02 Oct Tree Hugger
As I begin to write I am sickened by the sound of a chainsaw echoing through my neighborhood. Although the situation might not be a dire as it seems, my core rattles from the violent noise and I am further jarred by rhythmic crashes of dismembered tree parts being dropped into the back of a ratty old pick up.
Where there once towered a beautiful, thriving 35 year old Palm, there remains only sky.
You’ll often hear people react with flippant remarks like, “it’s just a tree” but for me the act of cutting down a vibrant healthy living thing seems like a senseless act; a disregard for nature, for beauty, for life.
The reasoning behind the brutal removal was that my neighbor didn’t like the tree. Didn’t like the tree? How can something so strong and statuesque be a nuisance to anyone? Did she never notice the way that tree danced in the ocean breezes, moving with it’s partner (the now lone palm that still stands on our side of the fence), leaves intertwining, a slightly and slowly bowing with the weather? The bright green fans against the clear blue sky? It’s deepening silhouette of the evening against the oranges and reds of the late afternoon sky? Did she not hear the sound yesterday of the wind coming in the trees, announcing to all that fall is making it’s annual visit?
I am deeply saddened by the loss of a part of the landscape I have loved for the 5 years we’ve lived here. It is the last to go from the yard next to ours. There were 4 more a year ago but they had to go by order of the city. Seeing those 4 be butchered to stumps was hard enough but the neighbors that lived there then were given no option, just a notice on the door; an ultimatum that the trees would have to come down one way or another. In the massacre, they left one to remain as it was not “in the way” of the power lines. And now, for no reason at all, it too has been chopped to the ground.
There is a history with me and trees I guess. This is not the first time I have felt sadness for this kind of loss. As we moved into this house, we moved away from a home surrounded by trees; the 80 year old Jacaranda that wore it’s lacy lavender gown every year and graciously cooled our unconditioned house in the summer and provided a playful, almost human form of outstretched stick arms in winter, the old craggy plum tree that only offered a few plums each year but whose bark delighted and intrigued me with it’s texture and rich color, and the sister peach trees that would dazzle us with their spring display of tiny pink paper blossoms and then offer up their succulent fruit to our family providing enough to share with the entire neighborhood. Such generosity. Our ritual of the season’s first peach is one of my fondest memories in that house, as we would take our pick of the warm, sun ripened fruit and sit on the shaded porch, as we allowed ourselves to become intoxicated by sweetness as we savored all we we hold in out mouths while the excess dripped down our chins. Nectar from the Gods.
Before we moved from that house, I took an afternoon in the yard, shooting photographs of our trees. They had been there long before us but we lived there long enough to feel they were a part of our family or perhaps more that we had become a part of theirs. It felt good to take the time to honor them this way knowing with each photograph I would be holding a memory. It was a way I could say thank you for all they provided us.
The house was sold to people who claimed they loved the trees and that made leaving a little less difficult. But one day I got a desperate call from a dear friend (our old neighbor) that they were cutting the trees down. Her voice was shaking and in the background I could hear the chainsaws. It was as if the wind were knocked out of me and I could hardly breath, let alone speak. And it was evident she felt the same way. They were killing the extended family we left behind. The trees all went, one by one. The lovely sisters, the craggy plum, and the glorious and nurturing Jacaranda until the house was left standing bare and alone.
I look around my house now and see the photographs that I took that delicious afternoon 5 years ago of our trees and am thankful for the memories they hold, grateful for the pictures that remind me of the energy and beauty that infused us and how very much I loved them.
As the chainsaw continues to rage outside I feel a small void in my heart as I am reminded that I miss our old trees and that now, one more is added to the list. Or perhaps it’s more than just the trees. Could it be that I regard them as the living landmarks I encounter along my journey? Maybe these giants remain rooted in my life’s landscape as symbols of my past or the memories of things I don’t want to let go of. Being a bright eyed 20 something, falling in love, exchanging vows, birthing a baby, sharing the simplest of nature’s delights with my daughter, finding my way as an artist, a wife, a mother, and woman? Maybe that’s why when the trees come down my heart aches with the sadness of the ages. Maybe a tree by any other name is really just a part of me.