Recently, I found myself in Federal Way, WA. Federal Way is a gem of a city on Puget sound that often gets overshadowed by it’s larger neighbour, Seattle, about half an hour’s drive to the north. I wasn’t in town long before one of the attractions there caught my eye and required a visit.
The international headquarters of Weyerhaeuser is located there, which is of itself interesting to me, as it relates to my career of many years. Being in the print and graphics business, I have been involved in the use of a lot of paper. The idea of the use of paper being directly related to the ‘death’ of trees is somewhat peculiar to me. I often see people print something out on paper, as they guiltily admit to ‘killing a tree’ – or insist that by not printing out an email, they are ‘saving a tree’. While quaint, and an adequate way to remind people of the importance of the symbiosis that we have with the planet, it is somewhat misguided. First off, that single piece of paper you hold in your hand is such a small portion of a full tree. Paper is made from pulp, which comes from recycled fibre, as well as virgin tree fibre. The fibre in recycled paper gets shorter and shorter each time it is recycled, so using paper means that we need a steady supply of more paper fibre. And where do we get it? Grow more trees, of course. In fact, in a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997, forest growth exceeded harvest by 42 percent and the volume of forest growth was 380 percent greater than it had been in 1920” (Forestry Department, 2000). This increase in tree growth is in direct response to consumer need. And it points to one vital fact that we often forget: If the consumer market needs more paper, we just grow some more—just like we’ve been doing since 1940! In the last 20 years of my professional life, I have seen the pulp, paper and print industries continually ‘cleaning up their act’; through initiatives such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), forests are sustainably managed and paper is certified with a chain-of-custody system to prove it. The piece of paper in your hand can be directly traced back to where it was harvested from. It is comical to suggest that computers, with their non-renewable, non-recyclable, energy-hungry components, are the answer to saving trees. I’m not saying you should throw out your iPad and go back to printing everything, but let’s use a balanced, managed approach to protecting the planet.
The Weyerhaeuser campus is a beautiful place, with wide open space, forested areas, and a peaceful, natural feeling. Driving my car through the winding roads towards the central building, I saw many people enjoying the surroundings, whether they were walking, cycling, or running. The main purpose of my visit was that I had heard that Weyerhaeuser hosts both a Rhododendron garden and a Bonsai collection. The Rhodos held little interest for me, but as a Taoist, I am particularly interested in the art of Bonsai and Penjing cultivation.
While stunting a tree’s growth and forcing its branches to grow a certain way would seem to go against the principle of wu wei, the true art of Bonsai is not in forcing the tree to one’s will, but in following the trees natural propensity for growth, bringing out a cultivated, yet natural state, albeit hand crafted through human intervention.
This collection is presented as a living museum, with placards displaying supporting information for each plant, such as the age of the tree, and how long it has been tended to as a Bonsai. Some of the plants come from other private collections, and are on loan to Weyerhaeuser.
Trees as old as the 1600s are on display, and as you walk the well maintained gravel paths, you gain a sense of wonder at the ages that these cultured plants have lived.
Next time you are in Federal Way, the value far exceeds the free admission, and is definitely worth a look. And next time you have to print out an important email, don’t feel so guilty about it.