This story is part of the exhibition A City Designed by Trees, produced by City as Nature for the 2022 Daejeon Biennale.
Patrick M. Lydon
There were at least a hundred and thirty people crying that morning, by my count. I couldn’t follow them all home, but I suppose some of them were crying all day. On the surface, they eventually got over it. Deeper down somewhere however, in their gut, or in their heart, or their spleen, or wherever these things tend to hide away, I think the grief was still there.
It was just a tree, but it was also an elder living being; one that had resided there for several centuries before the city had even been thought up. Today there is a shopping mall and parking lot where the tree had lived.
Some of the people who were crying that morning, begrudgingly shop at the new mall. A few others swear they will never step foot inside. All of them though, still have questions. Questions like: Is there another way? Is there a way to respect the need for human life and growth and expansion, while also respecting nature’s need for these same things? Is there a way to draw a line somewhere, a boundary across which no human-centered goal of grandiose material luxuries and fantastical financial acquisitions should trespass? At the time, the developers, media outlets, and politicians did not listen to such questions.
But there are other stories.
There are stories where the line is drawn. Firmly. There are stories where so much goodwill or gratitude or understanding of an old tree’s right to live exists within a people, that the tree can win arguments in the face of development.
There are stories, even, of advanced, urban, capitalist-tolerating people who, despite their obvious predilection for comforts and small luxuries, have decided that they want to live in a world where the tree wins these arguments, or at least—after some debate and perhaps a skirmish or two—wins a compromise.
“Due to an understanding of reverence for this tree, she should not be cut.” says the bronze plaque just beside the old camphor. The plaque was not planned to be there. The tree was supposed to be cut. After a series of tense confrontations and discussions however, the train company agreed to re-design the station with a hole in the middle of the platform.
And so she lives, this old great grandmother camphor.
Trees know how to negotiate. They can even convincingly win arguments. We just need to learn how to listen.
This story comes from The Possible City series.