Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Defending an Urban Tree

When my friends—I'll call them Tree Lovers—bought a house on a corner lot, they also acquired a large tree that shouldered right up to a corner street light. Sadly, the power company informed them that up to half of the tree's canopy would have to go, because it was blocking too much light.

It was hard not to sigh mightily for that unfortunate tree.

Historically, large street-side trees have fared miserably when it comes to urban utilities. Such trees tend to get butchered by municipal tree-trimming crews out to clear overhead power lines. Or their roots get severed by trenching operations for buried utility lines, or sheered off during street-widening projects. So when it came to a choice between a tree and a light pole, one would just have expected the Tree Lovers' specimen to end up being the loser.

But then, one would not be accounting for our intrepid Tree Lovers.

They started off by questioning the inevitable...and found a ray of hope. They learned from city officials that if they could get the majority of their neighbors to sign a petition in favor of it, the streetlight would be removed. Petition in hand, the knocking on doors commenced.

Matter of fact, the majority of the neighbors didn't want the streetlight removed. "But," according to Mrs. TL, "they also admired the tree and hated to see it chopped up." (Also, let it be said that none of the neighbors wanted a streetlight on their own property, which was an option.)

To my surprise—but perhaps not to theirs—the Tree Lovers succeeded: everyone they asked signed the petition. The tree that had stood on their street corner for generations was spared gross disfigurement that would likely have resulted in its death. The streetlight pole came down without so much as a whimper.

But, of course, the threat to the tree hadn't ended—and never will. Besides the formidable difficulties of living in an urban setting, trees contend with regular assaults from the weather. In December 2007, a catastrophic ice storm damaged or brought down thousands of trees in this Tree City. Debris-collection trucks roamed the streets like death wagons during the Black Plague, picking up logs and branches.

The tree on the Tree Lovers' corner survived.

Last year, a severe drought set in, steadily deepening to the most extreme level of "exceptional." With the drought came the most brutal heat wave in state history.

The tree endured.

Last spring came a violent hailstorm, blowing through on winds of 60 to 90 mph. Roofs were stripped of shingles. Air conditioning units were torn off commercial buildings. Again, debris-collection trucks made their grim rounds.

By then, our Tree Lovers had moved to another state, but they hadn't forgotten their corner tree. When they heard about the latest storm, they couldn't help but wonder. So with some trepidation, I promised to swing by their house and check out how the tree had fared.

I know this sounds corny, but when that corner came into view, my heart swelled. There the big tree stood, battered and now seriously misshapen by its history, but still green and thriving. It shades the house that once sheltered my friends. And with luck and continued care, it might continue to stand tall for another generation or more.

A mature urban tree is a miracle of existence. While filtering pollutants from the air we breathe, it struggles with obstructed roots, blasting heat from man-made surfaces, and countless other daily insults. But it still provides habitat for urban wildlife, and enriches the visual texture of our lives.

Thus, the loss of the tree on the Tree Lovers' corner would have left a big chunk of empty sky. As all tree lovers know (or should know), sometimes a tree depends on you to fight for its right just to be.


Christine Rimmer said...

What a great story. Brought a tear. Or two.

Sandra Dark said...

Yes...Mr. & Mrs. Tree Lover are an extraordinary couple. We're honored to know them.