Sunday, April 9, 2017

If a tree falls down in the forest, how structural was it?

Yesterday I went for two walks through the forest with Farley; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The second time I came by this part of the trail, a huge tree lay fallen across the path where only few hours before the path had been clear.  

I don’t know what structural means. I understand that it has something to do with order and things being put together in the right way.  I understand too, that decorative is kind of the opposite of structural — that something that doesn’t have structure is loosey-goosey and hard to get your head round or get a grip on. And I get it that if were talking about stone walls it has something to do with them being built well — in such a way that they’re not likely to fall over. Yet if it falls over eventually, does that mean it wasn't structural? And if it was, at what point did it stop being structural? How correct is it to think that things that are structural generally last a long time? 

Computers are structural. They don’t last. Wooden fences are structural. Cars are structural. Washing machines are structural. Light bulbs. Paper coffee cups. But more importantly, so many abstract, beautiful, sometimes very temporary things in nature, and all kinds of human activities, are also very ‘structural'.  

How much of it then is structural, in the way we wallers proudly imply it should be? How important is it to think structural has everything to do with being permanent and not much to do with beauty or God forbid, expedience? We seem to think it’s logical to impose a definition of structural on the walls we build where it’s not okay that they behave like anything else made by man or even nature, for that matter.  

Just because we are using a tremendously long-lasting material doesn’t mean there is only one choice but to build things that last as long as is humanly conceivable, no matter how long it takes or expensive it is to build, or train to be able to build them that way. 

Maybe we're going about it all wrong. Maybe building good fences of stone that last only 60 years might make all the difference. It might mean people could afford to build them or have them built and enjoy them in their lifetime. 'Built properly' could mean, well enough to be built at all, and work, and last 'long enough' for a wall. Maybe not to see even a lesser lasting wall in your yard would be a sad thing for someone who really could use one that stayed up at least as long and definitely looked better than a wooden or wire one. In just the same way, maybe planting a tree that is only going to grow sixty years is enough, if it’s going to look beautiful and give you shade and a place to tie a hammock to and maybe firewood after it falls down. 

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe when a tree falls to the ground we should all ask “What went wrong?  Why did this tree fall over? It should never have been allowed to grow here if it was only going to fall over, and possibly end up killing someone.” 

Could it be that only equating structure with durability, the standard becomes way too oversimplified and perspective is lost, to the point that people begin to say “ It's better not to have forests at all, if the trees are only going to keep falling over. We need to replace these dangerous structures with boulders that are certified never to fail.

But then again maybe walls are the exception to the rule. Maybe they, of all the things that one introduces onto a property, need to be presented to the public as immutable ’structures' that presumably could, and therefore should withstand a bomb attack. 

If that's the case, they must never be thought of as being any part of the 'ever-changing' landscape.


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