View from a Sawmill: Of trees and peopleFor months I have resisted the temptation to write about what a few see as the most villainous and dastardly act of cowardice and vandalism to hit the North Shore in recent memory.
By: Greg Hull, Lake County News Chronicle
For months I have resisted the temptation to write about what a few see as the most villainous and dastardly act of cowardice and vandalism to hit the North Shore in recent memory. After enough tongue-biting to draw blood, I finally relent.
I refer, of course, to the cutting of the scraggly white pine in the median of Highway 61, a.k.a. the “Honking Tree.”
Some decades ago, I recall reading of a photo exhibit open to the public in Washington DC. The artist had used (then) modern computer techniques to superimpose photos of victims of the Nazi death camps over pictures of stumps and slash left from a logging clear-cut. Piles of dead bodies outside of Auschwitz were superimposed on pictures of log piles next to railroad landings. The message of the artist was clear: cutting trees is the moral equivalent to killing people.
I was appalled when I read of the exhibit, and saw some of the pictures. “Who,” I wondered “outside of Washington DC, would possibly think this is art, and agree with the moral message?”
Apparently, some folks in Lake County, Minn.
The same week the Honking Tree was cut down, a young man died in Cook County, as an alleged result of behavior stemming from his drug addiction. His death, in the fullest sense of the word, was tragic. Yet his death received brief notice, while the white pine received days of unrelenting coverage in local and regional media. The loss of one tree to vandals was unfortunate, but hardly tragic.
The longer things went on, the worse it got. State resources from the perpetually cash-strapped DOT were used to carefully remove the tree from the highway median, and then hauled whole to the Highway garage in Two Harbors. Why it needed to be moved thus is still a mystery to me – with a chain saw and log truck it could have been bucked into lengths and easily loaded and moved. The newspaper coverage used phrases like “funeral cortege” and “mourners” to describe the un-permitted parade that brought the tree to Two Harbors. Now there will be a “ceremony” to transfer “ownership” of the tree, branches and all, to the City of Two Harbors.
The transfer will no doubt be accompanied with a 21-gun salute.
Now, I’m told, the tree is going to be carved into some sort of totem pole via the skills of a chain saw artist, and erected in a public place as a memorial. Which raises an interesting question: If the Ten Commandments cannot be displayed on public property because it is a violation of the Establishment Clause regarding religion and government, wouldn’t the production of a Native American religious symbol with public funds, and its display on public property be a similar violation?
I am sure that if the City of Two Harbors finds themselves embroiled in a lawsuit over this, the ACLU will ride to their defense.
But perhaps most offensive of all to me is the large cross that was affixed to the stump. The Cross of Christianity has always been a symbol of supreme tragedy and consummate hope. Hope especially in the anticipation of our resurrection to eternal life. Hence, its ubiquitous presence in Christian cemeteries through the ages. It has been the informal practice of many through the years to erect a small cross along a roadway when there has been an accident and a person has died.
A cross is an appropriate symbol when a person has died, especially a confessing Christian. To attach that symbol to a tree stump is either an act of extreme ignorance related to the meaning of symbols, or an act of misguided emotion. It certainly isn’t in the anticipation of the resurrection of the tree.
What is most disconcerting here is not merely the scarce public resources being wasted on a juvenile act of vandalism. It is the behavior of a significant group who clearly act as if the cutting of a tree is as momentous, if not more momentous, than the death of a person. Such a view does not have the long term effect of elevating our values regarding the environment and trees, but will instead have the opposite effect – reducing the value of people to that of vegetation.
If Auschwitz can teach us anything, it is that when the significance and value of people are reduced to that of vegetation, they will be treated with the same concern as grass clippings. Making a public monument to a tree will not elevate the North Shore region, it will instead reduce us.
Which is why making that scraggly white pine into a monument ought not to be done.
Greg Hull is owner and operator of Hull’s Sawmill, and is a philosopher-at-large. He has a prosecution-proof alibi for his whereabouts the morning the Honking Tree was cut down. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.