The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." "...it is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32) akakyakakyevich@gmail.com

Monday, September 10, 2007

I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE, A POEM AS LOVELY AS A CUT DOWN TREE: Our happy little burg is proud of a great many things, and rightfully so, I think. We are set in an area of spectacular natural beauty, we are recovering from a decades long economic slide with an economy that is the envy of our neighbors, especially the slough of urban despond located directly across the river from us, and our population, after years of slowly slipping away across the border into deepest, darkest Connecticut, is, at long last, finally starting to grow. This is the sort of thing that any community can take a justifiable pride in. Now, there are the inevitable slips in our long trek out of the Rust Belt doldrums, of course; one could hardly go through life without expecting the occasional disaster, which keeps us interested in the proceedings as they play out through our lives. This year our minor league baseball team has finished dead last in the league standings, proving yet again that some habits are just too strong to break, shopping carts are still turning up in odd places miles from any store—this week a shopping cart containing two bottles of diet ginger ale, a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a frozen cherry pie, and the thirteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1910, announced that it was running for the City Council next year; and the wise council of solons who govern us have decided to buy the fire department a fireboat, complete with a huge pump that can send water shooting seven stories into the air. This is a very useful tool for getting water to the upper portions of any burning building along the waterfront, even though there are no buildings seven stories high anywhere in our happy little burg; city law forbids the construction of any building over three stories within the city limits; and there are no buildings at all along the waterfront. There are a lot of trees, however, and so this new fireboat may be our contribution to the ongoing fight against forest fires. We are, after all, a National Arbor Day Foundation Tree City.

The appellation of Tree City, which we’ve held for some thirteen or fourteen years now, if I remember correctly, is one of our happy little burg’s proudest titles. As I’ve mentioned before, we take trees seriously here, if for no other reason than the arboreal population has the human population outnumbered by a factor of at least ten to one. We treat trees as if they were members of our family, reading them bedtime stories when they are young, feeding them, watering them, trying to keep them on the moral straight and narrow as they take root in our community and flourish. So it caused no little shock and horror this past week when the astounded populace saw veritable hordes of civil service workers descend upon Main Street like so many hard-hatted Mongols on a rampage and begin hacking down trees left, right, and moderate Republican alike, reenacting some of the worst scenes of arborcidal mayhem since Walt Disney released Paul Bunyan back in 1958. None of these clods stood 63 axe handles high with his feet on the ground and his head in the sky the way old Paul did, nor did any of them have a blue ox named Babe anywhere in the vicinity, although some of them did have a bulldozer named Vermeer, a device that lacked the emotional subtlety of Girl with a Pearl Earring and, despite the name, seemed to belong more to the 20th century Soviet socialist realist school than Holland in its Golden Age, but even with these caveats, the civil servants involved were all exceptionally skilled at felling trees in an urban setting. By the time they were done, not a single tree remained anywhere on the lower approaches of Main Street, rendering the complete lack of any resemblance whatsoever between a view of our happy little burg and Vermeer’s View of Delft even more complete than it was before, if such a thing is possible.

I asked one of the gentlemen rampagers what brought on this sudden need to attack defenseless trees; surely the city government had other things to do with its time and money than cut down trees that aren’t in anyone’s way and provide much needed shade for the many pedestrians wandering up and down Main Street these days. He said he didn’t know. I asked who decided to cut the trees down in the first place, as I didn’t recall any mention of this project in the City Council minutes, which shouldn’t really surprise me, now that I think about it. The minutes of the City Council, along with those of the local board of education, are largely fictional, the actual decisions having already made over coffee and pancakes over at O’Reilly’s Bar and Breakfast. In any case, he didn’t know the answer to that question, either. What then, I asked, was the city government going to do about the sudden lack of shade on Main Street. Our hard-hatted functionary smiled at that question; apparently, I had asked something he knew the answer to at last. Once they got rid of the old trees, he said—they were turning the trees to sawdust there on the street, a process a lot louder than you might think it would be—they were going to plant new trees. He pointed to a lot down the street where a small wood had suddenly sprung up amidst the asphalt, said wood consisting of a variety of sticks standing in bags, said sticks bearing one or two leaves apiece.

I pointed out that it would take at least thirty years for any of these would be trees to give the street any significant shade and that none of them looked healthy enough to withstand more than a few assaults by dogs determined to rid themselves of excess fluid. I then pointed out that in lieu of this, why didn’t the city just leave the old trees where they were and save everyone a lot of time and bother and expense? That way Main Street would still have shade, the dogs would have somewhere to take a leak, and he and his fellow lumberjohns wouldn’t be blocking Main Street for hours at a time, making it impossible for anyone to pass from one end of the city to the other. The fellow allowed that my point made a lot of sense, but that he wasn’t there to make sense, he was there to get rid of trees, whereupon he tossed a large branch of a locust tree into the chopper’s maw, reducing several decades of nature's work to dust in a matter of moments. There is a moral here about the swiftness of bureaucrats when it comes to creating disasters, but I am not sure what it might be.

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