Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's Not About the Trees


"Terrible beauty."
This is a Wikimedia Commons image. Attribution: Mpbaugh.

Want to drive me stark raving, screaming-and-running-through-the-streets-naked insane?
Here’s how. Come into my yard in the dead of night, dig a hole, plant a Bradford Pear tree for me to find in the morning. Since that tree will be hauled to the dump the very next day, repeat until I am dragged away in a straightjacket or handcuffed in the back of a squad car because I caused some kind of bodily harm to your prankster self.
This puts me at odds with scores of people in the southern United States, where the tree is ubiquitous in lawns, golf courses, strip mall landscaping and anywhere else a person can dig a hole and insert the botanical equivalent of the words ooo, shiny.
For those who might not know, a Bradford is a non-bearing pear tree that, through careful selective breeding, boasts profuse spring flowers, a super-uniform size, and an unnaturally perfect, delicate vase shape. (In other words, it was specifically designed to line streets and driveways in the South.) Trouble is, its perfect vase-shape is not found in nature for a reason. The tree cannot withstand even moderate wind from just the right direction; those soft-wood ballerina arms that curve up into the arch over the trunk snap if you sneeze too close. Knowing this in its tree heart, it often just commits suicide at the first sign of a thunderstorm on the horizon, exploding into splinters right down its trunk line without need of a lightning strike.
For more than 20 years, circumstance forced me to live in a small Tennessee city I absolutely hated, in no small part because the citizenry couldn’t gather itself up into any kind of pleasant, livable community. The lines between the Haves and the Have-nots were clearly drawn, and never crossed. And people planted Bradford Pears like there was no tomorrow.
I had to drive alongside a wannabe luxury subdivision to get anywhere for all of those years. It was fairly new when I first moved there, so the Homeowners Association-supported Bradford pears that lined the entrance were quite picturesque — at first. Then they grew big enough to catch the wind, all nakedly alone and unprotected by any other, stronger trees on their grassy median. To this day, every spring thunderstorm season, they fall. In the early years, they collapsed in pairs; then as they continued growing, by the handful, and now by the dozens. Every summer, Homeowners Association workers swarm over the median to replace them.
Obviously it can't be repeated often enough, so let's use the quote of unknown origin again: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 
The median in front of this subdivision is now a symbolic, mismatched, living tribute to human failure, the scale of which I shudder to think about.