I Think That I Shall Never See…

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. (Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”, 1913)

I do indeed love trees. Trees contribute a great deal to our comfort and well-being. Not only do they give us shade, they clean our air, give us oxygen, block unwanted views (sometimes) and can provide beautiful color in their season. Growing up in Southern California (ok, “LA”) I was fortunate to be raised in one of the canyons that pierce the Santa Monica mountains: both in front and in back of our house were steep, tree-covered canyon walls. As a kid I climbed trees, raked their leaves, and kept the fireplaces stocked with logs cut from trees on our property. Once I awoke to discover that we had no power: one of our large sycamores had fallen against the house during the night, taking out the power line that fed our house from the nearby power pole. I was fascinated to watch the fallen tree be cut up for firewood (producing far more than we could use), and and then curious about how the remaining sycamores were inspected and then shored up.

Although our Redwood City home isn’t in quite so rural a setting, my wife and I do have a number of fine trees on our property. As well, we are very fortunate to have raised our children just a couple of blocks away from Redwood City’s Stafford Park, where they spent a great deal of their growing-up years. As well, ever since Redwood City began hosting Music in the Park at Stafford, we’ve been regular park goers on Wednesday evenings from mid-June through mid-August. Except for when they upgraded the play equipment (if “upgrade” is the right word—our kids still miss that incredibly tall, metal slide that the park used to have)  and except for when the city reconfigured the area around where the concerts are set up, the park has remained mostly unchanged; over the past 25+ years that we have lived here, at least. In particular, the majestic old trees that help define the park have been there for a very long time now.

Over the summer the city hired an arborist to inspect the two huge Valley Oak trees that were growing in the center of the park. The arborist’s initial report, issued at the end of July, noted serious problems with the two trees—serious enough to cause the arborist to state that both trees should “be removed at the earliest possible date.” The city then hired a second arborist to independently examine the trees. The second report, issued in early August, although somewhat less concerning regarding the first of the trees, was equally apprehensive about the second, indicating that “removal of the tree at this time is warranted” based upon a “high risk of branch or limb failure and/or total tree root plate or root crown failure.” While the second arborist didn’t insist on immediate removal of the first tree, they did note that if it was to be left in place the tree would need pruning and steel support props. And it noted that those actions “would not entirely eliminate the risk of injury or death to persons using the public park.”

Given these reports, the city had no choice but to remove these two magnificent trees. They clearly posed a danger to public safety, and armed with this knowledge the city would likely be liable for any injuries caused by the failure of either of these trees. Thus, the trees were scheduled for removal shortly after the concerts concluded. I wasn’t there on the first day when work began, but on the second day this is the scene that greeted park-goers:


Two days later, here is what we saw:


I must say, if the trees really did have to be removed (and I believe that they did), thankfully the city did a nice job of removal and cleanup. And at the time they announced that the trees had to be removed, the city also indicated that it was formulating plans for adding new trees to the park.

Those plans finally came to fruition just last week. On Friday, November 7, a crew from the city—along with some representatives from our Parks Commission, plus volunteers and scattered onlookers—installed six new trees. Three were planted near the center of the park to shade those lonely picnic tables that once stood beneath the two mighty oaks:


The remaining three were planted along the King St. side of the park, helping to provide a barrier between the park and the street:


As you can see from the above picture, the installation of the new trees seems to have been a bit harder on the grass than the removal of the two oaks. However, I expect that Mother Nature (and the city’s gardening crew) will take care of that soon. And in a couple of years these trees will grow big and strong, helping to make our park even better than it was before.

Parks aren’t the only place where the city has trees to manage, however. Recently there was a bit of a kerfuffle over a massive old oak at the corner of Alameda de las Pulgas and Goodwin Ave. Again, the city had sent arborists to inspect the tree, and the resulting report indicated that due to a fungus the tree was at risk of “imminent failure”; that both pedestrians and cars were at risk of serious injury should the tree drop limbs or fall over. Given the size and location of the tree, it was deemed a public safety hazard, and thus had to go. Neighbors, who loved the 200-year-old oak, hoped to find ways to protect the tree. One person even held a brief sit-in in the tree, hoping that her presence would bring attention to the tree’s plight.

Unfortunately, the city was on notice: knowing what it did about the tree’s condition, they couldn’t take the risk that someone might be injured or someone’s property might be damaged. And thus the tree needed to come down. That essentially came to pass, although I do have to wonder; visit the site today and here is what you will see:


Although every limb had been removed, the trunk remains. Presumably it will be removed someday; I’m guessing that the city did what it needed to do to alleviate the threat, and is now waiting for an opportune time to dig up the area and remove the rest of the tree. Or perhaps they are simply giving the community more time to mourn the tree’s passing. Take a closer look at the tree and you’ll see that not only have people planted flowers around the base of the tree, they’ve attached notes and articles about the tree’s passing to the yellow tape that girdles the tree’s trunk:


Truly, this tree was loved.


So what about the palm trees downtown? Do you love those? When they were first installed, I wondered why a city named “Redwood City” was ringing their signature area—Courthouse Square—with palms. During reconstruction of our Courthouse Square the city noted that palm trees were part of the original courthouse area design, and pictures of the area from the early 1900s do indeed reveal that palm trees had long been planted in front of the courthouse and in the neighboring areas. Of course, just because it had them then doesn’t mean that we need to have them today. They’re pretty enough, of course. They just seem like an odd choice for a Northern California town. If, like me, you aren’t a big fan, you might be happy to know that Mother Nature doesn’t seem to care for them either. As with the oaks, a fungus (“Fusarium oxysporum”, in this case) is affecting the downtown palms. The city has been fighting the fungus for several years now, but of the original 29 palms that were planted when Courthouse Square was restored only 24 remain; fungal damage caused the city to cut down the other five (or six; another was scheduled for removal on October 21). For now, you actually have to look hard to notice the missing trees. For instance, at the corner of Broadway and Middlefield (“Theater Way”) there are two palms separated by a small patch of grass:


Walk down Middlefield toward the side of the courthouse, however, and you’ll see this:


It seems clear that here, where this is one palm, there once were two.

Because the fungus remains in the ground even after the tree has been removed, the city hasn’t—and won’t—replace the removed trees with other palms. And because the fungus continues to spread, the city says that most likely all of the remaining palms will be taken out as well. They are currently gathering input from the downtown merchants and the community, and continue to explore their options, but once the holiday season has passed (the city has stated that the remaining trees will remain at least until after the holidays to maintain the area’s aesthetic) the City Council will weigh in and we’ll know what, if anything, will replace those palms.

Our city’s trees do a lot to make our city the wonderful place that it is. It is unfortunate when an older tree becomes damaged and needs to be replaced, but sometimes we simply have no choice. Incidents like these show that we need to actively care for our trees. Unlike in the forest, where they are free to grow and eventually die as dictated by Mother Nature, we must actively ensure the trees that live alongside us don’t harm us when they become sick. It is regrettable when a tree has to be removed, but fortunately we can plant another to take its place: another tree that perhaps one day will be as beautiful and majestic as the one we removed. I’m excited to watch the trees in Stafford Park mature, and I’m curious to see what happens to the palms downtown.

It is so easy to take trees for granted; until they have problems (or until Fall comes, and we find ourselves having to rake countless leaves!) they stand there silently, minding their own business. As you go about town, try to pay a little extra attention to our trees. They are truly an asset. And lovelier than a poem, even…

4 thoughts on “I Think That I Shall Never See…

    • Thanks! Indeed, you guys do great work. I was pleased when you guys planted the trees along the Broadway side of Sequoia High. I used to walk by there on my commute to CalTrain, and watched the watering truck keeping those trees growing. They seem to have taken hold, thank goodness. I will indeed check out your website. Thanks for all you folks do.

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