When Barbara Walters asked Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she would want to be, Hepburn replied, “everybody would like to be an oak tree.” With all due respect to one of the grand dames of classic cinema, I think many Calgarians, given the option, would choose to be a larch.
Larches, like Calgarians, do not behave like their neighbouring species.
The larch is one of the rare deciduous conifers, losing its needles each year in a spectacularly coloured display. Now is the season of larch-mania when we tromp through the aptly named Larch Valley (or find a larch-road less travelled) to behold this annual neon show.
Unlike the varied fall colour display of the maple tree — the tree that nationalists assume all Canadians must identify with — larches change en masse in a unified shout of brilliance. If one were so inclined (as it appears I am), one could compare this to Calgarians’ annual but short-lived display of Stampede regalia — another show that draws in observers from far and wide. Or the colour display of Flames jerseys whenever there is a home game or a playoff run.
Larches are supported by a root system that is both broad and deep. Because of the roots we grow across our communities that bind us together deeply but also broadly throughout the city, Calgarians seem to be only ever one degree of separation from one another.
At once hardy and delicate, changeable and resilient, the slender larch punches far above its weight. Larch is a native species, acclimated to the mountainous region and ready for the rapid ups and downs of this environment. Larch is also considered a “pioneer species” — one of the first on the scene building things up after wildfire. Indigenous Calgarians whose ancestors were the first peoples of this land, as well as Calgarians who have just arrived, seem to all exhibit a similar sense of resilience and renewal, adaptability and excitement about how to improve conditions here.
An oak may be very strong and pretty, as Hepburn noted, but a larch is more aspirational. Resilient, long-lived, with a feisty and spectacular annual display and always playing against type. Sounds like a lot of Calgarians I know.