P81028

By modern standards, the public schools that I attended in the early 1970s would be considered to be bleak and primitive. The building were utilitarian and simple, from about twenty years earlier. The landscaping was comparably simple, with a big lawn and proportionately big shade trees. A screen of alternating Monterey pine and Monterey cypress was hedged on the southern half of the eastern boundary of the schoolyard. The only deviants to the simplicity were a few significantly older trees on the northern half of the eastern boundary of the school yard. There were two coastal redwoods, a Canary Island date palm, a cedar, and a spruce of some sort. They were all quite mature, and were likely remnants from an old farmhouse that was there before. Perhaps they wanted us to be aware that everything changes.
On the way to kindergarten, back when children were allowed to walk to school, I weaseled my way underneath the first Monterey pine and Monterey cypress on the southern end of the fence line, and fell asleep. I do not remember how long I stayed there, but it was long enough to get in serious trouble with my very worried kindergarten teacher. After that, I could only visit those two trees in passing, and perhaps stop only briefly to smell the foliage or shake some of the rain away.
Nearly four decades later, but only a few years ago, I was assigned the grim task of composing the arborist report that would justify the issuance of a permit to remove that same Monterey pine, which was the last that remained of the hedged trees that I remember. I did not know that when I went to the site. I was just told that it was a ‘pine’.
Visiting the old school was not a pleasant experience. The entire site was surrounded with a prison like fence and saran screens to obscure the view inside and out. There were no open gates. I needed to be escorted to the tree by a professional chaperone. Much of the schoolyard had been very synthetically landscaped with microtrees and pretty flowering shrubbery that was intended to impress parents rather than appeal to children. It is bad enough that there are no orchards or open spaces remaining in the region, but it is worse that children are deprived of the open lawns and trees and natural spaces that my generation had taken for granted on the grounds of our school. Are children even allowed to climb trees anymore? Do they know what dirt is? Can they observe a chrysalis split open to reveal a new butterfly before the gardeners shear the shrubbery and take the learning experience away? It was saddening.
Once I realized that the tree that I was expected to condemn was my old friend, I asked the chaperone, who seemed to know a bit about facilities at the site, why anyone would want the now mature tree to be removed. I knew that it had been mutilated while young, but was impressed with how it somehow recovered and developed a well structured trunk. I thought that perhaps someone noticed something that I was missing in my inspection. People who are not arborists are sometimes alarmed by something that is perfectly normal for a tree, such as furrowed bark, or slight seasonal foliar discoloration.
The chaperone explained that the tree needed to be removed simply because it did not conform to the style of the rest of the landscape. I waited for the rest of the answer, but that was it. The tree did not conform.
Nothing gave me more pleasure than to explain that after my evaluation of the health, stability and structural integrity of the subject, I could find no justification for removal.
I was dismissed.
Yes, it was worth it.
However, I knew that for the right price, another arborist would be pleased to condemn the tree. The picture of what remains suggests that the arborist who did so was not even professional enough to get his crew to finish the job. How does this dead stump conform to the rest of the landscape?
Those old trees, the redwoods, palm, cedar and spruce, were right. Everything changes.
The Monterey pine that would not conform is gone now, but it was right too.

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34 thoughts on “KinderGarden

  1. Thanks for sharing this memory, Tony. I think one of the enduring gifts I was able to give my children was to raise them in a home on 30 acres with lots of trees and rocky hills for climbing, a creek for wading and canoeing and wildlife when they stopped to look. The only broken bone any of them had was my son who broke his arm falling off playground equipment at school the second day of first grade.

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    1. It is impossible to believe that those memories happened here. I remember all the open space and orchards and creeks and such, but none of it remains. I happen to be in San Jose right now. What I remember as a narrow road to Almaden now has several lanes of a constant flow of traffic on it. There is barely enough space to turn around without offending someone. I am glad that I was here when I was here.

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      1. I raised my kids in the rolling hills of Maryland, just two miles below the Pennsylvania line. The house is now just on eight acres and we sold it to a family with three young kids. They’ll have the creek and plenty of woods to explore. There are still places like that, but not many.

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      2. Yes, there are places like that, but not here! When I was a kid, there were a few of the big old Victorian farmhouses, but they were eventually surrounded by herds of tract homes that were built in their subdivided land. Now, some of those tract homes get demolished and replaced with a few more stuffed into the same area. Some homes do not last more than a few decades. Each home costs more than a million dollars, which would have bought an entire neighborhood when I was a kid. Yet, I do not earn any more now than I earned in 1989.

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    1. Realistically, it is not all that sad. Monterey pines live only about eighty years here, and many barely last fifty years. They are naturally short lived trees. The tree that was cut down would have been nearing the end of its natural life span anyway. It recovered from disfiguring pruning and had it pretty good for about half a century. It is sad that it is gone now (and even more sad that someone left the dead stump there), but in a few years no one else will know the difference. It is sad that kids are raised the way the are, but there are advantages to modern life as well.

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  2. Oh how heartbreaking! Maybe it is as well that my family kept moving when I was a kid. I was terribly fond of the pines we played under during recess. I am truly sorry you had to experience this. It is a tragedy for the trees and for the children. Stupid administrators.

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    1. Well, the tree had a good life. Monterey pine lives only about eighty years here, and many last only fifty years. This one would be nearing the end of it lifetime soon anyway. It is remarkable that it recovered from the early disfigurement. It had it pretty good for about half a century. It is sad though that kids go to school in that sort of environment though.

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      1. Through it all, the old redwoods are still there. They must have been designated as historic trees, so it would be very difficult to get them removed. Ironically, it would not bother me so much to write a report for the redwoods. I would not likely be able to find problems with their health and stability, but their structural integrity worries me. Redwoods drop limbs from such great heights that they are potentially very dangerous. I could explain that in a report, and let others decide on what to do about it. I certainly do not want them gone, but I could understand the concern more than the desire to remove the pine only because it did not fit the style of the landscape.

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  3. What a shame. I recall that at my first school we had very little greenery apart from a large horse chestnut tree at one end of the sports field. The house I grew up in had a huge garden but though there were trees they weren’t suitable for climbing – but thankfully there was plenty of opportunity to play in the dirt. My mother has always been convinced that the reason I became an archaeologist was because I liked playing in the dirt so much as a child!

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    1. It is quite common. It is how many of the tree service businesses here get work. At my former job, it is what I was expected to do, even though I explained in the interview process that I would do no such thing. That job did not last long.

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  4. Our school has a lot of the same “conforming” greenery, and the kids are not allowed to wander too far off onto the soccer and football fields for security reasons (and too cut down on kids ditching!). Some of the trees that were planted around the quad area were fruitless mulberries, but someone messed up and planted a fruiting one. My son was one of the first kids to realize what they were, and now the word has spread. Every spring, kids are caught trying to climb up to pick the fruit!

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  5. Do kids do anything anymore, that doesn’t involve a digital device? A sad story indeed, Tony. I remember taking my kids to an old pond to feed the ducks as I had when I was much younger. A shopping trolley had been thrown into the water and the surface was littered with tin cans and shopping bags. Ruined my good memories of the place and I wish I’d never gone back!

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    1. What is more ironic is that this region is where all the modern computer technology was invented. It was the ‘Wave of the Future’ back then, and we all thought it would be so good for the formerly somewhat normal region.

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    1. Parents need that sort of exposure too. Some of the parents were already raised in overly synthetic and unnatural environments. Modern homes have very limited space outside, and almost all are maintained by gardeners. Very few actually do their own yard work. Those who want to probably do not have time for it, since both parents must work for a living. It is a serious cultural problem.

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  6. Nice entry. It’s infuriating when healthy trees are removed because they just don’t match the design scheme. And that’s not even a stump they left, its the trunk! It is also crazy the city required an arborist to sign off that the tree can be removed, but you can just keep hiring arborists till you find one where making a buck comes first!

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    1. It happens somewhat commonly. However, because the trees must be tagged for removal a month prior to removal, neighbors often file objection for the issuance of a removal permit if there is no obvious justification for removal. Such objection requires secondary inspection by another arborist who regularly works for the particular municipality. The permit can be revoked if the second arborist is unable to justify removal. If the ‘city’ arborist notices a pattern of falsified data from a particular arborist, subsequent reports from that arborist are scrutinized.
      Sadly, unjustified removal of good trees is much more rampant in your region. It is something that my colleague there wants me to help him with. He already busted a developer who was selling mature Canary Date palms from the embankments of the Santa Monica Freeway. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/State-Sues-Alleged-Palm-Rustlers-134872363.html Mutilation of trees for clearance of billboards in another important issue in your region.

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