I’ve been here 2 weeks now, and I’m beginning to get more of a feel for how I, at least, relate to the trees here, feeling like I am actually meeting some of them and getting more of a sense of what I might want to do in relation to them. I’ve been taking bark rubbings but in some cases this is hard to do, as I noted before, because they are so inaccessible. I’ve been talking to a few more people about their experience and knowledge of the trees here – from someone who’d just seen trees planted in her street (one of the big main streets in the city) the day before, to someone who remembered the old mature plane trees that are no longer there. One of the reasons there are so few mature trees in the city centre, it turns out, is a disease of plane trees which, so far, has not reached the UK. It makes me think I need to be very careful about what I bring back from here – drawings, bark impressions etc.
Last week Claudia, the intern I’m working with, took me to a couple of different districts of the city to see the trees there and how people live with them. First we went to Villeneuve, one of the poorer areas with a big social housing project and a huge park. The roads around here have a lot of beautiful mature trees, as does the park. Then we went to the Presqu’île, a new tech industry district on land partially reclaimed from military use. The buildings there are all shiny and new and massive, (rather than dilapidated and grey and massive), and the trees are new plantings in regular rows. There are very few people around and the place feels quite sterile, but there are some interesting trees. These two are on opposite sides of the city and I’m planning a walk from one to the other to map trees and changes along the way.
Yesterday I also went to see the ‘Vernon oak‘, a venerable 400-year-old tree outside the village of Vernon, which stands on a hillside and is visible for miles around. It is well known and protected, and it makes me think how split we can be in our thinking about protection/instrumentalisation/neglect of living beings, depending on where we meet them. This oak would come into the category of ‘charistmatic megafauna’, unlike the tree you let your dog piss on in the street because it’s there.
There have been storms across the UK and most of France, but this corner has had its own freak weather with an incredibly warm day of 20 degrees. The buds are of course coming out on the trees, as well as many spring flowers like primroses and violets. I’m still hoping to talk to someone from the city or metropolitan area about the policy on trees, and how they respond to global heating is one question I’d like to know more about.