Development from a tree's eye view
The Daily Texan, 4A
June 1, 2005
"Thou shalt study the expressions on the faces of ants."
-- Breyten Breytenbach, "A Visit to Buchenwald"
Two towering trees stuck out as discrete milestones for the start of my summer, each playing divider to distinct parts of the Texas terrain.
The first I recently admired while wandering through Garner State Park, overlooking the rocky banks of the Frio River, west of San Antonio.
The other, a bit taller, stood watch over Louetta Road in northwest Houston. It was one of a few lanky pines adjacent to a new development spared from a pernicious fate.
Not being an arborphile, I was unable to identify the curious tree in Garner; I simply called it Steve. Steve looked rugged, a quiet loner nearest the river and across the street from a forest of other Steve-like relatives.
Seemingly uninterrupted by human plans, save the road or the occasional rambunctious campers, the tree saw nature as it would have been hundreds or even thousands of years ago, calm and simple. It saw jackrabbits, deer, blue jays, doves and the shallow Frio River gently ebb, powerfully but slowly carving out its random path.
Two weeks later, as I wandered through the budding exurbs of Spring some ways west of Interstate 45, I eyed the pine.
The tree stood exposed to the road and significant human contact for the first time; it took ranks on the front lines as a recently downed pile of companions rest at its trunk.
A vast area had been cleared for the creation of the fourth and newest strip mall on the block and the pine barely made the safe zone.
On first glance, Steve seemed to have gotten the better end of the tree bargain. I, of course, felt the luckiest of all three (especially the not being stuck in the same place all the time thing).
However, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the pine's view. For -- granted it should receive clemency for another few years -- it could have a bird's eye view to a truly ironic and entertaining dance below.
From 50 feet up, it could watch daily as thousands of little metal boxes swerve and speed on the street, a rushing tide ebbing with the rise and set of the sun. It could watch those metal boxes spit out tiny bipeds that walk tall -- like they own the place.
The pine could watch those tiny bipeds dig holes in the ground and fill them with clear water to splash around in during the summertime. It could watch those bipeds build street after street of near-identical brick boxes to control their climates and house other boxes to shoot them with cathode rays.
It could watch as more fellow pines are felled to make way for another through-street across the road. It could watch developers plant symmetrical rows of pine saplings to replace the dense buffer that was removed to make way for more concrete.
And the pine could watch from a safe height as the waters after a few hours of heavy rain have little place to go.
Few scenes embody the level to which we humans try to sculpt (and flatten) the land to our liking as the sprouting exurb. The new streets, new houses and new buildings have nature tamed at our feet -- we feel like masters of our domain.
With their near-instant construction and minimal forethought, we are certainly naive if we believe that they will outlast even a few decades of our flimsy desires.