I believe in synchronicity, the fortuitous connection between apparently random events. Yesterday, at 4pm, I watched the stunning spectacle of a giant oak tree in front of my apartment, cleaving in half. This was a Garry Oak, a species that only grows here, in the dry climate of Victoria, and it was hundreds of years old. Today, the other half is coming down, courtesy of screaming chainsaws. The green canopy that has protected me and my neighbours from the scorching sun, the street noise and pollution, is gone forever. Already, my apartment is at least five degrees Celsius hotter than it normally is during the summer. It faces east and gets the morning sun. My balcony is now exposed to the street; sitting on it doesn’t feel good anymore.
I was going to say that I was in mourning for ‘my’ tree; that it was a reminder of how much we depend on Mother Nature for comfort. How much we owe trees, and how cutting them down, as we do here on the island and all over British Columbia, is not always such a good idea. That those battles to preserve the old growth forests on Vancouver Island, while not entirely successful, did preserve a small percentage. I was going to say that this small, personal tragedy mirrors the much greater, ongoing tragedy of ecological loss all over our still beautiful but struggling planet. The loss of wilderness, wildlife, bees, insects, plankton–you name it. And trees, of course.
I was going to say all of that before I knew that there was a specific word for what I and no doubt, my neighbours, are feeling: solastalgia. It means ‘ ecological grief brought on by the experience or anticipation of ecological loss’, according to the local sage, Gene Miller, who writes for Focus Magazine. His latest article is a screed against the very idea of amalgamating the local hodge podge of small municipalities, of which Victoria is one. He warns against being overwhelmed by know it all technocrats who have little understanding of the small, individual needs of actual humans and talk in jargon. He has a point, but I believe that if we want to keep the greater Victoria area as a human-centred, well treed and carefully managed place, we may need to think about cooperating rather than doing everything piecemeal. I am no friend of ‘progress’ and big developers who sleep with city council; I used to live in Vancouver, after all.
But we have a huge influx of young professionals into this area, fleeing the urban mess and the insane cost of housing in Vancouver. Where are they all going to live? There isn’t enough to rent or to buy, and prices are rising here as well. I think Gene Miller is absolutely correct in fearing soulless technocrats, but on the other hand, long-range planning is very difficult if everyone is just ‘doing their own thing’. Something needs to change here in little paradise, and it needs to change soon. We know what to do. We have to get back into thinking about not just ourselves, but our community. Our neighbours. Our trees. All the things that make life worth living around here.
It’s up to us to imagine a future that includes plans for saving all the life-giving trees, and to get engaged with local planning, local imaginings The choice is to simply go inward, engage in solastalgia, let other people do what needs to be done, or get involved in local action. I’m going to do a bit of both.
The irritating buzz of the chainsaws is ringing in my ears as I write this.
The tree is nearly all gone now, the sun is blazing into my windows, and it’s hot. It’s my own Climate Change hell. And it’s where the entire planet is heading.