Letter From a City Tree
Humans are assholes
I am a tree, a living being on Pacific View Drive in Los Angeles, a crow’s short flight from the top of Runyon Canyon. I don’t mean to eco-shame but I do it out of self-preservation.
I grew up here, am older than most of you reading this and have been providing shade for this hillside, respite from the harsh summer temperatures, and I have been cleaning the air for all these years, battling pollution with other trees here and around the world. Unfortunately, there are too few of us because people don’t understand or care that we are crucial for the ecosystem in this micro-environment and on a larger scale, the entire planet. I am also habitat and shelter to thousands of local wild animals — some live on me, make nests in my branches, raise their little ones in my arms and some just stop by to get some rest, to perch, to live, to enjoy life.
I work hard and I am beautiful. I sway in the wind and sing in the rain. We trees provide all other living beings on this planet the oxygen you need to breathe. We take the light from our leaves and we are kind of magical. Here’s how we work:
Through a process called photosynthesis, our leaves (we need all of our leaves in order to do our life-sustaining work) pull in carbon dioxide and water and use the energy of the sun to convert this into chemical compounds such as sugars that feed us. But as a by-product of that chemical reaction oxygen is produced and released by us. One large tree like me can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people — unless someone cuts our limbs, reducing the number of leaves we need to do our job.
We store carbon dioxide in our leaf fibers helping to clean the air and reduce the negative effects that CO2 has on our environment. Every year, I absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange.
My roots hold up the hillside. Without me, houses would fall in mudslides. In the 7 year drought that battered us in LA until recently, I suffered, dropped my leaves and as a result, many animals died. Even the humans were worried about the drought. Someone was thoughtful and ran a sprinkler line to me so I could survive and I did.
Without a permit, a callous developer cut three of my neighboring mature trees right down to the ground so that his glass project could have a view — of trees further away. There’s a word for that: arboricide. He did it for money but the trees were priceless. He got richer but not in the way that matters. The deer never came back. The whole neighborhood suffered this terrible loss. Especially the possums, coyotes, squirrels, raccoons, hawks, ravens, mourning doves, warblers, finches, deer, bees and so many smaller animals, just to name a few.
Recently I suffered another injury, at the worst time, Spring, when all the little ones are learning to fly, climb, forage and when my sap is up. They sawed off most of my branches and leaves, leaving me half as powerful — for a view from that house again. I had grown to be so strong and full, I obstructed a small part of what these people wished to see from their glass walls. I had to be “shaped” for a human’s selfish pleasure, for someone’s imperious perspective of the world. So superior are they to have hauled away an entire truckload of my branches, my leaves, to the dump and again, thousands of animals will suffer for it. I was their home. I suppose I should be happy they didn’t kill me like humans are killing all the trees of the world. 26 million of us died in California in the drought. We will not recover for a thousand years. Each one of us us useful, vital and I say this with humility, important.
There’s an old man whose house I keep cool, whose hillside I hold up. I’m more efficient than any air conditioner and do less damage to the environment. He likes me and so does his woman who watered me for the 7 years of drought when I was thirsty. They advocated for me against the developer and won me my life 3 years ago. I am home to many and when you hear birds sing, it is because I and others like me are still here.
To you who selfishly think it’s your right to hack me or diminish me without compunction, you have undervalued my right to be here and have little principled grasp of the effect your destructive actions have on others. Humans like you must build a more advanced, more evolved moral appreciation for the precious natural world. When you breathe, be mindful of how you get that breath. A simple tree that partially blocked your million dollar view. All your money can’t help you breathe or think or feel. You can buy a view by destroying a tree but you can’t buy an ethical life or air. Global warming is real. It’s time to ditch your arrogant desires and begin to conduct yourself as a useful member of our ecosystem. You are merely passing here on this extraordinary planet, our shared home. A bee is more important to the environment than you are. Learn to respect and protect nature. She is our mother and she is mighty and without her we all will surely die.
I will remember what you said haughtily as the workers you hired were reluctantly sawing off my limbs (they felt bad doing it): “I can cut it down if I want to, I have a permit.”