On Trees and Suburbia and Civic Disobedience


On Trees and Suburbia and Civic Disobedience


Suburbia is my country, my home and native land. Suburbia is where I live. I live in an uneasy peace with Suburbia; a fragile peace. Not in outright rebellion. I take my cue from the trees of this country and opt for a quiet form of Civic disobedience.


Suburbia as a land is the ultimate expression of the human need to control, to subjugate, to leash the random and unpredictable. It is all boxes, straight lines, hard concrete, greys and muted browns and sameness. It is the antithesis of unpredictable, the rigidity to root out randomness. Explosions of color are not welcome, or messiness, or complicated spiderwebs of lines and curls and odds and ends. Those things get tucked away in Suburbia, in pale green boxes or lawn bags, hidden inside walls or by walls, covered up like the embarrassing bits of our bodies.


Suburbia presents only the presentable. Suburbia is ordered lines, straight posts, steel and pavement, grates and gravel and rectangular forms. Suburbia controls all that comes within its borders.


Suburbia hacks and hews trees, uproots and displaces. Suburbia uses trees. Suburbia uses the sawed, sanded, treated trees to erect the boxes that force out the trees. And then Suburbia plants trees where Suburbia wants them. Trees in rows, trees in singles and pairs, lone trees sometimes where thousands once stood. And then the sameness of Suburbia absorbs the trees into its structure and desires to control them and contain them.


But the trees of Suburbia disobey, silently, often in underground movements that go completely undetected.


Planted in rows yet none look the same, not like the posts that were once their kin. Some full, some spindly, some fat, some sleek, some soaring, some spreading, some twisted, some straight. Yet not too straight. They stand with silent voices screaming a protest to the surrounding geometric repression. Planted inside fences they grow where they will: Above, through, underneath those fences. Trees will grow around a fence, even taking bits of it into themselves, as if to remind Suburbia that it is not alive like them, not capable of consuming nature but only capable of keeping it at bay. For a time.


Time is what trees have beyond the counting of Suburbia. Patience is what they claim, in the midst of the impatience of rigidity and fear.


Suburbia encourages a separation from your kind. Trees disobey. They sneak underneath. They invade unseen. They crawl under soil, under hedges, under roads. They go deeper beyond any Suburban claim to “own” the land. Trees know that ownership is a lie, an abstract and silly idea in a land eons old and full of memory. And trees do remember. And trees do not forget.


Trees reach up and out, sending a mad criss-cross of curvy lines across the boxes and rectangles. Trees explode with color. Trees make the messes. Trees create the complicated spider-webs to ensure they will not be snared by Suburbia. Trees refuse to yield. Trees refuse to acknowledge fake borders and abstract rules of ownership. Trees exist with a sense of purpose that makes Suburbia seem as shallow as a mile-wide puddle that goes an inch deep.


Trees teach me patience in my Suburban angst. Trees show me the way to bend in all the straightness. Trees mark out random and messy paths in the middle of the lines that threaten to box me in. Trees encourage my own quiet Civic disobedience.


And so I disobey. I walk and present a rebellious figure, slowly and patiently moving amid the frantic and fueled sameness of the grey, black, white and muted blue colored cars. I let my leaves lie and my lawn grow high and put the lie to the Suburban Act of Conformity. I look up and see the sky and feel the sun and thank the trees. I know that they will outlive Suburbia. I know they will outlive me. And in that is freedom. I too grow underneath, beyond borders, beyond boundaries. I laugh at the seemingly self-assured Suburbia which is really just self-obsessed and self-conscience, always unnerved by anything it can’t control. The trees seem to look down on us all, on it all, and quietly observe, “Why the fuss?”


So I love the trees of this country, of Suburbia. Silent sentinels speaking truth every day to us in this land, if we have ears to hear.



Ron, December 7, 2018

Orleans – a suburb of Ottawa, Ontario


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 241: Trees



By Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

A Year of Living Dangerously, Day 62: Growing Among the Trees

“Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees.” – Karle Wilson Baker


Recently, I was talking with a friend about our shared love of hiking in the woods. Isn’t it interesting that we call it “the woods” or “the forest”? In our language we make it plain just whose domain it is after all. When we walk there, we walk among them and trespass, in a way, on their territory. Yet they are always welcoming. Like that great, good friend with whom you can sit in silence for hours and feel love and acceptance, they are a steady and comforting presence.

I have come to see trees as my friends. Some people might think me a tad crazy but, yes, I do talk to them on my hikes. I take a moment to thank them for letting me in their space, and to thank them for all that they give me. I will touch a tree or two on purpose during a hike, feeling the bark, the solidity and reassurance. Mostly, I find peace of mind among them like I find among no other living thing on the planet.

They exist by the millions in my part of the world but they have millions of different personalities and appearances. We owe them so much and they ask so little in return.

I love trees. That is probably obvious by now. What follows is a brief gallery of some of the photos I’ve taken of trees on my walkabouts in Ontario and Quebec, along with some words from other people about trees. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it inspires you, if you haven’t walked among them for awhile, to get out and greet the trees and let them help you grow a little taller today.


Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven. – Rabindranath Tagore


In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful. – Alice Walker


On pavements and the bark of trees I have found whole worlds. – Mark Tobey


The difficulty with this conversation is that it’s very different from most of the ones I’ve had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees. – Douglas Adams


Like people, trees are all individuals. – David Hockney


I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. – Willa Cather


Trees love to toss and sway; they make such happy noises.  – Emily Carr


I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. – e. e. cummings