I live in a neighborhood where houses and trees have coexisted together for over a hundred years. It’s charming, partly because of the vintage homes and partly because of its Norman Rockwell vibe.
Trees reaching majestically towards the sky line the sidewalks as well as populate many a yard. A few still support a rope swing, surely with ease when you spy the girth of their marvel-worthy trunks.
Now parts of our street look like a war zone. Debris from fallen trees litters the sidewalks, and on a couple of blocks, sawed-off stumps sit forlornly, like a fish without a pond.
In many other instances, the trees have been pruned but look mutilated or butchered. Either the tops are chopped straight off, much like a mountain without its peak, or it appears an enormous Pac-Man has taken a bite out of just the area surrounding the power line. I doubt even Dr. Suess could make sense of this landscape, and the Lorax would have plenty to say.
This debacle is being funded by the power company. Its “tree-trimming program” is designed, according to its website, “to prevent safety or reliability problems from occurring.”
As such, it hires professional independent contractors to clear the lines from potential interference to last 4 to 5 years. The company encourages the contractors to use a natural tree-trimming method believed to be optimal for the long-term health of the tree, and it also directs growth away from the power lines. It also suggests tree removal when trimming doesn’t solve the problem.
All of this is perfectly reasonable. I understand the power company needs to prune trees away from its power lines. And clearly trees can wipe out the power supply during bad storms if they fall. Trees are the leading cause of electrical power outages, according to their data.
But what’s happening on my street feels more like a Charles Manson affair vs. a simple pruning event. To clarify, I’m not some rabid environmentalist, but I do appreciate our natural elements in the world.
I took the liberty of speaking to some of my neighbors whose trees had been affected. In one instance, one couple had not felt there was a good choice because the project was presented as tree mutilation or permanent removal. They felt forced to opt for the latter, even though they’d much prefer their trees to have remained.
Other neighbors handled the pruning requests much the way my husband and I do: by being present for the procedure and having a clear conversation about what is acceptable. Just because someone says they need to prune a tree in that bizarre, non-aesthetically pleasing way does not mean it is so.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. Our walnut tree has been carefully pruned, under my husband’s direction, to grow away from the power line. It does lean toward the street and look different than if never interfered with, but it is still a beautiful, vibrant tree.
Our maple, on the other hand, while also a hardy magnificent tree, has portions that have died since the tree contractors trimmed it the last go-round. We surmise they passed on some type of infection with their equipment as not much else makes sense.
While the power company states its contractors are balancing “public welfare” and “tree aesthetics,” it’s hard to buy that when you see so many trees that are an eyesore from poor trimming techniques.
I wish more homeowners would assert their rights in this process and make the contractors hold the line on keeping these trees near the power lines more intact, and also elect to keep their trees period.
Trees are one of nature’s wonders, and workhorses, requiring almost nothing from the people who enjoy them. They clean the air, provide oxygen, combat the greenhouse effect, provide shade, prevent water pollution and soil erosion, mark the seasons, and provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife.
Neighborhoods with trees have a lower incidence of violence than barren streets and studies also show that patients with views of trees heal faster and with fewer complications.
Tree plantings bring people together and create community.
The more trees and landscaping a business district has, the more business it attracts. Trees can also raise property values by 15 percent.
I have almost felt a change in the oxygen levels from the trees that have been felled, and my property value most certainly has declined, but largely I am consumed by a raw sadness whenever I travel down my street and see what feels like senseless carnage.
This column was published in The Journal on August 10, 2014.