The Miracle of Trees
On a recent trip to Mexico City, I was stunned by the tranquility of many urban zones in this writhing metropolis of 24 million people, the second largest city in the world. Granted, I was in the upscale areas of Palanco, Condesa and Roma, but despite crippling traffic, pollution and population density, they felt oddly civilized, peaceful, and sublimely quiet. The reason? Trees. Endless canopies of Fresno, jacaranda, eucalyptus, ficus, yuca and pine – many of which we enjoy here
Not only do these trees provide a delightful visual softening to the massive concrete blight, they also cool, shade, provide oxygen, scrub pollution, and, amazingly, induce calm. Cars moved slower, people spoke in whispers, and no one honked – the acoustic antithesis of New York or LA. It was eerie, but at the same time incredibly civilizing. Maybe it’s the acculturation of the very polite Mexicans. But I suspect it is in large part because of that wonderful, thick foliage, and the incredible life force and connection to nature they provide.
But Mexico City isn’t done. According to onegreenplanet.org, they recently announced plans to “plant 18 million trees around the city bounds and surrounding suburbs.” Environment Minister Rafael Pacchiano described the project as a “historic reforestation” to reinforce the “green belt in the megalopolis.” People are waking up to the reality that we cannot live healthy, sustainable lives without the help of trees and are taking action to restore formerly destroyed forests.
Which brings me to our fair city. Yes, we have amazing open space with our seven-mile coastline and 25,00 acres of greenbelt. But the thing that distinguishes us more than any other town in Orange County is the wonderful panoply of mature trees we have cultivated through the years. Some of our neighborhoods are so lush they resemble Hawaii. The recent success of the temporary Park Plaza as a downtown respite was in no small measure a result of the glorious, giant ficus trees that provided shade and cooling during our searing winter months. That, and outdoor MacGillivray Freeman movies nights.
Trees are magical, sacred, and not only connect us to nature, but to our very history on the planet. The ancient bristlecone pine forest outside Big Pine, Ca., boasts the oldest living things – trees that are up to 4,000 years old. Spend time with any tree – place your hand on its trunk and take in the scared geometry of its bark – and you will feel something extraordinary that can sooth and heal your daily angst living in our chaotic, synthetic world.
And yet, in our endless march to property wealth, some in our town have taken to guerilla measures to poison and kill trees that obstruct their views. And some were taken down through a rush to judgment by the city. What a travesty, because having a bluebelt view sprinkled with a canopy of green is the ultimate in views. Several years ago I personally experienced the callous evisceration of a beautiful, heritage palm tree adjacent to my rental property on the beach when new, adjacent homeowners discovered the tree to be on a city-owned right away and, without a permit, cut it down to open their view. When I confronted the couple, the wife reasoned it was their right because they paid hefty property taxes, and I didn’t have a say because I was “only a renter.” I replied that we are all just renters on this planet, and that the tree was here long before they arrived, and would have stayed long after. I mourned the loss of that beautiful tree a long time.
Luckily, we have some fierce tree advocates here who recognize how essential they are to our well-being, and are taking action. The MacGillivray family has established the Laguna Beach Urban Tree Fund with an initial endowment of $50,000. Their goal is get the largest specimen of trees chosen by the Downtown Specific Plan for the over 30 fallen tree sites downtown, and provide funding for enhanced special needs, like pruning and watering. They and others also prevailed upon the City Council to establish an annual Arbor Day beginning this March 7, which not only would provide recognition, education and celebration of our glorious trees, but would also make us eligible for the title of Tree City, USA, joining thousands of other cities in California and across the country that also recognize the value of trees for a healthy and beautiful community. This coming Tuesday, Feb 27, the City Council will make the Arbor Day proclamation.
If you want to contribute to the Tree Fund, contact the Orange County Community Foundation after March 1, when the fund will be open. And if Mexico City is bold enough to plant 75% as many trees as residents, then we should have a matching goal of planting 75%, too, which would be about 18,000. Wouldn’t that be a game changer!
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]