Losing a Tree

Something almost unbearably sad is happening in our neighborhood.

We live in an urban canyon that opens out into a bay, what was originally a huge wetlands. Our midcentury home is on the canyon’s south facing slope on an ordinary middle class street characterized by families with dogs and cats and cars. Our yards are full of palm trees, liquid ambars, avocados, eucalypts, pepper and olive trees. No one ever moves out of this neighborhood unless they absolutely have to.

A Torrey Pine

When we came here more than twenty years ago there were two extraordinary Torrey pines, both over one hundred feet tall (a rarity), on the street that follows the canyon bottom. If you’ve never seen a Torrey pine, that’s because Pinus torreyana is an endangered species that grows in San Diego County and a small island off the coast.

A few years ago, one of these Torreys toppled over with a groan we heard throughout the neighborhood. It fell carefully, though, as if in consideration of the damage it might do. It hurt no one at all and took care to drop between the cars parked along the street, but it did block traffic all day while a city crew cut and hauled it away. Though the loss of this tree was sad, it also seemed natural. We all reach a time when, for whatever reason, our roots won’t hold and down we go.

But today its partner is going in a way that all of us along these streets feels with pain and loss. Its massive roots have invaded and begun to break up the foundation of the house in whose yard it stands. The city tree surgeons were called last month to see if the tree could be saved and when they went away and time passed well hoped not to see them again. But yesterday they came back and today our quiet summer morning is torn by the screams of the saw and I know that later in the day when I drive out to run errands, there will be a wider view of the canyon and the university on the rim, more blue sky, but a magnificent living thing will be gone forever.

Don’t tell me it’s just a tree. I know that. I’m a gardener and all of my breed knows that this morning’s rose is already dying. But trees occupy a special place in human life. They have been with us from the beginning, from even before the first curious hominid climbed down from the branches and discovered she was a biped. Like dogs, they are connected to us down deep, rooted in our hearts and souls. So don’t tell me it’s just a tree.

I know this tree was a problem and threatened the safety and security of the family that owned it – if anyone can really own a tree. My very Twenty-first Century mind tells me that it had to go. But I hate that it had to happen. I wish that I didn’t feel as if we were putting down a healthy dog whose only crime was that it barked too loudly. Yesterday I spoke to a couple of the tree surgeons doing the job and they shared my feelings. They weren’t tree butchers but men who saw Tecolote canyon’s Pinus torreyana as a beautiful living thing and hated the job they were called to do.

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3 Responses to “Losing a Tree”

  1. Ellen Siemens says:

    Drucilla, … Soooooo miss seeing you at the Friday Night Gratitude meeting at 5:30 — there yet another particularly good group to share your grateful thoughts with — as you’ve done so eloquently here. I believe I heard (on Palmetto) the early morning saw. But, then, again, there are other reasons for sawing. I’m just so sorrowful and wept when reading this. Would that we could live in trees again. I wish I’d owned the house. I’d like to think I’d have leveled the house and built something smaller on the property, waking in the morning, with the Torrey, stretching my own limbs alongside her. Lovely albeit bittersweet rendering. Fondly, Ellen Siemens

  2. Art Campbell says:

    Wow, Dru, that sooooo touches a nerve! All I can take away from this sad incident is its reminder that life is constant change and loss. It’s the price we pay for being born. We can love and grieve intensely but we can’t stop the operation of cosmic laws. See you for dinner! Art

  3. Joyce Butler says:

    I knew when I read your untimely death of the Torrey pine that I had to find a William Blake quote that I read many years ago in college. I found it! May it bring you some comfort.

    “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.”
    – William Blake, 1799, The Letters