Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This morning I woke up to the sound of a tree being cut down in my neighborhood. It was a strange morning - I overslept, mired in strange dreams about Dora going to jail, me realizing her monkey and night-night had been left behind in her crib. I woke up feeling awful because of the dream, and then finding that a tree was going down in our neighborhood made it all feel worse.

I told a friend that it felt like witnessing a murder - watching the limbs being stripped, then the trunk cut down. A living tree being felled just seems like a defenseless creature losing it's life. I talked to the tree trimmers (murderers?) at lunch, asking if any other trees would be cut down. This particular tree was right across the street from our house, providing afternoon shade and glorious fall color in deep reds, oranges, and yellows. No, he informed me, they would only be trimming the other trees. The tree they cut down had many dead limbs, he said, and was a safety hazard. Regardless, there is an emptiness in our neighborhood now.

Growing up, we had an impressive old Oak tree on our property. We estimated the tree was over a hundred years old. It stood majestically at the top of the hill above our house, full and round and casting a robust shadow in the summer. Our donkeys would loaf under it's sturdy branches in the summer, in the fall it would turn a beautiful rust-brown. In winter it's outstretched arms would scrape against the cold Ohio sky, bare limbs rattling in the wind. This was really one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen.

We lived in the foothills of the Appalachians, with hot humid summers that included impressive thunderstorms. During one particularly intense windstorm, I stood in the kitchen by our double sliding glass door, looking up the hill at the huge old Oak tree. The loafing donkeys had retreated to the woods, waiting out the storm in their own wild animal way. My dad walked into the room behind me just as the old Oak gave way to the hard wind, slowly, painfully creaking to the ground, it's huge powerful limbs crashing into the dirt, it's giant stump turning up to the sky. It was, easily, one of the most horrifying scenes I have ever witnessed, and remains so to this day. I remember all of us collectively gasping at the sight of it, unable to believe that the centerpiece of our home had, in a matter of seconds, been reduced to a pile of twigs. I felt sick inside - all of us did - and we all grieved, even cried over, the loss of that majestic tree. It was a terribly sad moment, but I suppose it was better to see it felled in a natural way that to have had to cut it down at some point due to disease or decline.

A few months ago, our neighborhood in West Asheville got hit by a really terrible thunderstorm. Dora was at daycare at the time, I was working, and Brian was at home. He said it got so bad he considered going into our scary dirt basement with the cave crickets. After the storm, we walked around the neighborhood, shocked at the destruction that had barrelled down on houses just a few doors away from ours. There were lots in our neighborhood that lost almost all of their trees - tall white pines, maples, cherries. One woman's fence was destroyed by her white pines, another family's house was pierced by a falling branch. Another neighbor commented to me that the loss of all those trees was just the natural order of things, that pines are weak and fall in storms when they're ready to go - kind of like tree suicide, I guess.

We all joke around the office about "killing" trees when we print out too many copies of something. In our house we recycle everything, and I can't stand the feeling of something recyclable being tossed into the garbage. Trees are, of course, a renewable resource, and we live in an area with so many trees that our air quality is impacted by the volatile organic compounds they release. It's not as if, at least in our neck of the woods (pardon the pun), one tree cut down in the neighborhood is going to cause major problems or result in some species loss. But, it still felt like a sad day to me, to see that tree go down. I'm a tree hugger, through and through.

I spend a lot of time worrying about the world - worrying about the climate, the animals, air and water quality and quantity, what the future holds for my girl and her amazing little friends. I try my best to make decisions that don't harm the environment, but there is so much more that I could do. It's literally on my mind almost all the time, and the guilt from decisions that I know could be better is sometimes paralyzing. I believe that we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to take care of the earth, be conservative in our use of resources, do what we can to repair our damage.

I hope that my choices are making a difference, and that it's not too late for us. Sometimes Brian and I talk about the state of the world and we can get very negative - feeling like there are way too many people who just don't care burning through the resources like there's no tomorrow. My argument when we get really low like that is that humans have overcome many seemingly insurmountable things - we ended slavery, we gave women and people of color the right to vote, we championed civil rights, we closed the hole in the ozone layer. As I heard a commentator on NPR say yesterday, the people who wake up every morning in the White House are African American! If we can do these things - right some of these wrongs - surely we can save ourselves and our planet. I have to believe this, for my baby girl's sake, so that I don't get so discouraged as to think my actions don't matter. Nature is ingenious, too - ingenious enough to create a storm strong enough to topple an ancient tree that we humans didn't know was ready to return to the earth, recycled into nutrients in the soil. Together can't we make this right, can't we start making decisions for the good of all instead of the good of ourselves? As Obama would say "yes, we can". I hope Dora can say "yes, we did".

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