Last week I was invited to speak at RAW, the Rochester Arborist Workshop in Minnesota, an event that has been held annually for the past seventeen years. I was impressed by the dedication with which the crew surrounding Jay Maier pulled this event off. What I especially enjoyed was observing how their interaction seemed to be based upon mutual respect and kindness, rather than people puffing themselves up. This felt like a breath of fresh air in a world where the exterior trimmings seem to count for so much.

Minnesota was really quite chilly. Looking forwards to arriving home to spring!

One highlight on this trip was having the opportunity to spend some time with Anthony Ambrose, who works at the University of Berkley, doing research, amongst other things, on Sequoiadendron giganteum and Sequoia sempervirens. I found the insights he has gained over the years thanks to his research fascinating, demonstrating how these giants are on the one hand highly resilient towards certain stressors, yet at the same time also so very fragile when subjected to other stresses.

Anthony was using illustrations by Rob van der Pelt during his presentations, which portray these incredible structures in intricate detail with a high degree of artistic skill…

One thing that really struck me, listening to Anthony and looking at Rob’s illustrations, is how sanitised we require our tree populations to be – this also brought to mind the trees in Green-Wood cemetery. In a sense we demand of the beings and objects around us the same kind of flawlessness that we expect of ourselves. Not too fat, not too thin, not too tall, not to short, no blemishes, all conforming to a measure of beauty which is based solely upon symmetry, perfection and freedom from defects. Naturally, when applying this metric, any kind of damage will be viewed per se as negative.

I am convinced we lose many trees to this blinkered view of where the true value and beauty of trees lies. It is essential that we recognise the beauty in damage and start to realise that flawlessness may only be one means of assessing value. After all, these arboreal giants have survived many thousands of years, resulting not only in damage, but also in beautify – besides from being the back-bone of a highly diverse eco-system and being highly efficient at what they do!