Friday, June 29, 2012


Why All This To Do About Trees?

C.E.M. Joad (1891-1953), The Untutored Townsman's Invasion of the Country (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1946), excerpts from Chapter 7 (Trees and Forests), pp. 131-148 (at 139-141):
Why all this 'to do' about trees and especially about hard-wood trees; why, in fact, such an indignant fuss about lopping and pruning and cutting down, about the planting of soft woods, about the destruction of elms and beeches? The question raises large issues. Let me try very briefly to answer it.

In Defence of Trees

The answer turns, in the last resort, upon the kind of life we think desirable for men and women, turns, in fact upon our conception of the good life. One of the elements in the good life is, I insist, contact with Nature. Nature is the mother of our race; we have evolved as part of a natural process and our ancestors lived for millennia in natural conditions. As a result, there lies deep-seated within us a natural love of country sights and sounds and smells and an instinctive need for occasional moments of quiet alone with Nature. The smell of fallen leaves or new-mown hay, the tang of a mountain brook, the feel of lush meadow grass against the face, the texture of the bole of an oak, or the sight of its first young leaves showing yellow-green against the April sky, these things touch in us an ancestral chord that stretches back to our savage, perhaps to our sub-human, past.

Most of us who live in great cities are unaware of this need, just as we are unaware of the need of religion. It exists none the less, and to the extent to which it is not met, we live maimed and thwarted lives. A man is a richer, a fuller, and a more many-sided being; he touches life at more points, getting more out of it if only because he brings more to it, provided he be not wholly cut off from these ancestral sources of our being. Yet most of us do not know these things and, because we do not, we heedlessly overrun Nature and destroy its beauty.

A Vision of the Future

In a hundred years' time, if present tendencies are not checked, there will be neither town nor country in Southern England, but only a vast suburb sprawling shapelessly from Watford to the coast. What will the inhabitants of that suburb do? I will assume that we have abolished war, overcome our economic difficulties and superseded alternating booms and slumps and that, under some form of national ownership, men and women are assured of comfort and a competence on a few hours' machine-minding a day. In what sort of England will they be living?

If present tendencies continue, one can foresee an England in which whatever land is left over from cultivation is covered with a network of golf courses, tennis courts or whatever kind of ground the popular game of the future demands. Our coasts will be ringed with a continuous string of resorts at which dance bands will discourse the wailing of crooners to tired sportsmen and their overnourished wives; our roads will be covered with a stationary mass of metal stretching from John o' Groats to Land's End, consisting of cars wedged together in a solid and nextricable jam; a deluge of news, warranted not to arouse thought and carefully chewed so as not to excite comment will descend upon the defenceless heads of the community through all the devices of television and telephotony that the science of the future may have been able to perfect. Finally, men will be driven to make life hard and dangerous again in despair of tolerating the burden of amusing themselves for eighteen or nineteen hours out of every twenty-four.

This jaundiced vision is of a future in which man, having conquered Nature, finds that in the process he has lost his own soul. For man cannot live by movies and radio alone, but by the spirit of God as it manifests itself in the visible scene that He has set before us in hills and valleys and rivers, in the air and the sky, in fields and flowers, in meadows and woods, and in great trees ranged in an avenue along a road or standing brooding and solitary in the fields. This exhortation to keep our trees is, then, in its last analysis a plea to preserve the conditions which are necessary to our full human development as beings having minds and spirits as well as bodies and appetites.

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