Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Quest for Canopy

My lunchtime walk is a problem, because although as I have said, the whole MSU campus is an arboretum, it's hard to find enough continuous tree canopy to stay in shade, and I've been getting too much sun on my face and arms. When I take my 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, I walk around in circles in a small park-like area with mature trees. However, to walk to the International Center food court for my 1 pm lunch (15-20 minutes one way) I can't avoid a lot of sun. Even if I skip lunch and proceed to the shady walk along the Red Cedar River, I still have to cross open spaces to get there. I don't walk in a straight line, but tack from shade spot to shade spot. Every time I can get under tree canopy, I experience an immediate burst of relief, which is all too quickly gone as I pass through the pool of shade and back into the blasting sunlight. It would be nice if future landscapers would consider this problem.

To appreciate the importance of trees, consider what it would be like in an environment were there are none. We can build things like canopies and overhangs, but there's a limit to the feasibility of providing enough man-made shade, and it's just not the same as tree shade. I think it would be very disturbing for someone like me to be transported to some dessert place without tree shade, yet there are people who grow up in such environments.

Thinking about differences in the natural environment and the built environment, as I was climbing the stairs in the parking tower, I saw a squirrel in a third story stairwell, sitting atop a trash receptacle, munching on an apple core it had fished out of the garbage. I initially thought it odd to see a squirrel so at ease in this steel and concrete structure, (though it's an open structure and there are nearby trees). Although the squirrel can see that a parking tower is not a tree, he probably doesn't concern himself with distinctions in what is natural vs. what is man-made. His concern is, "Is this a place where I can find food?" The squirrel's conceptual world is so different from ours that a lot of the distinctions we would make are of little relevance to him.

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