Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#13 Nature, Contained

It is relatively uncommon to see a Dane gone wild or riotous. There are of course some small exceptions to this rule, such as office Christmas parties, although in most cases any abberation can be traced directly to the consumption of large amounts of alcohol. As a general rule, though, Danes are an incredibly orderly bunch. And with the arrival of spring in Copenhagen and the general thawing out of the city, I'm starting to get the feeling that Danes like their Nature the way they like their fellow country-people - contained, restrained, and orderly.

Alien trees
Take, for example, Danish trees. There is a certain type of tree in Denmark and when I first saw it, I thought it was either some kind of Danish cousin to the baobob tree or diseased with a rare European fungus. It turns out neither was correct. The trees are actually plain old poplars that have been pruned to within an inch of their life. The trees are cut back repeatedly at specific points until they form large nodes from which new shoots grow each year and are in turn cut. It is interesting to note that, once pruned in this manner, a tree can never recover its natural crown shape.

 A node up close

In Medieval times, this had a practical application as the cut shoots were used to weave fences and fed to cattle. In modern times I cannot conceive of a purpose to this practice and I wonder if it's really just a Danish way of getting out pent up frustration and anger that is so infrequently expressed in this reserved society. I imagine this is what a tree might come out looking like if Winnebago Man had been given a pair of pruning shears instead of a hundred takes.

Even when not wielding shears like Edward Scissorhands to stunt their trees, Danes still seem to love to beat their flora into submission. The trees pictured below in Kongens Have (or The King's Garden) bear more resemblance to military cadets or Rockettes than anything remotely horticultural. Even the non-royal hedgerows in your garden-variety row house complex or apartment building received the memo and behave accordingly.

If Danish trees seem to express the constrained, orderly side of Danes, then Danish flowers express the reserved, polite side. Unlike a showy, tropical display full of neon-bright colors and come-hither scents, early Spring in Copenhagen blooms quietly and discreetly in soft carpets. Instead of screaming, "Take me home with you!" these flowers seem to ask, "Would you be so kind as to not tread on me?"

Danish flower shops are another sight to behold. When they can't be out in nature, Danes bring a little bit of it indoors. Danes have a wonderful knack for the art of floral arrangements and walking by the numerous flower shops all over the city brings a smile to my face every time. [They're almost as numerous as hair salons but not quite.] It's all very Martha-Stewart-ish minus the irritation of knowing that each individual flower in each of her arrangemetns probably has its own personal assistant.

I find that after living at the foot of the Rocky Mountains for the last seven years, with their awe-inspiring grandeur and massive vistas, I am enjoying this bit of Danish nature on a more human scale. Even when those humans hands have gotten carried away with the shears. If nature in Colorado made me feel small and relatively insignificant in the world, then nature in Denmark is bringing me back to seeing the beauty in that which is small and relatively insignificant.