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Iain Hunter: Hugging a tree changes perspective

I’m arrayed on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, watching the sun inch toward the sea and lapping a rum punch.

I’m arrayed on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, watching the sun inch toward the sea and lapping a rum punch.

I’m looking up at the palm trees and wondering why they haven’t been cut down to make wicker furniture, toilet paper roll spindles or whatever else they’re useful for.

After all, everything in nature has a use, hasn’t it? If what God created isn’t of use to those in whose image He’s believed to exist, how can it have worth?

How can anything — animal, vegetable or mineral — not useful and therefore not worth pulling down or digging up to build condos, drive engines, provide jobs or create wealth, have value?

A large lady in a large hat is casting a shadow on me. I didn’t fly all this way to lie in the shade. I tell her so. Then I move: She is a large lady.

Compare these bendy palms to our soaring Douglas firs, our gargantuan cedars and our other mighty West Coast timbers.

They’re meant to be cut down. They saw and plane well. They take nails gratefully, look smart in paint.

It’s the nature of those in the business of logging to look at our forests and see them in what used to be called board feet.

It’s the nature of those who depend on the harvest of the forest to put it to the best use — exporting “the product” as “raw” logs or cooking it to a pulp.

The best use is the one that provides the greatest value, whether for the hewers and haulers, the saw millers and pulp millers, the sawyers and joiners or anyone in our province upon whose shoulders the sawdust falls as money.

There has always been a fuss about whether logs should be shipped off so someone else somewhere else can fashion them into building trusses or rumpus-room paneling, or whether that should be done by British Columbians.

The difference is no longer, if it ever has been, about the trees. It’s about getting the best value possible out of a “resource.”

It’s the same as the continuing worry about the salmon. It’s not really about the fish, but how much they’re worth caught and dead to “stakeholders.”

Tree-huggers don’t get much respect. Their voices tend to be high, their hair unkempt, their clothing inappropriate, even for a forest.

They want to push back progress, claim buffer zones, preserve passage for shy creatures, make sacred assumed habitats.

I have hugged a Vancouver Island tree. Just to see what it was like. It was deep in the forest, its bark was rough yet worn as if others had hugged it before me. The tree shared my pulse. It felt alive and so did I.

It occurred to me that I was getting more of value from that tree, right then, than anyone could get after it was felled, as was almost sure to happen.

How absurd, I thought, that its survival might be assured only if it were in line of sight of a cruise ship or tourist bus when the loggers moved in — though on the Highway 4 “hump” east of Port Alberni, this seems to have bought only a temporary reprieve for a scenic stand of trees.

The value in that case would be for tourism. At least that shows that trees are worth something, still, when they’re alive — like these palms over the combed sand on which I’m beached.

Premier Christy Clark sneered last month that there was a time in B.C. “when cutting down a tree was considered bad.” Of course it was, and is — for that tree, creatures depending on it and for anyone with a soul.

I know. A tree had to be felled to provide the paper on which this is printed. Many trees had to be felled to build my neighbourhood, to provide a lot of my comforts.

I can’t brush the sawdust off my shoulders. No one in B.C., really, can.

But some people need to hug a tree. They need to proclaim values that can be forgotten when economies falter, factories fail.

Troubled souls need to speak out so that busy, distracted ones may hear.