The Naming of Trees
by Greg Blanchette, Tofino
It’s one of those random convergences we all have out here from
time to time. You chance upon the guy — call him Moon, but this
could be any of a host of local characters — out by the bookstore,
and you sort of recognize him and nod hello. This encourages Moon to
approach you and, Tofino being a small town, and small towns having
a reputation for friendliness you do not wish to besmirch despite the
urgent errand simmering in your backpack, you stop for a chat.
don’t have much to say to Moon, but Moon is bursting with
things to tell you, or anyone handy. He gives you the rundown on most
of his friends, whose faces you can’t place, and his latest half-baked
artistic project, and how his last trip to Meares involved weed, naked
frolic and a shortage of outboard fuel. Moon tends to stand too close.
He has a smoky-mouldy smell about him, and is in need of a shave and
some mouthwash. You’re waiting for an opening to pry yourself
politely away, but now he’s deep into a conversation he had last
week with some character named Woody, who’s apparently the strong
silent type because Moon quotes only his own half of the dialogue,
along with his intervening thoughts and impressions, all advancing
like a ponderous bulk carrier for some spiritual port of epiphany.
As he winds up his tale a peculiar feeling steals over you as you realize,
so slowly you can’t place when, that Woody... is a tree. That
you’re standing in the street, whilst multitudes await your funding
application rewrite in a meeting room at the ric, listening to a man
tell you about his conversation with a tree.
But not just a tree: Woody is a hemlock. Moon is particular about that.
In fact, he grabs your arm and pulls you into the road so he can point
out exactly which hemlock in the distance Woody is. Above the back
end of the blue van down there... see him? Yes. A bit taller than his
neighbours, but otherwise unremarkable. Woody.
Moon — you’re
listening to his gravel voice now, already turning this into a funny
story to excuse your late arrival at the meeting — saying that
Woody is the first tree he ever met and named, “hence the corny
name.” It sounds odd hearing the
word “hence” come out his mouth. Moon saying he knows a
couple dozen trees in town now, named them all, introduces them to
people. He runs down part of the list on his fingers: Charles, a dignified
spruce, standing over by the hospital; Marion, a feathery shrub of
indeterminate species on the Cedar Corner lot; Tunga (something like
that), out Tonquin Park way; Bilter, on the Village Green.
recall any of them. They’re not the noticeable
trees in town, the big, bushy ones, the causes célebre like
the famous Eik Cedar. No, they’re just everyday trees-about-town
that Moon has picked from the arboreal crowd and dignified with a name.
What a thing to do! It reminds you of something you’d half forgotten,
an idea that sober, reticent David Pitt-Brooke (no glassy-eyed stoner
he) puts forth in his book Chasing Clayoquot: Pitt-Brooke, watching
a robin flitting about beside the Kennedy River, saying how each bird,
tree, fish has a curriculum vitae, a life history uniquely its own
and, within the parameters of its existence, its own entirely individual
responses to that story.
We humans reserve the benediction of a proper name strictly for ourselves
and our chosen allies: our dogs, cats, goldfish, our acquaintances,
our businesses, our works of art, geographic features of note, sometimes
our cars and select other possessions. All else — what we have
no use for, what we only want to use, what we see no purpose in loving — is
relegated to the realm of the generic, for which a blanket noun will
suffice: salmon, cedar, humpback, squirrel, goose. It’s the technique
of a thousand propaganda machines: to rob the foe of power, to grease
the wheel of exploitation, take away the names. How much easier to
denigrate the savage, the beast, the valley, when they are nameless.
How much depth they acquire, simply by having proper names of their
own. In the crazy light of Moon’s gibberish... it bowls you over,
by gosh, this sudden sense of the world not a megastore full of bulk
consumables, but rather a living gallery chockablock with distinct
individuals, every willow seedling and pine beetle and rough-skinned
newt an entity unto itself, with its own past, present, future. In
a world like this, why not give a tree a name?
You suddenly realize
Moon has gone silent, that he’s staring
at you expecting a response. “All of it,” you blurt out
of nowhere. “All of it!” It seems to make sense to Moon,
for he throws a palm in the air for you to slap. “Right on, brother!” he
laughs, and lopes off toward the Maquinna as though everything is now
settled. You watch him go, thinking there are surprising little nuggets
secreted in the most unexpected of places. Moon not looking quite such
a goof anymore, his words not just ravings, his odour not just a stink
but the embodiment of every place he’s sat or laid down in the
last two weeks, every bite of food he’s eaten. Remarkable! And
so you rush off to your meeting and forget about it.
But in two days’ time, when you next walk past the treed lot
at the end of Main Street, you will find your eye inescapably drawn
to the hemlock called Woody, checking him out, your head giving him
a bemused little nod. Moreover, you will cast your gaze upon his neighbour,
a small but self-possessed cedar quite clearly of the feminine persuasion.
You will guess she’s about ten years old, based on her size,
and, with no obvious mother nearby, you’ll wonder what journey
her natal cone might have taken to get there. Unconsciously, you’ll
find yourself picking out names.
Greg Blanchette is. And sometimes that’s enough.
Greg Blanchette's story about the Naming of Trees from Tofino Time Magazine in April 2005.