In 1970, Joni Mitchell recorded the song “Big Yellow Taxi,” which contained the immortal words, “don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone.” I think the lyrics referred to the breakdown of a relationship but recent events made me think of them.

On September 27th, 2023, it was announced that the famous Sycamore Gap Tree had been felled in what appeared to be an act of vandalism. The tree had been an iconic feature in the landscape for more than 200 years.

While it is undeniably sad and shocking, it’s also quite intriguing how the event has resonated with people all over the world. Many individuals in both the UK and abroad probably weren’t aware of the tree’s existence until it no longer existed.

Within a few days, there was a need to appeal to the public to stop visiting the site, now referred to as “the former Sycamore Gap.” It might seem like a strange phenomenon, but a similar occurrence took place in 1911 when Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa was stolen. If you’re wondering how one of the world’s most well-known paintings could have been so unprotected, one of the reasons was that it wasn’t particularly famous until the theft occurred and was reported in the world press. As a result, throngs of people flocked to the Louvre simply to observe the empty spot on the wall.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Is it that we sometimes or maybe often, fail to truly appreciate what we have until it’s no longer there. Please don’t think I lack empathy for the heart-wrenching and seemingly senseless loss that has occurred, I too am deeply saddened by it. 

However, I can’t help but wonder if something positive could emerge from this tragedy.  Here’s a fantastical thought, imagine someone formed a movement based on “Sycamore Trees Matter” campaign,  would the instant public response be, ‘but all trees matter!’ And of course,  that is the point, they do! 

So, might this be an opportune moment to also mourn for the estimated BILLIONS of trees that are felled each year in our global rainforests? According to Global Forest Watch 15 billion trees are cut down every year. In 2019 by using satellite imagery, they estimated a global tree loss of 24 million hectares, an area the size of the UK.

Apart from their beauty and historical value, trees provide habitats for animals and insects, and generate the oxygen vital for our planet. We quite literally cannot survive without them.

I am saddened by the loss of the Sycamore Gap tree, but perhaps it takes one tree to make us appreciate all trees. That exact Sycamore can never be replaced but could it become a symbol for all the trees across the world. Can a seemingly pointless act create a response that helps protect all trees. Might our response be to plant a tree or support tree planting initiatives worldwide, or even just appreciate and protect the trees that remain.

deforestation activity area view

And then maybe, just maybe, the other words from Joni’s song, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” won’t come true.

Trees Matter.

A SEMblance of thoughts – these are my musings on topics, themes and questions that occur during my participation on the MA of Spirituality, Ecology & Mental Health at Buckinghamshire New University, High Wycombe, UK. I appreciate any (polite!) views and comments you might wish to share.


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