There is a planting of trees on the Milltown Road between Bright crossroads and Ballyhossett in Co Down. They are tucked into the fold of a hill and provide shelter for sheep from the neighbouring field in the wintertime. They are young trees, when I first met them the diameter of the trunks would have been no more than a few inches.
I stood and looked at them as I walked my dogs one evening in 1989; they seemed almost frail, too weak and immature to face the hardships of this world. But I looked at the rolling drumlin scenery around me, unchanged in generations, and thought that the dangers would be face would be few. Barring some catastrophe, they would sit there under the cover of the hill for decades to come.
The trees would be there when I was long gone. The trees are changed little in the past seventeen years; I cannot make a similar claim.
The trees came to mind this morning as I stood and looked across to the Dublin mountains from the kitchen window. The mountains were shrouded in mist, leaving the closer ridge of hills as the horizon. The ruins of the Twelfth Century Church at Tully are on the hillside, surrounded by a clump of trees. In the valley beneath are the ultra-modern apartments of Cherrywood, a growing township that is projected to eventually encompass 20,000 people.
Which will remain? In a hundred years time, what will still be there the trees at Tully Church or the apartments at Cherrywood?
What is the life expectancy of a 21st Century Dublin apartment? These are not Parisian apartments of 19th century, but constructions of concrete, wood and glass. Will they see out the trees?
Or will the trees continue to look down into the valley as our society collapses when the oil runs out, or the apartments make way for another swathe of urbanisation as humanity finds other ways to sustain growing populations?
The trees will certainly outlive the human inhabitants. The Psalmist had the relative longevity of trees and humans in perspective,
Being blessed is like being as constant as a tree,
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither”. Psalm 1:3
While being human is to fade away
The length of our days is seventy years,
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10
In their respect for trees, the ancient people of Ireland had a deeper understanding of reality than we have achieved in the 21st century.