City Hall should Handle with Care
COLUMBIA, 4/30/12 (Editorial) -- Neighbors in Columbia's Old Southwest recently met with city officials about a controversial move to chop mature sweet gum trees on Westwood.
The meeting left neighbors feeling decidedly mixed, mainly because Columbia does not have a meaningful tree preservation policy. 
I don't think we can or should under-emphasize the importance of the trees, particularly to this neighborhood. Along with her people, our trees are EVERYTHING to the Old Southwest, and though they can be a huge nuisance, they are a beautiful nuisance with rare and spectacular qualities that we and our children embrace and remember.
My family and I have oaks -- big, shady, leafy, envy-inspiring, dirty, obnoxious, allergy-inducing oaks.
Every year, our oaks scatter thousands of seeds across the lawn and cover every inch of our home with a green pollen dust that destroys me. I can't breathe at night; I sneeze all day; and when I work in the yard, I sneeze so hard and so frequently (I've counted up to 20 times) that my neighbors or passers-by walking their dogs look over at me with a loud "God Bless You."
Medications, you say? Allergy shots, you recommend? Fuggedabout it. This stuff overwhelms it all.
When these oaks aren't dropping pollinated seeds that sprout across the lawn in a perfection-compromising conspiracy with the moles and the fungus, they're dropping leaves -- something like 250,000 leaves per mature tree, according to an expert David Lile had on his radio show a while back. That means my family and I are clearing over 1,000,000 leaves every Fall -- sometimes 10 pickup truck loads to the mulch pile.
I just know the oaks would love to up-end the sidewalk, like their sweet gum peers. I'm certain the trees all talk among themselves about how obnoxious they can be. But oaken roots aren't quite as surfacey and aggressive.
Still, the oaks fiddle with the walkways. And the brick patios. They also produce so much shade that we never get a really green, hardy lawn. And mold grows on the bark. And limbs fall in storms. And so forth.
BUT -- and this is a big BUT -- my family and I wouldn't have it any other way. We wouldn't dare cut one of these trees to reduce all the nuisances because we realize how rare they are and how precious the enhancements they provide.
People flock to our neighborhood to walk and run and gawk, mostly for the trees. Our old homes, bless their expensively renovated hearts, have another hundred thousand or more in value because of these trees. Childhood for our kids has been shrouded and covered and bathed in leaves.
Our children will remember the trees and the brick streets and the upended sidewalks -- all the things that can create a huge nuisance, they will remember as part of their posterity, as the interesting and engaging quirks of living in a neighborhood I've heard many people describe over the years as just this side of magical.
So, I think we need to tread carefully where tree removal is concerned. And yes, even the crazy sidewalks have their own charm. Where else do you see them? In many ways, they remind me of the brick streets -- hard to navigate, bumpy, zig-zaggy, and topsy-turvy, but ultimately, unique.
Where else do you get Harvard-educated English professors tackling City Hall to save trees? Where else do you get such spirited debate about something some might think nothing more than a mundane externality?
Where else do you see any of this, the crazy quilt of life as life grows old in a world of bland suburbs, chain stores, cookie-cutter eateries, numbing newness, and shambling sameness that cries out for a bit of the bold?
Let me leave you with a sheer beauty the trees of the Vienna Woods helped inspire, one of many great creative endeavors those Woods brought forth. It's the Adagio from Beethoven's Emperor Piano Concerto, without a doubt one of the most beautiful, tender, and awe-inspiring pieces in all music. I had the pleasure of seeing Daniel Barenboim perform it some years ago; this is Van Cliburn:
A single leaf begins to fall and swirl with the piano soliloquy at about 1:30. The beauty absolutely soars, into the trees, at about 4:19.