Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world. ~John Muir
The air was abuzz with the drone of chainsaws today, with pieces of giant pine trees crashing to the ground. A crew of tree workers felled every last tree in the yard across the street. Among them were some of the oldest white pines in the neighborhood, a couple of which were at least 24 inches in diameter. They were by far older and larger than my own red pines. One by one, they’ve come down today, their limbs being fed into the gaping mouth of the chipper as I write. Even the dogs are unnerved by the noise and horror of it all.
I’ve lived in this pine barrens neighborhood now for 18 years. I’ve tended my gardens, raked pine needles and oak leaves, sometimes growing weary of the annual task. But I’ve always understood that pine needles, leaves and even sap are all things that I signed on for when I moved into a pine forest.
Well, what was once a pine forest, anyway.
Cutting down the woods has been the neighborhood sport for years, as people “cleaned up” the trees to green up lawns and, occasionally, plant other kinds of trees. Not pine trees of any sort.
Over the years, I’ve even added a few firs, dogwoods, hemlocks and spruces. No longer a strictly pine barrens yard, it is never the less bursting with life, wildness and green.
Mine is a compact city neighborhood of 90 houses, built some 35 years ago around a small park and encircled by a wooded strip of commonly owned green space. Suffice it to say, most people here seem to hate the trees. When the tree service truck rolls into the neighborhood, it usually makes its way to more than one yard over the period of a few days. The contagion of “opportunity” to eradicate the trees once and for all spreads up and down the street. One such time, I watched 20 trees fall just two houses down the street.
Today’s death toll will be seven or eight, I think—at least, in the one yard in question. Whether other homeowners up and down the street will opt in to the “good deal” while the tree truck is “in the neighborhood,” I don’t yet know.
I am sick with grief. There’s the unspeakable violence to these beautiful, healthy trees. Over that, I am, quite literally, sick. But there’s more. I’m saddened by the realization that I may be alone in my appreciation for the trees and left feeling particularly without hope. My little sanctuary, with every passing year, becomes more and more an oasis in a desert of yards turned parking lots, stripped bare of any threat of falling pine needle or leaf.
There’s a time for removing trees. I’ve done it myself, but not without great sadness. In a wooded neighborhood, it can be a challenge to find a spot for a little garden. I can even understand removing a tree to protect the house from disaster. But every single, last tree?
At last count, I have 22 full-grown and happily growing trees on my tiny quarter acre property. I love every one of them, and appreciate each for its special gifts.
Somehow, I still manage perennials, blueberries, a thriving herb garden and small vegetable garden. Even some grass. All this, giving up just one tree to a storm years ago and three more to the tree “service” for the sake of sunshine on my vegetable garden.
People say they “hate” the pine needles and oak leaves. They say the trees might fall on their houses. The sap might drip on their cars. They want more sun, better lawns and a low maintenance yard. In some cases, they want more space to park cars. I wonder—how could so many people choose to move to a wooded neighborhood, only to strip the neighborhood of the woods that made it beautiful?
There are times—and this is one—when anger feels more constructive than sadness. Of course, the two are close friends. The truth is, anger has yielded to tears a few times today, only to rise up again with more fury than before. It’s been a long day.
Having argued on behalf of the trees more than once at neighborhood association meetings, I feel quite powerless against this phenomenon. I am, I’m afraid, quite alone on this issue. I long for the comfort of a community where trees are understood, valued and respected and hope that someday I will call that place home.
In the mean time, this is my home. Tomorrow, the sun will shine a little more brightly on my own yard, with the loss of these 80-foot giants across the way. My living room will flood with morning sunshine, and I will greet the moon each evening as it rises unobstructed over a new horizon.
Life will go on, and I’ll get used to the new landscape, I know. But I will never understand this nonsense.
I chose not to photograph the destruction I witnessed today, for fear of memorializing it and searing it into my memory, somehow making it even more real. Instead, I paid my respects to the lovely trees on this small piece of land under my stewardship, and thanked each one of them for being here for me today.