the naming of trees

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.

You 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.

You don’t 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.

tofino | tofino time | activities | accommodation | events | directory
maps | travel | food | art & artists | photos | horoscope | tides
search | magazine | issues | articles | advertising | contact us

hosted in tofino by & studio tofino
© 2002-2014 copyright Tofino Time Magazine in Tofino Canada
© 2002-2011 Tofino Time Magazine & ThinkTank Design Inc.

Greg Blanchette's story about the Naming of Trees from Tofino Time Magazine in April 2005.

tofino time april 2005

quick links:
tofino accomodations
tofino calendar

tofino surf report
tofino horoscope
september horoscope
tofino map
tofino fishing report
tofino tides
tofino weddings

tofino events:
tofino concerts
tofino events
tofino movies
tofino festivals
tofino yoga classes

tofino time magazine:
tofino time september 2012
captain vincente tofino
readers choice: the best of tofino
floating gardens at freedom cove
tofino event listings for september 2012
tofino concerts in september 2012
tofino movies in september 2012
tofino tide table for september 2012
tofino surf reports for september 2012
cox bay | wickaninnish beach
chesterman beach
tonquin beach
tofino brewing co.
horoscope for april 2013
tofino wedding guide

tofino accommodation:
tofino cabin
tofino camping
bed & breakfasts in Tofino
tofino hostels
tofino motels
tofino hotels
tofino vacation rentals
petfriendly accommodation

tofino bike rentals
tofino bear watching
tofino bird watching
tofino boat charters & cruises
tofino fishing
hot springs cove
sea kayaking in tofino
tofino storm watching
tofino surfing
tofino whale watching
tofino yoga

tofino art galleries
tofino books
tofino boutiques & gift shops
food stores in tofino
tofino outfitters

tofino yoga, spa & wellness
tofino restaurants
tofino internet cafes
tofino travel & transportation
tofino real estate
tofino vacation rentals
tofino weddings

tofino events
tofino concerts
tofino movies
tofino calendar
tofino cabins
tofino maps
tofino jobs
tofino media