The serenity of my morning ablution was interrupted by the sound of a chainsaw not far from my bathroom window. If it were 20 years ago, I would have jumped into sweatpants and a t-shirt without even drying off and run to the edge of my property to assail the worker I considered an offender of nature, no matter why or what he was cutting.
On this day, however, and on many occasions in the recent past, I just let it go.
I can’t pinpoint the origin of my early obsession with tree preservation, especially when considering that as a child I lived in a row home in South Philadelphia on a block where there wasn’t a single tree.
As a young adult in New York City, again my block was relatively treeless, save for a couple of sickly specimens that survive best in the city: a gingko and a London plain.
When it came time to move to the country, however, I purchased a property with an abundance of mature trees, and I became fiercely protective of each and every one of them for their shade and beauty.
When our forefathers cut trees, it was for building homes or for firewood, but today we hear more about cutting trees for the right of way and to clear the paths of utility lines. The mega tree eater has been Con Edison which has cut down thousands of trees in Westchester along its transmission lines, creating vast swaths of barrenness that affect the perception of communities and the value of its homes along the way. This has resulted in legislation that demands the company hold public hearings before they start work in a community.
In most towns there are also local tree ordinances which regulate cutting trees on our individual properties. My town, Yorktown, was one of the last in the County to adopt such a law, but not without extraordinary controversy on both sides of the issue, to the point where recent discussions at town board meetings have suggested amendments to the code after less than a year from its adoption.
Proponents for tree ordinances base their position on the cumulative effect on the environment; opponents, including members of our town board, feel that homeowners should not be told what they can and cannot do on their own properties.
Personally, my position has changed significantly in the past two years.
It all started one evening when my wife and I heard a thunderous noise that literally shook the earth. When we looked outside, we saw that a very tall pine had fallen, missing our house by only a few feet. That experience prompted us to remove a number of mature maples and locusts that stood too close for comfort to the house.
Then, there was the storm Irene where a twister took down an entire trove of trees on our property, one tree slamming into another until 14 of them had fallen. No sooner had I spent thousands to clear the debris when that subsequent freak snow storm brought down more tree limbs still clothed in leaves. And more money was spent.
Just last week, I was placing garbage bags at the foot of my driveway when I heard an ominous rumble. This time, a dead limb fell within feet of meeting my head. The next morning, either by design or coincidence, I heard the chain saw outside my window, which I ignored. But, on my way to work, I pulled my car behind the equipment of the tree group of my highway department.
Brad Sheppard, head of the crew, approached me, addressing me solicitously by name, telling me that certain limbs had to be trimmed to allow room for equipment to pave my street. Was I going to complain about having my street, motley as late, repaved and at the same time, preventing errant limbs from falling on my head? I thanked Brad and, in fact, asked him to check out some limbs, possibly dead, on the other side of my property.
Yorktown’s Highway Supervisor Eric DeBartolo tells me that the main reason towns trim back trees along the road is for safety to motorists and that in the more than sixteen years he has been the highway chief, not a single car has been hit by a fallen limb.
Today, I accept that being safe from the errant ways of trees, whether in one’s own home or on the road, requires some sacrifice of beauty. And when I pass the denuded paths along the transmission lines, I just close my eyes.
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker and a journalist who writes about housing. Visit his website at: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.