There was a planting of trees on the Milltown Road between Bright crossroads on the Downpatrick to Killough Road and Ballyhossett on the Downpatrick to Ardglass Road. They were tucked into the fold of a hill and provided shelter for sheep from the neighbouring field in the wintertime. They were 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 they would 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 were little changed last time I saw them.
Once or twice each week, I drive around the M50, skimming around the outskirts of Dublin. At Cherrywood, a new town is developing, it will eventually encompass 20,000 people. It has taken some twenty years and there are acres of empty land, cleared of trees and vegetation, cleared even of soil. The scorched earth policy of those who are developing the site seems odd – why scrape away every last plant and shrub? Did nature raise question marks over the plans?
Which will remain? In a hundred years time, what will still be there those trees in Co Down, or the apartment blocks scattered as randomly as confetti around the edge of the city?
What is the life expectancy of a 21st Century Dublin apartment? In the block in which I live, workmen were last week repairing the roof from which lumps of masonry had fallen. These are not Parisian apartments of 19th century. Will they see out the trees? Or will the trees remain?
The trees will certainly outlive the human inhabitants. The Psalmist in the Bible 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.