I remember the first time I drove the Skagway Pass. Like a place that time had missed, a prehistoric landscape where plants were still just beginning to grow, though I knew those squat stubborn pines were hundreds of years old.
Trees grow differently on a mountain pass. If you’re from the south you might say that it’s harder for trees to grow up there. When you compare their growing conditions to the long, warm summers that let southern trees grow tall as buildings, it seems like those mountain trees are facing a serious disadvantage. They will never be as tall, as thick, as magnificent as the trees of the south. They just won’t.
Trees down in Whitehorse face similar, though less dramatic, conditions. Compared to mountain trees, they are huge – slim as your arm but tall and elegant, looming gently over the roof of your house, masking you from your neighbours.
But on the scale of comparison, they don’t have the verdure of the trees of southern Canada. Returning to the south from the north is like entering an overgrown jungle, trees so big they shock the senses,
And it seems so easy for them. As long as I’ve been alive there have been these giant trees hanging around me, a handful on most suburban blocks, more down by the river, even more at the local park. There aren’t, you know, a ton of them. We have to cut a lot of them down to fit in all the houses and roads and shopping centres we need. But it hardly feels like there is a lack of them. If you don’t have a giant tree in your front yard, your neighbour does, and it’s big enough to cover half of your lawn too.
When I lived in my Yukon cabin I felt an intimacy with the thin pines that hugged the walls of my home. I looked out my windows and their tight knit trunks stood solid, my natural fortress. If I climbed into the loft and looked out the skylight, my view was on par with the bushy green down of their needles, and I felt like one of them. Those pines made me feel watched over, taken care of.
One night squatting on an Okanagan beach it began to rain. I woke as the first drops hit my exposed face and roused the others to run for the nearest tree – an incomprehensibly humongous weeping willow who bent the arms of her natural umbrella down around us. We instinctively hugged the trunk, curling our sleeping bodies around the thick place it entered the earth, and were dry. In the middle of the night I woke again, opened my eyes and gratefully studied the far-reaching canopy above me. I felt watched over. I felt taken care of.
This kind of thing couldn’t happen quite the same way with one of those trees on the Skagway Pass – they aren’t big enough to shelter me from anything. But this doesn’t matter to them. They keep on at their task, which is to grow, slow and unnoticeable as their progress may be.