3. Bigleaf maple: Braces and other support systems
When it comes down to it, the worst part of wearing braces is that I can't make a tight-enough seal to whistle a scale. Sure, I can purse my lips together and hit the high notes, but what is a life without the low bluesy notes?
I started wearing braces in December 2017, at the age of thirty-four. I also wore them when I was fourteen, for the usual reasons: trial by adolescence. My teeth started to shift in my mid-twenties, and now I am back in braces in order to correct an alignment issue. My jaw shows signs of degeneration (time comes for us all), and by correcting my bite, I am providing my jaw the best possible chance of remaining intact. Ask me about my hip.
I've been wearing orthodontics nonstop since I was twelve. After my braces come off next year, I will need to rely on retainers for the rest of my life. Though orthodontic technology has improved much in two decades, there is no equivalent of laser eye surgery for the mouth. My braces provide a feeling of relief and are adorable AF, but they also gather chia seeds and strawberry flesh, cut the cheeks, and are ridiculous impediments to kissing, "etc." They are, in other words, a necessary pain in the ass while offering a support system, not unlike income tax. And where would we be without taxes, I suppose some spend time asking.
I was thinking about physical support systems last weekend when I visited the largest bigleaf maple in Canada, located in Stanley Park. To locate this tree, you must first find other trees to orient you; legendary stumps and runners-up pointing the way to Champion trees. The main guiding point for this bigleaf maple, in both David Tracey's Vancouver Tree Book and the BC Big Tree registry, is that it's near the Hollow Tree.
The Hollow Tree is a landmark Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and has long influenced planning in Stanley Park. The subject of photo ops for a century, this approximately 700 year-old tree has also raised valuable questions about forest conservation and heritage.
Western red cedars frequently rot from the inside out, losing their heartwood even as the outer layers live and the tree continues to grow. Are these trees half-dead, or gracefully decaying? After a 2006 windstorm levelled numerous trees throughout Stanley Park, the Hollow Tree, previously damaged by fire, was left listing. Council debated whether to preserve it or allow it to continue its natural demise. After much public outcry in favour of preservation, they ultimately decided to brace the Hollow Tree from the inside with massive beams.
The Hollow Tree remains standing, but it's a shellacked stump, oiled and supported by park staff and its steel brace. "If it's properly taken care of and maintained, it could last for centuries longer," said Bruce MacDonald of the Hollow Tree Conservation Society.
The Hollow Tree stands out amidst groves of thriving cedars and firs less for its size, which is significant, with a 12 m circumference, and more because it only resembles a tree. Writer and artist Douglas Coupland's golden tribute to the Hollow Tree is an appropriate simulacrum, equally not at home in its surroundings at SW Marine Drive and Cambie, near YVR. As Coupland said of his statue, which is a mirror image of the stump, "It seems like the tree has gone through some sort of journey—and now it’s here on the other side." Indeed. But then why not move the original Hollow Tree to another area of the city, thereby recognizing its role more as art and heritage and less as an enduring emblem of our old-growth forests?
It cracks me up (I'm easily amused) that with all the giant, old-growth trees available to pose with in the park, tourists and locals overwhelmingly choose to be photographed in a dead stump held up by nostalgia and tax dollars. But I suppose heritage values can't be underestimated. When it's increasingly difficult to focus one's attention on anything, let alone nature, perhaps a cedar relic is a reasonable substitute and a way to draw people into the forest proper.
In my attempts to harness my own attention via a year-long project to visit the biggest trees in BC, I set off to find this bigleaf maple in the park. The rain was torrential, much needed after an exceptionally dry May. Starting out from Third Beach, I consulted a ranger about where exactly I could find the Hollow Tree by using the trail system. If it weren't obvious before, and it wasn't to me, Stanley Park has park rangers, a dream job up there with fire tower lookout. This ranger directed me toward an intersection of trails, handed me a map, and with a directive to "Try to stay dry, ya?" drove off.
Heading south of the Hollow Tree along Rawlings Trail, I looked for the second-largest bigleaf maple in Canada to guide me toward this Champion. I headed into the forest from this marker, walking about 30–40 m toward a maple with a 10.72 m trunk that splits into two large limbs. The ground around the tree was littered with huge maple leaves...it's not just a clever name. The tree has a massive crown of 20 m and stands 29 m high. It was verified as a Champion by Randy Stoltmann in 1992.
These maples are just two of the featured trees on a self-guided tree walk in Stanley Park, which also brings you to a giant sequoia, Douglas fir, grand fir, and red alder (possibly the second-largest in the province, after the Champion red alder in Haida Gwaii). If you're taking the tour, make sure to bring a compass (the one on a smartphone is just fine) and follow the guidelines set out in Tracey's book, or on the excellent Vancouver Big Tree Hiking Guide.
Without its structural beams and oiled wood, the Hollow Tree would continue to rot, losing its identity as a cultural landmark, but already preserved as a sculpture in another part of the city. Without the adjustment created by my braces, my jaw would potentially deteriorate, causing me further discomfort. Without a support system of compass, guidebook, ranger, and trees (living and preserved) pointing the way to other trees, I'd be a lost figure in the woods, whistling high notes and trying to keep my phone dry.
Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), Stanley Park, Vancouver unceded Coast Salish territories (Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh)