Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Dearest Readers,
Trees are on my mind. There’s a creative convergence going on that began last week in my own condo courtyard. Sadly, or happily, a big, dying box elder was removed by our tree service as approved by the condo board. I’m a member this year, and this was my project. Here she is, naked and sorrowful before the cut. Our arborist, Mike Kenton, pronounced the tree to be fungus and insect infested, dropping limbs and bark, with rotting roots and a long vertical split up the trunk foreboding imminent collapse.

The tree was the feeding body for “box elder bugs”– hoards of slow-moving beetle-ish creatures that manage to enter the condos through sunny windows and cracks in the warm brick. Every day this winter my kitchen has been the playground for about 10 of these insects. They live only three days, but reinforcements arrive daily. With the tree gone, this should gradually come to an end. That’s the happy part. The sad part is that the old tree had guts and gumption. It probably could have hung on for a few more years bravely pushing out a wide canopy of leaves that shaded the courtyard.

This is a picture of the elder tree in better days from the spring of 2010. I’ve outlined her former self in red hidden behind the bushes.

The tree cutting process was a methodical dismemberment that whacked and sawed on from 9 am to 6pm with a crew of six brave, strong tree climbers, cutters, chippers and haulers. It was dangerous yet thrilling to watch, ending in a lump of woodchips over the cavity where this gnarly dowager had called home–too close to our homes.

I’ve noticed a number of creative tree-themed happenings around Atlanta this week. Tree thinking is in the airwaves.

The Swan Coach House Gallery in Buckhead announced the opening reception this Thursday evening of “Trees”, featuring the work of nine Southern artists who interpret trees though the mediums of painting, photography, and printmaking. The painterly promotional image used on their website and invitation is by Lillian Garcia Roig. http://www.swancoachhouse.com/art_gallery/current_exhibition/trees_2012.aspx

The Lorax movie is now out in theaters around town. Remember the Lorax? The protector of trees? It’s an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic tale of a grumpy forest creature who tries in vain to save the mop-topped Truffula trees from corporate destruction. The animated adventure turns the original story into a suburban love themed journey of hope. The movie artists brightened and rounded out the scruffy old Lorax. He’s fatter and cuter than the Seuss version. You can check out the 2-1/2 minute trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_PZr1rqOR0

I prefer the book. I’ve got a copy at home to read to my grandkids. It’s a grittier and more honest plot with Dr. Seuss’ weirdly unique illustrations. Life in the Lorax book is bubblegum cheerful, and ecologically diverse until the opening of the Thneed factory that makes knitted sweater-thingies from the silky haired Truffula treetops. Relentlessly the corporate monster machines chop down all the trees despite the Lorax’s attempts to convince the greedy, reclusive Once-ler character to stop. When the last Truffula falls under the ax, the factory is abandoned and the corporate goons skip town, leaving behind a bleak, gray, stinky wasteland of tree stumps and bare ground where forest and woodland creatures had once thrived. Even the tree-keeper Lorax “lifts” himself outta there. Dr. Seuss ends with one drop of hope–The reclusive Once-ler tosses the last remaining Truffula tree seed from his boarded up window to a visiting boy below. We are never sure if the kid was able to regenerate the trees.

I keep a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the same shelf as the kids’ books. Yesterday I re-read the chapter on Threadbeard and the forest of Ents in the third and final book, The Two Towers. Ents are a race of giant woody beings in J. R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth who closely resemble trees. They are ancient shepherds of the forest and allies of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth during the War of the Ring. They are a dying race that has lost the female Entwives. They are without hope for regeneration. The old remaining Ents move and speak slowly, finally agreeing to carry two hobbits, Merry and Pippin to Isengard to help attack the evil, life-destroying, tree-chopping dark lord, Saruman. It is implied in the novel that all the Ents eventually settle down in one place, grow roots and leaves, and essentially become trees, ceasing conscious thought. There is talk that the director of the movie versions, Peter Jackson will be making them again in 3D. The Ents will be walking right out of the forest and into our laps!

So, I’m sorry old box elder tree for assisting in your demise. The condo association will use your chipped mulch and sigh for your sheltering arms when summer arrives. A cherry tree will take your place. We won’t miss the hoards of dim-witted elder bugs or the potential for harm that your presence posed. Please give me compassion points, oh pagan gods of the ancient forest, and The Tree of Life. (Also the title of a 2011 Brad Pitt movie out now on DVD).