There have been an alarming number of murders on my street in the past month. I’m talking about the trees.
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.
By Katherine Cobb
Special to The Journal
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The upcoming Identity Crisis event, an annual fundraiser for breast cancer charities, will get a boost — more like bustiers — from local artists whose handcrafted bodices will be on display in local businesses.
Dubbed “Bodices for Goddesses,” these original sculpted works were either fabricated, modeled after, inspired or wrapped from women and men fighting breast cancer or recovering from the disease.
Organizers Cynthia Fraula-Hahn and Bernadine Somers recruited artists after Jan Hafer suggested the idea to augment Identity Crisis, which will benefit Breast Cancer Awareness - Cumberland Valley for the third year. A number of well-known artists in the region contributed works to Bodices for Goddesses including Fraula-Hahn, Benita Keller, Neal Martineau, Roselyn Mendez, Emily Vaughn, Annie Wisecarver and others.
Fraula-Hahn has helped organize Identity Crisis for the past three years. “Identity Crisis is a wonderfully festive event, but there was still confusion as to what it truly was about,” she said. “When Jan Hafer suggested the art project as a way of drawing attention to the event and breast cancer awareness, my mind immediately went to a more personalized, meaningful way of approaching this concept, thus the sculptures of real women that I could produce with a plaster wrap cast.”
“I was amazed at the women who stepped forward and allowed me to wrap them, some who’ve had mastectomies. These women are brave, beautiful and generous,” added Fraula-Hahn.
“As I wrapped one friend, she discussed how doing this made her feel a sense of community…a magnificent thought. And so I thought long and hard as to how I would paint her torso, and I am proud my composition speaks to who she is and her beauty of body and spirit,” she added.
For Fraula-Hahn, the project is personal in dual ways. One of her dear friends recently found out she has the virulent triple-negative breast cancer, requiring a mastectomy and treatment. She has stayed immersed in her friend’s fight and progress. “So far treatment seems to be working well for her, but there are many dark days ahead,” she said.
The other personal link is her reconnection to her artistry. “When I moved here five years ago after losing my darling husband in a very untimely and unnecessary death, I was broken. I did not even know why I was alive. As an artist for well over 30 years, I’d lost the inspiration and passion I once had,” said Fraula-Hahn. “This project has inspired me and given me back my passion in the studio.”
The sculptures display the unique point of view each artist brought. Various materials were used at the whim of the creator — some feature paint, porcelain, fabric or metal.
Mendez constructed her bodice from upcycled and scrap metal, joined together with rivets and machine screws. The metals include a vintage serving tray, colander and steamer basket combined with various can lids (sardines, beans and jalapeños to be exact) and some scrap steel from museum mount projects.
“I have been collecting can lids for a few years with the intention of doing a larger sculpture but did not have just the right inspiration until Cynthia approached me with the Bodices for Goddesses project. I was instantly attracted to the idea,” said Mendez. “Because I mostly work in metal, doing jewelry work, I gravitated toward that as a medium for this project. I am passionate about utilizing materials that people often throw away or overlook and giving them new life as a useful or beautiful object.”
“While I was working on the bodice, I was thinking about people fighting and battling cancer and the amazing strength it takes to become a warrior, to fight for your life. I have lost friends and family to cancer but I have also seen friends fight and survive cancer,” said Mendez. “The bodice is a sort of battledress, an armor.”
Mendez believes the themes of environmentalism and the fight against cancer are closely linked. “I look at this planet as a mother, a woman. Despite being tender and somewhat delicate, there is a strength and life force that pushes through despite all of the threats to survival,” she said.
The bodice sculptures will be on display in Shepherdstown storefronts leading up to Identity Crisis on August 9, and likely beyond. They will also be featured in a show at Hagerstown Community College in October and the organizers expect the project to continue growing in the year to come.
This article was written for and published by The Journal on 8-6-14. It can be viewed via this link: http://www.journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/615246/Sculptures-to-support-breast-cancer-awareness.html?nav=5006
A collection of columns, articles and general a-musings.