Counting Tree Time
“Are you trying to save the trees?” a neighbor asked as I stood on Bluebird Canyon Drive looking at the five Eucalyptus the council and Edison have proposed to cut down. Instinctively, I said, “Yes.” But it’s much more complex than that. Am I a tree hugger? I think not, if that means an emotional attachment to every tree. Perhaps I am more attached to the investment in time that every tree represents.
When I was in landscape architecture school I was learning too much too fast for my and the world’s own good. So I came home to my parent’s house with so much new-found knowledge and way too many opinions based on my partial understanding of the world of landscape architecture. I think they were glad to send me back off to school with the hope that some moderation would creep in during future semesters.
One of my opinions involved the tree outside my grandmother’s window. It was a silk oak. Silk oaks (Grevillea, not a true oak) have a list of problems a mile long, from how many leaves they drop to how fast they grow and how large they eventually get. And they’re not native plants. This one, though, was only about 12 feet tall, green and bushy and it looked quite beautiful outside Granny’s window.
I insisted though (and my parents conceded) that we should take it out and replace it with a native desert willow, clearly a better choice in the long term. But I had no sense of time. We had an investment of 10 or 15 years in that silk oak. It had grown to fulfill its purpose. My grandmother was enjoying it. I should have realized but didn’t that she had only a few more years left with us. What harm was there in letting that tree stay, and letting her enjoy it every day? I was still sad many years later, my grandmother long in her grave, when I looked at the desert willow that was finally getting to be the size the silk oak had been.
So much time had been lost. The silk oak’s time had been thrown away, and then we had to wait double to have a tree there again.
That story comes to mind when I’m looking at trees proposed for the chopping block. How many years have they bravely stood there, fulfilling their mission to grow and reproduce? Completely vulnerable to our whims, their feet are rooted in place. They can’t run and hide. They trust us to protect them. We’ve allotted them a spot, and watered, trimmed, maybe even fertilized. Years have passed and the shade and beauty pay us back. We’ve spent years together, the community and the trees.
Our mutual investment in time and growth shouldn’t be thrown away capriciously. Not without good study.
“I love trees,” the neighbor said, “but these are a hazard.” Then came an often-repeated list of problems reputed to be connected with Eucalyptus. Clearly there are a lot of people who feel threatened by the trees, perhaps believing all the worst things that have been said—like I did about the silk oak. There are many others that enjoy the trees for being themselves, green, tall, and sheltering, like my grandmother did. Taking that pleasure away from her wasn’t necessary. There was a middle ground.
There’s a middle ground here, too. There are professional ways to examine the trees and assess their potential for hazard. Then we can be assured we are removing only the hazardous ones. There is much improved maintenance that can be done by the city. Health and beauty can be improved. There are standards of care for the vegetation in general to reduce the fire risk in the neighborhood.
Kinder, gentler, and more thorough. What a way to spend our time together…
Resident Ann Christoph works as a landscape architect and served on the City Council.