Can a single tree on the eastern shores of Slovenia’s Lake Bohinj reflect so much about modern day attitudes many people have towards the environment, especially seemingly expendable items of which it is assumed there is an inexhaustible supply?

Notwithstanding an ongoing battle with a devastating attack by a bark beetle, usually only trees felled irreparably damaged during adverse weather are ‘artificially’ removed from the Bohinj region, where lawful logging permits are strictly adhered to in this most heavily forested country. It is perhaps then surprising that the plight of a single Beech tree has gained so much prominence amongst countless millions of its cousins.

Occupying an impossibly photogenic location looking west towards the Komna Plateau and Bogatin, the constantly changing light and reflections cast back by the cerulean waters ask questions of even the most accomplished lensman. Situated along the path between where civilization ends on the lake’s southern reaches and Bohinj’s almost primeval northern flank, the near eighty-year-old Beech has inadvertently become a victim of its circumstances. An obvious photo opportunity for any traveller the tree is now almost a mandatory stopping-off point for those wishing to document their time in Bohinj, but sadly the disrespectful habit many have of leaving a lasting reminder of their presence, by gouging initials and/or a heart-shaped carving into the bark left the tree on the very brink of destruction.

The constant traipsing of human hooves around the circumference of the trunk has inevitably damaged the roots, potentially compromising the ability of the tree’s life-giving arteries to sustain its health during the long, hot Gorenjska summers. Municipal and arboriculture experts have now intervened to positive effect, giving the tree every chance of survival from an ecological standpoint, although, as with the world in general, it will be the actions of humans that sadly hold the key to its long-term prospects.

One must then pose the question: are such destructive actions born from the minds of the thoughtless, the ignorant, or the malicious – the latter seeking to deny others a simple pleasure enjoyed by so many? It is to be imagined that those who for example get married in Bohinj and subsequently mark the occasion with a carved remembrance fully intend one day to revisit the scene of their happy day. Trees are though in many ways like us, protected by an outer layer to shield themselves from disease and repel atmospheric extremes. This is only one tree, but it speaks powerfully for the natural world: respect what you have and treasure, for even the romanticized actions of those with the best of intentions can significantly contribute to an inexorable downfall.

Bohinj’s municipality will hope that a tree that cannot be monitored 24/7 receives the respect it deserves, although behaviour in and along the lakeside during high summer is often the very antithesis of what is acceptable. Any signage warning off would-be engravers will have to be discrete in what is just a small part of the wider, Triglav National Park protection area. It will therefore be up to visitors to discern which rules, even mere suggestions, do or don’t relate to them, in a society increasingly relaxed about adhering to what suits the individual, rather than the wider world.

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