Fly, leaf

It may tell you something about where I live that on the day the city cut several aging, spotty oaks in Horseshoe Lake Park near my house, several women were roaming the grass with tears in their eyes. One of them told a reporter she had touched a tree's spirit and that it was sad, but not angry.

The oaks dated to the 1920s or before, when the city and the park were the epitome of dignified, expensive grace. After World War I, slim white oaks were planted along the north and east sides of the park, with copper plaques at their feet bearing the names of soldiers lost to fighting or disease. The trees grew to shield the streets from the sun -- straight, tall, handsome memorials that remain long after the men themselves have been forgotten. Now, even the purpose of the little round plaques needs explaining, though the city loyally replants those trees when they die and someone plants little flags at their roots.

It may tell you something about the changes taking place here that a few of the plaques have been pried from their mounts and that over-muscled youths have pulled a couple of the concrete mounts themselves half out of the ground. The power company has had its way with some trees, and as of this summer, a couple more are due for a decent removal. The city stopped spraying its elms in the '90s, for fear of what the spray was doing, and those trees are going fast, too. Older oaks and other species, too, succumb to age, disease, bugs, accidents and zealous utility workers.

Still, "mature trees" was near the top of my list when I moved here. Most likely the real estate dealer looked at the price range and went no further, but the result was the same -- it's ironic that urban trees often grow up with the houses at their feet, but the higher the tree, the lower the price. It's immaterial that I wouldn't want to live in a former pasture surrounded by toothpicks -- I couldn't afford to.

The gregarious family I bought my house from had a treehouse out back. The tree, a beauty, still has galls that confirm the story, but a friend I found after moving in added, "I got my first grope in that treehouse!"

Even if it were legal -- safety-minded parents and control-minded city officials saw to it that it isn't -- I wouldn't consider re-housing that tree, for fear of hurting it. I would not consider myself a tree-hugger, but I reflexively rush to the defense of my underbrush when the power company comes through, and when the city's tree nazis took half the gum tree out front, I was outraged, but too late.

I think it's because they're mute, and attractive, and helpless in the face of chain saws that we rush to protect trees. Considering what we get back, I guess that's OK.


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