“It may be that the most historic discovery of our time is the realization that the love of nature is not sentimental and irrelevant but an essential guiding intuition in all efforts to achieve a civilization that can sustain itself on this planet.”—Harold Gilliam
I have been so angry lately, with the awful impotence of helplessness.
For the past twenty years, I have lived in a mobile home park north of Seattle. I moved there because I’ve never had any money. Writers and editors, for the most part, don’t; a love of words rarely brings with it a bountiful income. Space rent in a mobile home park is much lower than buying a condo or renting an apartment—at least in Puget Sound country, where the cost of living is so painfully high. And I moved there to be rid of the living-in-a-box feeling of apartments, surrounded on all sides by other boxes. Humans aren’t made to live that way, too close to other humans. At least I wasn’t. I really don’t want to hear other people’s televisions, children, arguments, and other, more embarrassing noises. I chose to live apart because humans make me feel claustrophobic. Well, “apart” is relative. The space I’ve been paying almost $500 a month for grants me a few feet on all sides, no adjoining walls, no one above or below me. That small space of freedom has been the only good thing about living in a now-40-year-old mobile home. That, and the trees.
This mobile home park has been here for decades. The trees are older than my half century. There are maybe a few dozen scattered throughout the park: big trees, old trees, beautiful trees. They are mostly evergreens (firs, spruce, cedars, etc.), and in my small space, two birch trees that planted themselves behind my house within the last ten years, two redbuds I planted fifteen years ago, and a Japanese maple I planted at that same time, which is now as tall as my house and a vivid scarlet in the autumn. Those trees, all of them, are home to a myriad of squirrels, Stellar’s Jays, sparrows, wrens, crows, woodpeckers, and who knows how many other kinds of birds. I’ve also seen possums in the immediate vicinity, and I assume there are raccoons, as this is their territory too. The fir a few feet in front of my house is perhaps thirty feet tall, maybe taller. Generations of squirrels and birds have lived in that tree, bothering no one (except my cats, who resent their existence and who twitch and chatter at the sight of them). Sure, evergreens drop needles everywhere, including my roof, but that’s a minor annoyance, easily remedied, and well worth the beauty of the trees, the oxygen they create, the homes they provide small creatures. Every time I have looked out my front window for the past twenty years, I have felt so fortunate that I have a view of trees, and not a parking lot or another building. I’ve always known how lucky I was to live in the company of trees.
And then the unthinkable happened.
The mobile home park was recently sold. We have a law here in my town that says that if a mobile home park is sold, it must remain a mobile home park so new owners can’t force us out of our homes in order to “develop” the land. But of course, nothing prevents them from getting creative and making us want to leave. And so it has begun.
First came the five-page list of new fascist rules: Children who live here are no longer allowed to ride their bikes in the park. Residents are no longer allowed to stand outside and talk. No one is allowed to walk in the park, except on the shoulder. (We have a shoulder? Who knew?) A maximum of three pots and/or planters are allowed, but no bigger than 18 inches long and to be placed only on the porch, not behind the house or to the side of the house . . . etc., etc., etc. Five pages of this, with state law cited throughout. But wait, there’s more.
The mobile home next to me that was abandoned years ago and falling apart was demolished. I wasn’t sorry to see that mess go—until I discovered that two RVs will be parked there. Well, that makes sense. Why collect rent on one mobile home when you can collect rent on two RVs, right? Ah, but not to worry. A privacy screen of some sort of shrubs will be planted down the center of what was once my yard to “protect my view,” while cutting my yard in half. Right where my Japanese maple stands today. Then the PUD showed up to raze the two birches behind my house, ostensibly because they were too tall and too near the power lines. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that only now did the PUD decide those trees had to go. Then, a week or so later, the buzz of chain saws again swept through the park, bringing more death and destruction.
So far about a dozen of the evergreens have been murdered. The reasons given? They’re “dangerous” and “dirty.” No mention of how much money is being made from the lumber. An entire row of evergreens between two of the houses—dead. All the trees in the parking lot—dead. Oh, but not completely gone. Oh no, the stumps are still there. Maybe will always be there. The trees are murdered, but the corpses remain as evidence of the crime. I can only hope the squirrels had time to flee before their homes came crashing down. Birds can at least fly to safety, temporary as it may be.
I try not to look now when I walk down to the mailbox (only on the shoulder, of course!). Try not to listen to the lingering, silent screams of the dead.
It’s Thanksgiving week so the tree killers are on holiday, resting from their labors. I don’t know how soon they’ll get back to work. How long the majestic fir in front of my house has to live. Will they murder it on a day that I’m home, so I get to listen to it die? Or will it happen while I’m at work, so that I’ll come home to a stump where once a giant stood? There will be no more squirrels or birds to defy my cats. No shade in the summer to cool off the metal box I live in. No transcendent green branches when I open my curtains. I may never open those curtains again.
Last week I gave money to the Arbor Foundation. Ten trees will be planted—somewhere. Not here. Not where I live. I can only hope to somehow find the money to move away, away to somewhere else, somewhere with trees.
“And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”—Dr. Seuss