Reflecting on the view from 'up there'

As community portraits go, it is a bit of an abstract.

But we find ourselves endlessly intrigued by the image on today’s front page, a montage of 18 photographs of Bainbridge Island shot last July from an altitude of 12,000 feet. (We had assumed the project was by design, but it turns out the Department of Transportation’s aerial photography crew was trying out a new airplane and camera on a job somewhere north of here; finding themselves in good weather, they shot the island on a lark as they flew past. They were kind enough to provide the image to this newspaper for a nominal fee.)

We believe it’s the first serious aerial photography of the island in some time. And while large-scale reproductions have been on the wall at City Hall for several months now, we thought it would be worthwhile to get the image into wider circulation for community consideration. Ergo its inclusion in today’s edition, with some discussion of islanders’ favorite issue – trees – that it at once illustrates and engenders.

The beauty of the image is its trompe l’oeil quality of suggesting more dimensions than really exist. Focus the eyes one way, and you can see vast green carpets of deep and unspoiled forest land rolling out across the landscape. With more than 800 acres between them, Gazzam Lake, Manzanita Park, the Grand Forest, Fort Ward State Park, and the city-owned watershed at the head of Eagle Harbor suggest an island rich in publicly owned forests. Fortuitous private ventures like IslandWood and large-lot developments around Blakely Harbor have spared perhaps 500 more acres from the ax; other tracts, like the Country Club watershed and parcels adjoining Gazzam Lake, suggest future opportunities.

Refocus a bit, and the steady creep of housing infill peeks through between the curtains of green. The artificial grid of the assessor’s map begins to impose itself on the natural landscape. Clearings are dotted by homes and whole subdivisions, commercial buildings, schools, parking lots. Yet some of the more conspicuous clearings – they show up as an unattractive brown under a July sun – are the scenic meadows off Weaver and Day roads; what looks to be a gouged-out area in the northwestern portion of the island is actually Battle Point Park. And even developed areas boast countless lesser stands of trees.

Truly, our glass is both half full and half empty. We love trees, we lose trees, new trees grow. But because trees and buildings can’t occupy the same square foot of space, tree-cutting becomes a metaphor, a surrogate notion for growth.

Is passion for trees indicative of discomfort with change?

One striking observation from the aerial image is that the most-developed, least-treed area is greater Winslow, between the highway and Sportsman Club Road; other pockets appear around Rolling Bay, Island Center and Lynwood Center. This pattern bears a striking resemblance to the goals expressed in our Comprehensive Plan. Other patterns, perhaps less driven by our grand designs, can also be seen emerging.

Our planning, our debates over growth and change, our very sense of “island self” – so deeply tied to our treescape – are inevitably driven by the view from the ground. Give the view from two miles up some contemplation as well.

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