Lament for Trees

Tears were shed for individual trees that were as familiar as family members.

In two days, the wooded path close to my house became a trail of stumps. The only crime of the trees was being in the path of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension designed to bring people from the suburbs to downtown Ottawa. Within hours of the first cut, grieving and angry messages flooded the email account I manage as chair of my community planning community. Emotions ran high as videos and photos were shared on our local Facebook page. 

How does one put a value on an oak tree that was planted before Confederation? How can one weigh the benefits of the LRT for our future environment against the loss of mature trees and green space where residents have walked dogs for years, children can climb trees, and animals live in their natural habitat? Even the dogs and rabbits seemed to be grieving. 

War zone
Suddenly any tree left standing became the front line in a war zone. The familiar poem about a tree from my childhood came to mind as I walked to the battlefield to try to save four maples close to the home of a person who needs shade for health reasons. There I learned that 750 trees were coming down in our area. Residents were supposed to be comforted by a promise to replant the trees at a two to one ratio, except that the stick trees planted last year to replace diseased elms on another street were not doing very well. Why did they have to come down so far ahead of construction? “Because next spring birds would have nests in the trees and destroying nests would be cruel.” Why so many more than we had been told? Because the construction company said so. 

It felt like an assault. Tears were shed for individual trees that were as familiar as family members. Ceremonies were held in favorite spots and pieces of wood were taken as memorials. When one blogger compared it to the rape of a woman, he was rebuked by women for good reason. But he made a point. Others mentioned the greater clear-cutting and human destruction in faraway places to make the devices we use to express our outrage. 

Amazon Synod
I had just read the report from the Synod of the Amazon, hosted by the Pope, to reflect on the destruction of the rainforest and homes of indigenous people in that part of the world. It was the first global religious gathering focused on a distinct ecological territory. The calls to radical conversion, integral ecology, and care for our common earth struck close to home. There was no church service for Connaught Park, but conversion feels appropriate for the shift in thinking about trees. I suspect the next developer who proposes to cut down an old tree in our neighborhood will know what I mean.


  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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