Only God Can Make a Tree*
But Apparently My Landlord Can Kill Them –
Lots of Them
-Letter Written by Judy Daley
This is a story about trees. Big thick-trunked, bushy, fluffy green ficus trees. Twenty ficus trees that lined the one horseshoe-shaped street of my little apartment complex.
My landlord, a prominent Orange County developer, decided that the ficus trees were too messy – pesky leaves and berries were defiling our cars and sidewalks. So – the trees have been cut down this week. I had heard from neighbors that some residents had complained often and loudly about the “mess.” I questioned the community manager about the complaints, but she assured me that the mass destruction of these sweet shady trees was necessary, because their roots displace water lines and rumple sidewalks. I and my pup have been inspecting the sidewalks all week, as we walk past huge piles of perfectly pristine pieces of trees littering our one (now parched) street. I don’t see any fractured sidewalks. But who am I to object?
I am a working stiff, struggling to make a life here and help my young adult children when possible. I can’t cure Ebola, crush ISIS or change the rising tide of domestic violence in the NFL and society in general. But I can speak out about the trees.
Emails to the corporate headquarters of my landlord and copying a local “tree organization” were unanswered. Apparently no one cares that twenty miracles of nature have been demolished this week – in drought-plagued, climate-changing California.
Those trees were our friends. Yes – our friends. They protected all of us in this community from a searing sun this hot summer. Birds lived in their luscious branches, including hummingbirds. Even bats lived in these trees. Bats were found in hallways of our building after the trees were obliterated. The bats were the reason there were no bad bugs like West Nile mosquitoes on this street. Crows? The city of Irvine is filled with crows. Like the ubiquitous pigeons of Manhattan’s Central Park, species like the crows are among the few critters that can survive in the concrete jungle that we humans have created. Lots of life was destroyed during the felling of these twenty trees. But the more profound loss is our human loss of courage and outrage and respect for humble nature.
Those trees produced oxygen so that we can breathe. We humans excrete carbon dioxide. No one is planning to destroy twenty of us humans here at my community because we pollute the air. To the Persons Who Complained about the leaves and the berries: hopefully you will enjoy our “new” community, which now has all the ambiance of the 405 during a heat wave.
Trees have been the stars of art and poetry and film for centuries – and for good reason. Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” is one of many poems that celebrate these life-giving miracles. A.E. Housman’s cherry trees (“A Shropshire Lad”) are a metaphor for the precious and fleeting journey of life:
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
The tree in Forrest Gump was an unforgettable image in the film, appearing in the beginning of the film and in the end – filled with white birds and guarding the burial site of Forrest Gump’s lifelong love. Even the Bible starts off with the Tree of Life in Genesis. And there’s Shel Silverstein’s children’s book, “The Giving Tree,” a heartbreaking life story of a tree from sapling to hissing, burning logs.
In tears, yesterday I cut a small tiny branch from one of the many smashed pieces of ficus that were unceremoniously piled all along the horseshoe street. I placed the little branch in a vase. I hope it will grow roots and I will grow my own tree, which no one will cut down. One piece of discarded, chopped-up wood was heart-shaped and big enough to sit on. I dragged it into my apartment.
The trees on the horseshoe street will not be forgotten.
Photo “Big Ficus Tree” by Michael Konik