A brisk Saturday morning two years ago saw about a dozen of us, volunteers with Keep Eureka Beautiful, planting trees behind the Red Lion on 2nd Street. We were all well-rehearsed in the basic skills, such as they are: digging a pit in a square previously cut out of the concrete sidewalk by the city; placing saplings at the perfect depth; backfilling the hole with potting soil; and finishing off with a couple of support poles to protect the vulnerable trees in their new environment.
Two years later, after a fair amount of TLC—the occasional breaking of a limb or loss of a support pole had to be remedied—they were thriving, bringing a touch of green to that rather desolate stretch of north Eureka. Trees! As I discussed here, in addition to their inherent beauty, urban street trees calm traffic, reduce air pollution, fight the atmospheric greenhouse effect, and reduce noise, stormwater pollution and crime. What’s not to love?
A lot, apparently. Someone expressed their personal arboreal grudge by cutting down all our back-of-the-Red-Lion trees last week. Not just as a spontaneous bit of testosterone-fueled vandalism, but a willful act of tree-hating violence, since the clean cuts attest to the use of pruner shears.
(A word of sympathy for the Vandals, a Germanic tribe whose association with brutish acts is undeserved: “…modern historians tend to regard the Vandals during the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages as perpetuators, not destroyers, of Roman culture.” —Wikipedia)
Keep Eureka Beautiful has dealt with vandalism before, of course, but usually on an individual tree-by-tree basis. KEB’s volunteers regularly replace the odd tree, or simply prop up a damaged one. But this is different, with all 15 young trees hacked down in their youth. KEB’s Michele McKeegan was philosophical, though: “I don’t understand why they would do something like this,” she says, “but what matters is just to get more trees in the ground and let them get rained in over the winter.” So we’ll be out there again soon.
I’m reminded of the final scene of Fargo, the Coen brothers’ bloody winter’s romp around Minnesota and North Dakota. Frances McDormand won an Oscar playing an unlikely, pregnant hero, the cop who is bringing in the psychopath. After running through the list of people he’s killed, she sighs, “And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
Not that tree hacking is confined to midnight vandals. Not so long ago, the lovely old fig tree, back of Steve and Dave’s, was taken down (put to sleep—what’s the correct euphemism?). This corner of Old Town suffered another loss a few months later when the Eagle House car park lost its trees. Why? Who knows?
And just two weeks ago, those lovely 60-year Monterey pines that graced both sides of the Fish and Game office on 2nd were lopped, gone forever.
While I’m ranting, here’s before and after photos taken outside the Humboldt Historical Society house on 8th and H. Trees have a history too, you know! (Yeah, I’m bitter.)
Next to go, apparently, these 25 blue gum eucalyptus, at the behest of the Humboldt County Office of Education on Myrtle (opposite the cemetery). Eucalyptus, lovely looking and smelling as they are, are classified as “invasive”—I wrote about their history here. This is reason enough, apparently, to destroy three generations-worth of growth. Sure, they’ll be replaced with native vegetation—death to those aliens! But why? Hey teachers, leave them trees alone!
Trees ask so little and deliver so much. They remind those of us who live beset by concrete and asphalt pavement on Euclidean gridded streets girded with utilitarian buildings that nature still exists. Too bad they don’t have legal rights.
If only we could learn to just let ’em be.
ACTION STEP! Wanna help? Come join the volunteers at Keep Eureka Beautiful, which has planted over 1,000 trees in Eureka since 1996. Call 707 444 8147 or check out firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be replacing the Red Lion trees soon.