They're gone now. Two majestic, towering firs that were situated in the corner of a yard three doors down and part of the background of California oaks and evergreens that gives our neighborhood its woodsy feel. Trees that were a refuge for woodpeckers, songbirds and even the occasional hawk. I noticed them countless times a day, whether I was working in my garden, hanging laundry on the clothesline or relaxing in the spa. I didn’t retrieve my morning newspaper or leave for work without automatically glancing up at them. I watched their lofty branches sway gracefully in a soft breeze, thrash wildly during a raging storm and hang motionless in the twilight at the end of a day.
It’s not a case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone, either. A few years ago the same homeowner took out another tree exactly like these two. As the chainsaw buzzed and limbs toppled to the ground I hurried to her front door. She was surprised by my desperate air and insisted the tree had to go because its roots were interfering with the plumbing. I indicated the other two trees at the end of the yard and implored her as nicely as possible (well, I begged) to spare them, and she said she wasn’t planning to remove them anytime soon. But she grumbled about the mess they made in her swimming pool, so I knew they were living on borrowed time.
Many of us in our old, established homes in my neck of suburbia are trying to hold on to the semi-rural environment that brought us here in the first place. In the late 1990’s my husband and kids and I sought a community where people made respectful room for nature, and for a while it seemed we’d found it. Back then the only threat in our country idyll was the possibility that a coyote might harm our cats, but the only coyote I’ve seen lately was standing in a field off the main boulevard, staring at traffic. Apartment complexes in the final stages of completion on either side of the field where the ragged animal stood were literally squeezing the coyote from its last bit of land.
Through an unforeseen twist of fate, our small enclave at the foot of the Sierras, in Northern California, became a bustling San Francisco/Bay Area suburb. Several years ago 40% of new home buyers in our community were from San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area cities. Families had cashed out their residences there in order to live here - in bigger houses - and make the long commute to work. We became a hotbed of non-stop building activity. Humongous cookie-cutter homes in gated subdivisions began crowding the hillsides, and retail businesses son jammed the fields in between. Roads that were once sparsely trafficked were suddenly routinely grid-locked as SUV’s juggled for space in the endless stream of construction vehicles. Some people said we were “blossoming," which was ironic wording, considering the meadows full of wildflowers that vanished.
When the housing bubble finally burst, all the building screeched to a halt and many of the McMansions on the hills above my neighborhood have foreclosed, the owners long gone. Businesses in the once booming “town center” stand empty, the meadows ruined for nothing. The boom went bust.
I didn’t speak to the owner of the downed fir trees this time around. When we last talked I could tell she thought I was a tree-hugging fool who should mind her own business. Maybe she’s right, maybe my notions are a bit preposterous, because in my opinion, the trees weren’t even hers to kill. They belonged to the birds, to the squirrels and to the raptors. They belonged to those who are heartsick over the destruction of our wild places. They belonged to anyone and everyone who ever looked up at their lofty branches and understood the gift of their presence in a place where bulldozers rolled in and changed the landscape forever.