Xmas Trees

by menzies ~ December 19th, 2014

When I was a child my family would load up in the family car and head out of town looking for a suitable place along the highway to stop and cut our annual Christmas tree.  Dad would find a spot, pull off the road, and then my sisters, my mother and I would trudge off through the snow after Dad looking for that perfect tree. Inevitably the tree we cut would be too tall to get in the house and would require much surgery back home.  But always when we stood there in the woods, knee deep in snow, we were certain the tree was just right or even a bit too short.

Living in a major urban area makes it hard to find trees to cut down for Christmas.  It would take the most brazen of folks to go into the nearby Pacific Spirit Park to nick a tree. Some folks use fake trees – artificial plastic or metal contraptions. While I won’t say never, an artificial strikes me as a poor replacement for the real thing.  Other folks advocate potted trees.  This is the green alternative.  I guess that’s okay, but after a few years one is likely to run out of places to plant these trees.  Besides, every try to lug a ten foot tall potted spruce into your home?  Even in the city I prefer a cut tree. But now my forays into tree hunting takes me to the urban tree lot.

There are a lot of options in the city: school yard lots, charity sales, supermarket trees, and garden shop trees. Over the years we’ve tried them all: from bargain basement Charlie Brown trees (hint, get three) to finely cultivated garden shop beauties.  Some years we have the tree up Dec. 1, others we wait till a just a week before Christmas.  Some trees have dried out so hard the leaves rain off when it is time to take it down.  Others have stayed fresh and fragrant through the full 12 days of Christmas into the New Year.

Big trees strain our mechanical skills as we struggle to ensure the tree stays upright and stable.  Who hasn’t had at least one tree come crashing down when least expected?  My father used to bring galvanized buckets home from his fish boat, place the hulk of a too big tree into the bucket, and then brace with river stones.  That and the fishing lines anchored into wall and ceiling ensured the tree stayed put.  I’ve made recourse to heavy test nylon fishing lines myself from time to time, but prefer a tree that can stand upright without guy-wires. Not surprisingly, the smaller the tree the easier to stand without bracing!

Christmas trees are a delight. With their roots in pagan European winter festivals one need not be a Christian to enjoy a Christmas tree.

Another one bites the dust

by menzies ~ October 1st, 2013
All across campus trees are being removed.  It’s the inevitable price of development. Some trees should, of course, be removed.  Many of the trees are simply in the way of the grand development plans.  There used to be a wonderful set of old cyprus trees in front of Main Library.  They were removed because they obstructed the view of the monstrously (IMO) post-modern and ugly exterior of the Barber Learning Centre.  I’ve blogged here about the wonderful old pine trees that used to line Thunderbird Blvd near Main Mall (removed for housing).I should note that the university developers do try and replace trees that they unceremoniously cut down.  I only wish they would remove fewer and keep more open and forested greensapces.

Culturally Modified Trees

by menzies ~ May 2nd, 2013

Ancient scar from bark stripping

All along the BC coast and throughout the interior of the province evidence of ancient human practices can be found. One of the most intriguing is the result of the everyday Indigenous practice of harvesting red cedar bark. Cedar bark was (and remains so today) used for a range of everyday objects: rope, clothes, mats, baskets, etc.  The process of peeling bark (you can see it here in a video I’ve produced) is one portion of a longer process of harvesting, processing, and then manufacturing everyday items.  Bark wasn’t the only thing harvested.  One can find trees with entire planks removed.  Other trees were selected to build large ocean going canoes.  Other trees were modified with carvings or used as burial sites.  Taken together theses ancient trees that show the markings of human practices are referred to as culturally modified trees (CMT).  In British Columbia CMTs are protected under the provincial heritage act if the cultural modifications occurred prior to 1848.

Not really about a tree

by menzies ~ August 10th, 2011

This isn’t really about a tree.  It is, however, about the removal of something old without notification or consultation.

There used to be an old painting of a fish boat and dock.  It was hung on the wall in the lobby of the Anthropology and Sociology Building.  But now it is gone. Sometime in the next few days a brand new wide screen T.V. will take the place of the old painting.  We will have entered the new age world of digital communication in which digitalsignage ubc, the faculty of arts, and the departments of anthropology and sociology will pump in special messages to keep us all up to date on all of the place of mind adds and informercials we need to view 24/7.

'Fish boats at the dock.'

It’s a small thing (the issue, not the painting).  In the greater scheme of things it’s not all that important.  Yet, I feel there is something underlying the removal of the painting that at least speaks to a wider issue here at ubc and in this sense is similar to what is happening to trees on our campus.

Our history is being erased. An old tree is removed and then replaced with a  smaller one somewhere on campus.  An old painting is taken down and replaced with a digital sign.  The names of old buildings and places are deleted (anyone remember the Ethel Wilson Sound Recording Library?) and those with money buy the opportunity to have their name put there instead.  And then we forget.  New people don’t know the past.  We have lost the markers and the capacity to speak about what was.  The way it is is the way it has always been.

Orwell commented upon this in his distopian novel 1984.  Of course most later day readers will see that novel as a critique of communism.  From the vantage point of the digital world where news is ephemera and the past dissolves and is remixed with out reference to any sense of time Orwell’s ministry of truth speaks to our present as much as it spoke against a mid-20th century form of state socialism.


So what was that old painting which is now stashed in an empty office awaiting its future disposition?  Can I even remember it accurately enough to say anything of value about it?   The painting reminded me of this place, coastal BC. Even though the world that it depicted -an old fishing boat and a harbour- is a world long passed into history; it is the world that I grew up in, the world that shaped the way in which I think and act, the world that plays a strong role in how my intellectual work proceeds.  It was in short an image that made me feel welcome in the university.

I grew up in northern BC in a decidedly working class community and family.  UBC has always been a special place for those of us born and raised in this province.  I think that UBC is more than just an ‘excellent’ university; it’s our university, it’s BC’s university.  Yet, it was also a foreign place filled with unfamiliar things, and -most exciting- opportunities.  In a strange way that painting was something familiar that reminded me that UBC is still our university even as our university leaders seek to enter that privileged international circle that leaves much of  BC’s heartland out in the cold.

I suppose that my colleagues who come from afar or my students who have grown up in a different BC may not have even noticed that old painting.  They may not have even liked it.  I don’t know.  I never asked them.   I am sad now not to have asked.

I wonder if people will notice the absence of the old painting this September with the start of the new school year. As they walk by will they notice the bright light of the new screen; will they stop to wonder about what may have been there before?  Or will the painting and that BC that I come from slide even further into the mist of time, erased from our view; just another victim of progress.





Ponderosa Pine at the Ponderosa Centre

by menzies ~ October 16th, 2010

The Ponderosa Cafe was a key meeting place for UBC students for at least 30 years.  Today, the once busy building has been turned over to UBC administrative activities among other things.  You will still find a tiny coffee pit stop in what was once the entrance and lobby.  Current campus transportation options may lead to the Ponderosa being finally torn down to be replaced by a bus loop or perhaps another highrise apartment complex.

I was reminded of the old Ponderosa Cafeteria the other day as I was biking across campus on West Mall.  Normally I just bike through that intersection but on this particular day the sunlight brought me up short and I clicked a couple shots on my phone.  This giant pine is just one of many large heritage trees located around campus.  Just down the street is a monkey puzzle tree, over toward Marine Drive one will find a host of large cedars (one or two sporting eagle’s nests).

If I wasn’t on my way to teach a class I would have grabbed a cup of coffee and allowed my self to imagine the days when the old Cafe was hopping with students.  It’s nice that even while uses of buildings change some things do remain the same -this old pine tree being on those tings.

Someone is saving ‘valuable’ trees at UBC

by menzies ~ September 20th, 2010

Someone is saving ‘valuable’ trees at UBC.  According to UBC’s community planning page:

Valuable trees were recently rescued during a demolition project on UBC’s Vancouver campus. Two buildings—Earth and Ocean Sciences East Building and the Engineering Annex Building—were knocked down in preparation for the construction of the Earth Systems Science Building (ESSB) at 2219 Main Mall. When Dean Gregory, landscape architect at Campus and Community Planning, realized that a group of Japanese Maple trees and various shrubs were at risk during the demolition, he brokered a deal that would see the plants ultimately replanted at South Campus. (read on)

This is, clearly, an important thing to be doing.  It might, however, obscure all of the ‘non-valuable’ trees that have been and continue to be removed (what’s happening to the trees at Fairview and Westebrook in East Campus, for example).  There’s a long list of trees that have been cleared without ceremony across campus.

Once, during a planning workshop, I suggested that there be a biomass replacement policy.  That is, for each cubic meter of wood fibre removed from campus an equivalent volume be replanted somewhere.  The president of UBC Properties Trust was present.  At first he seemed to be in agreement.  Then, as the implication dawned he quickly revised and said that UBC has a tree replacement policy.  That is, for each tree removed, another tree is planted in it’s place.  Not quite the same thing, but at least it’s a nice idea . . .

Arbutus Tree

by menzies ~ September 7th, 2010

At the north west corner of Agronomy Road and Main Mall stands a grand old arbutus tree.  It’s an impressive example. There are few such trees found at UBC these days -more were likely here in the past.

I first met arbutus trees on summer visits south from my childhood home on BC’s north coast.  For those more acquainted with temperate rainforest conifers the arbutus tree is a surprising plant -peeling paper-thin bark, twisting smooth branches, and leaves all winter when other broad-leaf trees drop theirs.

Pine trees on Thunderbird Blvd

by menzies ~ September 5th, 2010

There used to be a fine row of pine trees growing along Thunderbird Blvd and Eagles Drive.  One tree remains at the corner of the Formwerks townhouse development that stands there now.

For years prior to the townhouses my partner and I would collect pine cones from these trees for Christmas wreaths.  There are only a few places on campus where one could find cones such as these.

I was saddened by the trees removal -so much so that I took a series of photos of their destruction.  The lone tree at the corner of Thunderbird and Eagles Drive is a testament to the survival of trees on campus.  There are a number of examples of other trees that survived the developer’s axe -the trees in the pocket park on the western edge of Hawthorn Place is another nice example.  As are the western row of old trees along the block on Main Mall south of Thunderbird.

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