Today I shouted a word that felt wrong exiting my mouth. I can not remember the last time I said that word in public, but there I was, driving past the Cardiff-by-the-Sea library, when looking up to see those ancient pines, I was greeted instead by angry chainsaws hacking away until they had brought two gentle giants to the ground. I felt dizzy, overwhelmed, angry and I let fly the most vulgar expression I know, following it with its sign language counterpart.
They had no right to do this. I mean, here was art older than most of the people destroying it, towering as if to show us our place, humbly providing decorative shade and a home to a variety of birds. These noble sentries had overseen the grandeur of every north swell for the past 60-some years, seen Nixon cut the ribbon for I-5, and watched, horrified, as mankind vainly attempted to compete with the waves by erecting bad public art. Although few bothered to realize it, these trees even offered gourmet food in the form of pine nuts that were often gathered without cost from the sidewalk. The wood could have at least gone to build a bookshelf or keep some poor traveler warm. Instead, 60 years of water and sunshine turned to greenery by a miracle called photosynthesis was reduced to a useless stump and sawdust in a few hours. Some said it was pine beetles and that the trees were dying. Others claimed the library needed the room.
Of course there may have been good reasons for the trees removal — the sidewalk may have been buckling, a loose pinecone may have threatened some yuppie’s dog, sap may have fallen on the hood of a city planner’s car. They may have posed a danger to us, but it was nothing compared to the danger we were to them. And so another city gem, more beautiful even than Miracles Café, is gone, to be replaced, no doubt, by a gravel pit, or some leafless twig surrounded by concrete, or maybe a statue of a tree with a cell phone tower planted inside of it.
To me it is the height of arrogance to believe you can build anything this beautiful. As evidence I offer exhibit A — a hollow pillared McMansion with a fake stone archway, forever giving the finger to the remaining one-story houses on our block with backyards and garages. Exhibit B stands next door to A, too big an oaf to realize how silly it looks crowding itself up to the street, like a man with a $10 rhinestone ring who compounds his gaudiness by making sure the ring is bigger than anyone else’s.
No city can compete with nature, so please don’t try. We ask nothing of you but restraint. You cannot give us our birthright — a clean ocean, a blue sky blackened each season by migrating birds, and a landscape clothed with trees.
The following poem has been disparaged by some modern poets as sentimental. I’ll take a sentimental tree hugger over a practical tree cutter any day.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
— Alfred Joyce Kilmer