I love their laughter, but I feel badly about promoting the idea that trees are here only for our use. “Now, what kind of tree do you think this is?” A pine tree? Oak? A palm tree? Douglas fir? “Good guesses!” I say. “Actually, it’s a Sitka spruce, which looks a lot like Douglas fir, but here’s the difference: when you grab a twig of spruce it’s very prickly because the needles are pointy at the ends.” I demonstrate, grasping the twig and grimacing. They all want to try. “Ow-ow-ow!” they howl with delight. Sitka spruce is used to make guitar tops, which makes a nice story, but only one spruce out of 10,000 ends up as part of a musical instrument. Most are made into plywood or pulp. Loggers started felling spruce 100 years ago to make airplanes to fight the “war to end all wars,” another fact I don’t mention. “ok, here is one we all know. What kind of tree is it?” “Maple!” 20 voices shout in ragged unison. “That’s right! Where do we see maple leaves?” “On the CANADIAN FLAG!” When I was young, Canada was seen as a peaceful and well-behaved country. Americans traveling in Europe used to sew a maple leaf on their backpack to cash in our country’s good reputation. Now, with the tar sands and our refusal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Canada is increasingly reviled as a global villain. When Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Accord in 2011, an official from Tuvalu, a tiny island at risk of drowning under rising sea levels, called Canada’s behaviour “an act of sabotage on our future... reckless and totally irresponsible.” Our beloved maple leaf is slowly decaying into a symbol of greed and selfishness. Back in the classroom, Petra once again helps the children to focus. With her index finger in the air she silently mouths the words, “Everyone touch your elbows.” They have to read her lips. A few of them catch on. She waits a moment and then touches her own elbow. In total silence, she repeats the procedure, with exaggerated mouthing of nose, knee, ear, until eventually all the children are quiet, watching intently. I review key points and remind them of the lego analogy. A good grasp of photosynthesis is the foundation needed to understand the global carbon cycle and climate change. A forest, powered by solar energy and constantly recycling its materials, offers a model for how a sustainable human economy might work. It won’t mean much to them today, but it’s a tiny seed of knowledge now planted in these young minds.
Facade Rob Wilson
This is the 24th edition of Portal Magazine, created by the students at VIU