If I hadn’t recently started taking bellydancing lessons I might not have noticed this right away. The teacher lives in the house directly behind me as I pointed my camera toward the town’s main drag. Many streets in this town look just like this: large, old houses and snug, old Cape Cods, surrounded by trees and plants. A large number of the houses were built by the same builders in the early twentieth century. My great-grandfather bought a house for his wife and seven children eight blocks away in 1917. The trees are an important part of the character of the town, which prides itself on being a walking community: you can walk to the store, to a restaurant, to buy a snow shovel. A few years ago, the Department of Public Works began doing something mysterious: cutting off the tops of healthy trees and leaving fifteen or twenty foot stumps. Two avenues over, there’s a block that looks like totem pole training school.
One day, I drove past the teacher’s house and saw a Department of Public Works crew had taken the treetop of the tree on the corner and started hacking asymetrically at the next one. I was horrified but not as horrified as the teacher and her family, who were traumatized. After some thought, I proposed the homeowners turn that one tall stump on the corner into art supplies by inviting woodworking sculptors to make something of it. They’d have to wait a year for the wood to dry, but it could be done. As you can see, surprises were in store.
If this story sounds confused time-wise, there might be a good reason for that: I was frantically working on other things. Each time a treetop came off it was after crews departed, apparently finished, but returned. On Thursday as I drove home from work I saw five crew trucks and a large crew taking down the second and third trees. I had my digital camera with me but I was so busy fighting the urge to turn a chainsaw on a chainsaw-wielding lunkhead it didn’t occur to me to menace same with a camera. So: that’s totally my fault. I’ll try to remember next time to calmly threaten cobags with Kodaks, their natural enemies. The moment passed, but there’s one important thing to remember: the trucks weren’t from the Department of Public Works. They were from a private contractor, the trees were on town land and were town property.
Sometimes the town takes down a tree when it interferes with the electric lines, but these were no different from trees anywhere in town in that the had grown up around the wires. So what’s to stop Public Works from deforesting the entire town? This drives my brother-in-law Dan crazy. He’s a landscape architect. Every time I tell him the Department of Public Works is up to something he gets a weary look in his eye like he’s retired from crimefighting, hung up his tights and it’s someone else’s turn. He says the last tree the crews cut has a hollow, round spot, which made me wonder if they’d started with the wrong tree and kept going. He says, “The trees must have been a hazard of some kind, right?” I’m so mad about this Dan’s in grave danger of explaining to a judge why I should be denied bail.
When I took these pictures yesterday the sunlight was so bright I couldn’t see the pictures I took. I was guessing. The teacher turned into her driveway as I stood there, staring at electrical wires and wondering what the camera saw. She was shocked to see the fourth tree apparently cut in half after she left the house that morning. My sister says a consultant working for the Department of Public Works gets paid to decide to take down trees and if there’s no deciding there’s no job. That may or may not be the case. The town has a committee that makes decisions about trees. Yesterday, that group’s website was down.
There may be a perfectly rational explanation for what’s happened here. I’d like to hear it. The homeowners would like to hear it, too.