Grieving Cut Trees

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

Recently, there was a significant cutting of trees in the yard. Some of the trees we have thought very carefully with were removed.

As I was thinking about our relations to trees, I was reminded of Natasha Myers’ work. I’ve attached one very short article by her, called. For Myers (2017), “gardens are sites where it is possible to get a feel for the momentum that propels people to involve themselves with plants” (p. 297). She speaks about the human-centred ways we currently have of thinking about gardens: humans plan, design, and care for gardens; they are the master and primary care-er *for* a garden. Myers links that to the Anthropocene, which connects to our conversations about stewardship, as the talks about this assumption that humans can solve human-created problems by finding better fixes and pre-empting anticipated plant catastrophes (I’m thinking about the trees Andrea described getting cut down along her street in the name of preventing a parasite they didn’t even yet have).

Myers offers that:

“Gardens are for me poignant sites for anthropological inquiry into the various ways that people stage relations with plants – whether these relations are intimate, extractive, violent, or instrumentalizing…And yet, in the plant/people power nexus, humans remain the ones who draw up the designs: we have the buckets, bulldozers, concrete, glass, metal, fertilizers, pesticides, soil assays, scaffolding, harvesting techniques, hunger, and aesthetic desires. For me, the ethnographic question becomes: how do people choose to stage their relations with plants? We could even ask: What is a given garden designed for? And what interbeing relations does a garden propagate?” (p. 298)

When we think with the children about how to respond to cut trees (and trees no longer living in the same way), what happens if we ask, as Myers says, what interbeing relations the playground opens up? And, how do we choose to stage and craft our relations with trees in the playground? Do we want to care for relations that say “humans know best what plants should do, and we decided the trees should be cut down” or “it is just a tree, move on” or “our relations to this place are entangled with tree life and tree death and their loss is significant” or “we are embedded in this place with trees and with others, and we have to find ways to respond well to how this place shifts as different beings live and die alongside our movements in the place”? For Myers, these are ethical and political choices we need to make – how we notice and care and respond with multispecies worlds within the playground. 

This makes me think about the moments when the children and I were rolling the wet, cut tree stumps over to get to know the potato bugs and worms and spiders that live underneath them. Q thought that the bugs were in their ‘home’ in the log, and as we watched as a group as the potato bugs scurry along the pathways of the log and crawl into the crevices to enter (what we assume are) networks of pathways within the stump, we noticed how the potato bugs moved at different speeds and sometimes seemed to be stopped. We wondered why. M noticed the cut end of the stump and a hole right in the middle of the cut end, which she put another stick in (and it went in way further than any of us anticipated). I pointed out the chainsaw marks on the cut end and mentioned that I thought the tree had been cut with a saw. M thought that the tree had been cut, but wasn’t sure what tree it came from – she said it wasn’t from the tree behind us, growing in the yard. This makes me wonder: how many ways of getting to know tree life and tree cutting and tree death are there on the playground? There’s the newly cut trees and the tiny stumps left behind, there’s the logs from the trees cut down on the other side of the building earlier this year, there’s the bright green leaves that get pulled off of trees, the red and yellow leaves that are starting to fall off of trees. There’s also the wooden structures and the climber. There are so many relations through which our moving on the playground becomes entangled with tree lives. I am curious to linger more with this connection, wondering with the children what happens if we link the cut logs in the sand to the cut trees along the edges of the playground: how does this shape how, as Myers says, we stage our relations with plants in this place? How do we do that in ways that are more than instrumental; that don’t just say there’s cut trees here and here and that’s the same, but that cares for what it is to move and live with so many trees, differently? How do we get to know and respond with multiple branches (bad tree pun) of our relations with trees by noticing all of the cut trees and tree cutting in the playground?

Myers, N. (2017). From the anthropocene to the planthroposcene: Designing gardens for plant/people involution. History and Anthropology28(3), 297-301.

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