“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.”
Treebeard ― J.R.R. Tolkien, LOTR
There is no denying that trees are essential for environmental sustainability and quality of life in urban and rural settings. Preserving trees, especially large trees, is a crucial component in addressing climate change. However, the importance of large trees goes further. These trees have the potential anchor places in our memory, providing more than just shade and a carbon sink. Large mature trees sometimes have names and often have origin stories about who planted them and when they were planted – some real, some legend.
Forty-three years ago, I spent a summer in a village in southern Greece. Not far from my father’s village was a smaller village at the end of a winding road, on the top of a mountain. We had family there and we would visit often. Why? Because in the centre of the village was an enormous plane tree that legend said was hundreds of years old. Its branches covered the town square and provided shade during the day and a fairy village-like scene at night when everyone would gather. Last year we had the opportunity to take our children to Greece and I could not pass up the chance to show them “the tree”. They had heard about “Platanos in Arna” but were skeptical that it was worth the detour. My partner was equally skeptical as he maneuvered the vehicle up what we in Canada would consider insanely dangerous roads. They were surprised and are now wanting to go back. The tree had continued to grow – its branches now perched on the roofs of the buildings around the square. It was as magical as when I was 11. That is the power of large trees. They can link our memories and emotions to the fight against climate change.