Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Farewell old tree

Our neighbors had their tree cut down today.

"Do trees feel pain?"

Some random responses collected from the Internet:

The "No" Group:
-- Absolutely not. Trees do not feel pain.
-- No central nervous system means no pain as we know it.
-- We cannot anthropomorphize trees; they are not humans! Humans contemplate death, trees do not. [Source: I teach Botany and have a master's degree in Biology]
-- No, trees can't feel anything.

The "No ... But" Group:
--I'd have to guess that trees don't feel pain. But somehow they ARE aware of their environment.

The "Yes" Group:
--Pain, not as you understand it. All life responds more to our intent rather than our actions.
-- Yes. If you hurt them, they cry.
-- Yes, and they bleed, too. The sap is their blood.
-- Yes, they also talk to God. They are living beings.
-- Trees do bleed, their sap weeps out when they are cut, so to seal a wound they have sap. It is probably buried right at their core because you always count the rings on inside of their trunks to find out how old the tree was before it was cut down. So maybe their brains are attached to their roots.
--Just because a tree cannot talk does not mean it cannot feel.
-- If I put a cut on the stem of a tree, it will perceive it, as a physiological disturbance or distortion ... then it will try to heal itself. Think about it. If the tree never "knew" or "felt" that it was cut at some place, how would it heal itself?
--Well, once a teacher told me that every time we pull a leaf out of a tree we should pull out a hair of our head, so yes I believe they feel pain.
--If you're pagan or Christian there are spirits in trees that may be able to feel pain.
--I believe that everything that grows must feel some sort of pain.
--Of course they do, but their bark is worse than their bite, so just leaf them alone.

The "Not Sure" Group:

--Well they don't have any nerve cells, so probably not. But then again ... we may never know.-- Strictly speaking, since they have no means of communication with humans, and to paraphrase Wittgenstein, 'if a plant could talk we would not understand it,' we cannot definitively say whether they do or do not feel pain.

The "Define Pain" Group:

--Firstly, you have to think about what our definition of "pain" is. Really, it's just a perception by our brain of an electrical signal sent through our nervous system.
--Pain is very subjective. The only way we can guage pain is to ask the subject, "How much pain do you feel?" This fact pretty much limits pain research to humans.
--The value and deep meaning of pain, emotions, pleasure, etc. are nothing more than the creation of an active human imagination. The reality is that they are simple chemical reactions to stimuli.
--There might be a completely alien concept of pain that applies to trees and plants, but it would probably be outside human understanding.

Comments from a tree cutter:
I've realized something when it comes to cutting down trees:
1. Trees are bigger than they look.
2. Chainsaws are very hard to start.
3. When the neighbor kids come out and see you with a chainsaw and fallen tree and say "Holy [expletive]", it's quite possible you've impressed them.
(Oh and before any tree huggers freak out and email me about killing a tree, it had to go because its roots were growing into the foundation of the house.)

That was not the case with the tree they cut down in my neighbors' lot this morning. It was not too near the house. It was also not diseased, as far as I know. Nor, despite what it looks like in the photographs, was it interfering with the electricity or telephone lines; it stood a good 5 feet behind them. My guess is, they simply wanted the land the tree occupied--for parking or to add to their garage. It appears to be a case of eviction, pure and simple. Terminal eviction.

If a tree fell in the forest, and nobody was there to hear it ... would it make a sound? Philosophers have been arguing this for centuries.

(Does a tree, being chainsawed down and pulverized into a wood shredder, silently scream? NO! (they say), it cannot "feel" anything like pain, much less communicate, silent or otherwise. Sentience, sapience, qualia--all I know is, this tree did not scream. But a passerby almost did, judging from the expression in her eyes on witnessing the chopdown. Me, I just felt sad. It was a nice tree. Definitely dignified, and the home of many feathered creatures.)

I don't know if our little tree out front--"Maurice"--is "aware" or not. We certainly do our best to protect him till he gets a little bigger and stronger, make sure to dig him out of the snowbank in March so he can breathe, etc. The neighbor dog pees on his trunk, the bugs chomp his leaves, his tiny branches are too fragile yet to support the birds, but every year he gets taller and more interesting. I know, I know--I'm anthropomorphizing, but since I planted him (I mean "it") and have been watching, from twigdom on, I feel kind of like his mom. (I mean its.)


Old trees whacked and mulched; baby trees waving in the breeze ... they come, they go. Just like us. The sea isn't "aware" either. The clouds can't talk. (They spit rain, though.) As for the poor old tree (former tree) across the street -- I know the birds, for sure, are going to miss it.

As will I.

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