Managing Nature

I woke to the sound of rain this morning. I listened to it filter through the leaves of the redwood, oak, and maple trees outside the window and watched it cascade off the roof tiles and into the gutter below. I pictured the immature trees the city recently planted in our neighborhood and wondered how many will survive the winter. They are twigs right now, babies really, insubstantial and frail.   

We live in a planned community. Along with that comes a neighborhood association and plenty of dos and don'ts: no cars are left out on the streets at night; garbage cans must be kept out of sight; cats and dogs are not allowed to roam.

I like to imagine the neighborhood before development started. In 1958, there were likely fields and maybe a few farms. Raccoons, skunks and the occasional coyote made their way through the grass to the river nearby. Then developers came along. Soon streets covered the fields, designer homes replaced the farms, shopping centers sprung up in the middle of the greenbelt, artificial lakes were formed. The fat raccoons whose ancestors once fished for their suppers now steal trash out of backyard bins. I see them sometimes when we are out walking. They turn and stare at us before waddling off in search of their next meal.

One thing the developers got right. They planted lots of trees in those former fields: redwoods and maples and oaks line the sidewalks. Ornamental pear trees grace the median strip, creating a lacy canopy in the summer. In the spring, the trees produce white fluffy flowers that look like popcorn. In the winter, their substantial and weathered trunks hold the promise of renewal.

In the last few weeks, 112 of those trees have been torn out and replaced by young Emerald Sunshine Elms. The name sounds like something out of a children's fairy tale. The powers that be, working in conjunction with an arborist, decided that the old trees had to go. We received a flyer in the mail carefully explaining the reasons behind the decree. They seemed plausible: most of the trees were infected with mistletoe. An earlier "campaign" was "launched" to eradicate the mistletoe from the trees, the notice said, but it was unsuccessful.

The stately pear trees went down accompanied by the soundtrack of man-made machines. Chippers neatly disposed of their trunks and limbs. Men with diggers tore out the roots. Leaf blowers scattered the remaining debris. I couldn't stand to watch the carnage.

The flyer assured us that the replacements are "highly resistant to disease and insect attack." It also promised that they will form "a cool green canopy, [and] retain[] a green appearance through the hot days of summer."

I don't have anything against Emerald Sunshine Elms. I am sure they are nice trees and will grow up to be beautiful specimens. What I object to is the idea of inconvenience. The ornamental pear trees were inconvenient, their mistletoe-laden limbs too burdensome to manage and control. We like nature to be tidy and efficient. We don't like it when the environment becomes messy or costly.

No one asked my opinion about the replacement project, and I am no arborist. I know nothing about trees other than the standard stuff you learn in fourth grade. What I do know is that rain sounds nice filtered through the leaves of the trees outside my window. The tall redwoods and maples and oaks create a water symphony. I know that the Emerald Sunshine Elms in the median are making barely a sound right now as the wind whips around their scrawny trunks and roots struggle to take hold in the graves of their predecessors.