“Plants have far more enemies than can be counted… [They] cannot run away from the endless legions of attackers that comprise an unrelenting menace.” —Hope Jahren, Lab Girl, p 104
It was by pure coincidence that I began reading Lab Girl by geobiologist Hope Jahren – which is part memoir, part botany primer – while a chain saw roared outside my living room window. At my request, a crew was removing a large, healthy, Douglas fir tree which had been growing beside our house.
I had deep reservations about removing this tree. It is something my partner and I talked about for years before actually having done. Given its size (about 100 feet tall) and its location, we felt this tree needed to go, but it was a difficult decision to make. And, despite my euphemisms of having the tree “removed,” the reality of what we were doing became clear the morning work began. As the crew gathered in our yard to divvy up the tasks, one young man said with obvious pleasure, “I get to kill the tree.”
Beyond the killing of a perfectly healthy tree, I also had reservations about destroying habitat. From our living room window I had enjoyed watching kinglets and bushtits come through en masse to eat insects off the fir boughs. Last summer, a pair of house finches nested on a lower branch, and while sitting on our front porch I could hear the babies chirp wildly whenever a parent flew in with food. One summer, as I relaxed in the shade of the tree, I opened my eyes to see a hawk perched low, eyeing me.
As I watched the tree slowly come down, I realized I needed to shift my focus and embrace this opportunity. While our yard may be losing one type of habitat, I was going to replace it with another. So I put down Lab Girl, and found my copy of Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest and began to plan.
Soon, I’ll be calling one of our local native plant nurseries and adding new shrubs and (smaller) trees to our yard. Right now, I’m eyeing another native dogwood, more vine maples, and perhaps more flowering currents and Oregon grape. As I’ve discovered, removing a big tree means we have a big space to fill.
Finally, a shout out to the Cottage Grove Public Library and it’s adult book club, “The Book Drop.” I heard about Lab Girl through them, it was the January book selection.