L.M. Montgomery on the Love of Trees, and Hurricane Dorian

L.M. Montgomery simply loved trees. Her journals are filled with notes about trees–the beauty of landscape, like “the groves of maple and birch just turning to scarlet and gold” (Sep 25, 1889), or the desire to disappear and run “down to my favorite old spot under a big maple tree in the old school woods” (Feb 18, 1890). Her “dear old woods” are key to Montgomery’s growing up, both for beauty–“all shadowy nooks, carpeted with moss, or paths with ferns and wildflowers nodding along them … smiling through the traceries of the spruce boughs, or explored by the eye the intersecting glades … and ferny depths” (May 6, 1890)–but also critical for her sense of space, especially her home in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island (the real-life behind Avonlea).

Trees defined Montgomery’s sense of home, but also her sense of otherness:

“There was a heavy white frost to-night and this morning the town looked beautiful. All the trees were dreams of mist, looking as if a breath would demolish them, and across the river the forest looked like fairyland” (Jan 26, 1891).

Montgomery‘s classic work, Anne of Green Gables is, of course, filled with the love of trees. Mrs. Rachel Lynde begins the story by saying that “trees aren’t much company,” but Anne changes all of that. When she finds her way to Green Gables, she names the trees–as L.M. Montgomery did herself in her journals.

And then, of course, there is “the Avenue”–not just kind of pretty, but “the White Way of Delight.”

Emily from Emily of New Moon is also a namer of trees as part of her mystical negotiation of her world. It begins more mundane than Anne’s “Snow Queen” with Emily’s “Adam” and “Eve,” but trees are part of her transport to the land of faërie:

“the fairies of the white clover and satin catkins, the little green folk of the grass, the elves of the young fir-trees, sprites of wind and wild fern and thistledown. Anything might happen there–everything might come true” (Emily of New Moon, ch. 1).

Trees were such an essential part of Montgomery’s imaginary landscape. As they helped her transcend the normal and sometimes terribly parts of her life and allow her to walk in the ways of wonderland, so they are part of the magic that helps us as readers fall in love with her characters and walk with them in real-life lands of fantasy.

So it is sad news this week to hear that the passage of Hurricane Dorian by our province has brought great destruction to L.M. Montgomery’s family home. Descendent and caretaker of Montgomery’s original homestead, David Macneil estimates that 80% of the trees on the property were damaged or destroyed. As a lover of trees and as reader of Montgomery–and as someone who grew up in the same community, playing in her graveyard and her church–was moving to hear him describe his heartbreak.

It is okay to mourn the death of trees, I think. I don’t know that the “greats” of the 20th century tell us this, whether Ernest Hemmingway, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Platt, Doris Lessing, or Hunter S. Thompson lead us there or not. But the authors I love best–Tolkien and Lewis and Montgomery–they know what trees really are. Tolkien talked somewhere in “On Fairy-stories” that “the proper languages of birds and beasts and trees … is much nearer to the true purposes of Faerie.” Montgomery would have agreed, without every losing the homey, rootedness of trees:

“Emily was always glad that she lived where there were many trees–old ancestral trees, planted and tended by hands long dead, bound up with everything of joy and sorrow that visited the lives in their shadows” (Emily’s Quest, ch. 2).

I am glad, then, to hear that one old tree survived the storm, a century-old apple tree, perhaps a young sapling in one of Montgomery’s visits home. You can read the CBC news story of the Montgomery’s homestead and Hurrican Dorian here, where I found the pictures. I wish them all the best in the cleanup.

I’ll leave you with a little clip, a Canadian Heritage Minute, which was how us younger Canadians learned about history growing up.

 

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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19 Responses to L.M. Montgomery on the Love of Trees, and Hurricane Dorian

  1. Allyson says:

    How sad. I visited the Montgomery sites last summer. Truly beautiful; just as I had imagined them from her books. Thank you for the update.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this moving post, Brenton–Dr. Brenton!–for I too love trees for many of the same reasons, being inspired by the same sources. I always greet the trees by my lovely library in Methuen, Massachusetts, eschewing paths for the grass so I can go right up to them and gaze up. Alas, Mr. Buckeye had to be cut down because of rot, but the Queenly Beech still stands, reminding me always of that magical time in Narnia during Prince Caspian’s era when all the trees gathered to adore the Lord Aslan.

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  3. Dorothea says:

    I mourn trees as well, and a hurricane (asides from many other things) is always a sad thing when so many trees fall and landscapes change. I thought of you when I heard that PEI may get some effects of the hurricane, and I hope you and your family were safe, Brenton. The trees will be missed, but new tress will be planted and they will grow to live long lives as well. It is nice to know that one of the century old trees survived. After Irma blew through in 2017, a lot of trees fell in the park near my house as well, but it’s only been two years and some of the new trees have grown quite a bit!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    That is a source of sorrow – so many trees, and all at once! Intriguing that even trees as old as 80 would have been very young at L.M. Montgomery’s death – thinking of things like Tolkien’s Nimloth and the Four White Trees of Gondor and BB [Denys Watkins-Pitchford]’s Lord of the Forest, I wonder if there were lots of generations of trees at the Cavendish homestead, and may by happy seeding be more young descendants of Montgomery-era trees. Does there happen to be much photographic evidence of heights or generations of trees while she lived there, or revisited?

    Someone to add to the notable Twentieth-century tree-lovers is Božena Komárková (1903-97), a Czech Christian teacher and philosopher imprisoned by the Nazis, and, after a brief respite of a couple post-war years, forced out of work and into early retirement by the Communists who feared she might have an ‘ideologically damaging’ influence on the young. I’ve just read (excerpts from?) her September 1941-May 1942 prison diary, full of vivid, detailed memories of trees (and smaller plants) in different seasons – written in a cell where she can only see changes of light and hear things like the trickling of melting snow on the roof. (She seems very Lewis and Tolkien compatible – a lot of the diary sounds like Surprised by Joy!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Is there such a thing as a literary arborist? an historical tree-herder? Seems like there is room for environmental criticism of past literature.
      Once again, you have brought of up great people to add to my reading list! I happen to think that there is a lot of connection between Lewis & Montgomery.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Perhaps a dendrochronicler? I’m reading a little anthology of short works by Božena Komárková in Dutch translation – and having a difficult time finding out whether much of her work has been translated into English, and where I could see a copy – WorldCat shows one book, published in her homeland in 2003, and suggests the closest library copies are in London, Oxford, Leipzig, Berlin, Prague, and at Yale! I may try to look into copyright matters and see if I could translate something from the Dutch translation. She seems MacDonaldy, as well as Lewisy and Tolkieny… I swiftly think of lots of people who are both Lewis and Montgomery lovers – I wonder if there are many who know both who aren’t?

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  5. Hannah says:

    I also love trees for the same reasons and this post ties in with loads I am reading and thinking about, e.g. this passage from a good chapter by Gilbert Meilaender “On Moral Knowledge” in “The Cambridge Companion to CS Lewis”.
    On pp 127 & 129 he outlines the long movement of Western thought, the reductive process, as described in “The Abolition of Man” and in “The Empty Universe”, from the qualities of objects no longer being seen as present in the object but only as supplied by the knowing subjects (humans), to those subjects (humans) becoming as empty as the objects ……:
    “We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of the primeval sense of impiety ….”
    Your post helps see the wonderful and inherent value of trees!

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    • Yes, that’s exactly it, Hannah.
      Yet here is the strange reality: we need beams. Houses, I mean, and other things to live and work in. SOmehow this life includes living in the dryadic wonder and making useful things in responsible ways. I think all of life is tension like that, but that’s a hard public message.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I suddenly want to reread the Tom Bombadil section of LotR and ponder ‘keeping trees sleepy’… (what is it about willows? I was also surprised by the treatment of oaks in Peter Beagle’s Tamsin (1999), which was not at all in keeping with my sense – and (dare I say) experience – of them!).

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        • I’ve not read Beagle, even the unicorn book. But Bombadil is a kind of tree-herder–if not of the ent way.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Yes, I really never thought how nice a comparison and contrast between Tom and Treebeard, neither hasty, both decisive, helping hobbits – by lulling trees on the one hand and stirring them up on the other. (Beorn suddenly springs to mind as another interesting comparison and contrast with both, too, though with respect to animals rather than plants, and stirring up his own ‘animal’ ferocity as the ents do their own rather ‘vegetable-like’ ferocity, as well as the trees’ – what a fascinating imagination of arboreal strength combined with very uncharacteristic speed.)

            I haven’t read enough Beagle, but enjoyed both The Last Unicorn and Tamsin – very different, but, if I think about it, each distinctly woodsy in its own way! (Something to watch for, in reading more…)

            Liked by 1 person

    • Hannah says:

      Yes! I guess it all depends on how we go about it, our motivations. Is it wilfully destroying them, like burning down the Amazon jungle for exploitation, or do we glorify God’s creation in the way we use the trees in our homes, but also in eg sculptures, showing the wood’s beauty and character?
      The movie Avatar shows that difference so well! And Elizabeth Goudge is great in describing the characters of trees and their wholesome impact on the lives of the characters and as wood in their homes – to mention some examples that came up just now.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hannah says:

    Yes! I guess it all depends on how we go about it, our motivations. Is it wilfully destroying them, like burning down the Amazon jungle for exploitation, or do we glorify God’s creation in the way we use the trees in our homes, but also in eg sculptures, showing the wood’s beauty and character?
    The movie Avatar shows that difference so well! And Elizabeth Goudge is great in describing the characters of trees and their wholesome impact on the lives of the characters and as wood in their homes – to mention some examples that came up just now.
    And, congratulations on passing your Viva! ;-))

    Liked by 1 person

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