AMPUTATION: REQUIEM FOR A DOUG FIR

I have lived in my current home for 26 years. When my then-husband and I decided to move all those years ago, I took on the search, and in the process, walked into — and right back out of — many houses. Would we have to settle for just OK? When I became discouraged, several people told me that when the right house came along, I would know immediately.

They were right.

When I walked into the house where I now live, I knew it was the house. I knew because I had kissed dozens of frogs, and this house was obviously a prince, orange shag carpet and bordello-red bathroom notwithstanding. I could see beyond the terrible decor because nearly every house I had looked at needed a great deal of cosmetic work, and because, to my delight, the house was nestled in trees, many trees, most of them Douglas firs, or what we call Doug firs here in the Pacific Northwest. The Doug firs, which are all over the neighborhood, had, by some miracle, been left standing when the house, and those around it, was built in the early 1960s. (I often bless the unknown builder for this forbearance.)

The trees were big — well over 100 feet tall, and old — well over 100 years old.

And so, we settled into the house among the trees. We tore out the orange shag carpet, repainted the bordello-red bathroom (along with the yellow and orange and chartreuse and royal blue bedrooms), planted gardens, and looked up often in wonder.

Over the years, other things changed; my then husband and I divorced; our daughters grew up and away; a new husband moved in. But one thing stayed the same — the trees. Yes, from time-to-time a neighbor removed a tree, and occasionally one came down in a storm, but by and large the trees remained.

And then, last year, we had one of our Doug firs removed after being told it had been weakened by insect damage. In these circumstances, removal seemed the prudent thing, given the wind storms that rush out of the Columbia River Gorge most years. Still, we felt awful. It was sickening to watch this tree that had been growing for over 130 years come down in two days. First the limbs were amputated. Then the trunk was brought down piece by piece.

It had housed birds and squirrels. It had shaded our house. And it had sequestered literally tons of carbon.*

Sadly, the story gets worse. After the limbs were removed and after dismemberment of the trunk had begun, we learned that the tree had not suffered insect damage. It was perfectly healthy.

We had committed arborcide in the first degree.

I intend no humor here.

When I was a child, I was taught in school that only humans could communicate or had feelings, that all other animals operated by instinct alone. Plants were not even worthy of mention. Of course, we have learned that our ideas about other animals have been all wrong. Many have elaborate systems of communication. But that is a topic for another time.

Lately, I have been learning about trees, about how they live in communities and, while they don’t have what we would recognize as brains, communicate through soil fungi, sharing nutrients and warning one another of insect attacks.** After I read The Hidden Life of Trees (Peter Wohlleben) and The Overstory (Richard Powers), I felt even more anguish about the removal of our tree.

And then there is this. I fear we have started a movement. Our next-door neighbors decided to have one of their Doug firs removed along with ours because its roots were pushing up their patio. And right now, I am listening to the sound of chain saws as another neighbor has three Doug firs removed because the trees drop sap and needles on their cars.

I can hardly bear to watch. I am so sad.

As you can see, many trees remain. But each one taken down is a huge loss. A loss for the creatures that made it their home. A loss for our senses. A loss for a planet that struggles to keep its air clean.

Each leaves a hole in the sky.

I hope the rest of my neighbors will safeguard their Doug firs better than we did (if only we had gotten a second opinion), and that we will all learn to appreciate and protect our oldest trees, to see them as fellow beings and not as inconveniences. If we do not, I fear the world we leave to our children will be a poorer and more polluted one.

*https://www.climatesolutions.org/article/mature-trees-are-biocarbon-heavyweights

** https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/

Originally published at https://woacanotes.blogspot.com.

I am a recovering attorney, who lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.