood in a forest where she staged the Han Shan Poetry project in 2012.
Her work evokes the power of poetic words in the second stanza “Melded branches winding/whispered texts entangled/torqued to speechless autumn skies.”
The Han Shan project saw poems from numerous renown poets hung on the trees in the forest to protest the planned development of the site.
Lest you think that personifying trees is a useless poetic exercise, consider that the large cottonwood and all the trees are still standing today in the Blaauw Eco Forest east of Fort Langley.
Like the poets, the Blaauw family saw more than just utility in those trees, and generously donated the funds needed to keep the forest a forest in perpetuity.
I wonder if the nearby utility poles gaze at the living trees with envy?
I walk through the forest often, and never fail to be refreshed and thankful for the trees.
– David Clements PhD, is a professor of biology and environmental studies at Trinity Western University