LETTER: Trees Need to be Protected in Watertown

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To the Editor:

Ghost tree

Your fifty foot tall, towering presence would have held snow on your strong, healthy boughs today.

Mourning doves would have stood on the boughs near your trunk for protection from the wind, their winter coats puffed up cozy among your pine needle feathers.

Mother tree, so many miss you today.

Rabbits’ secret shelter under boughs at your trunk, no longer here to offer a safe place to laugh at my barking dog.

Chickadee, junco, winter birds who would rest on your branches when hawk was distracted elsewhere. They waited for me to fill the tube with seed to sustain them in this small piece of forest in city.

Last week their home here was dismembered and cut to the ground. Fifty feet of beloved protector ground up and disappeared.

Ghost tree, how can I explain to you?
Someone didn’t like your position.

Amanda Peacock
Watertown, MA

Crime Scene

The 50 foot pine that sheltered my community was dismembered and cut down last Thursday and Friday. 

It took two days to remove each of its limbs and then saw its massive trunk into ten five foot long pieces that thundered as they fell to the ground. Then came the chipping. It takes a lot to make a 50 foot tall tree vanish. You can still smell the sap that was spilled from this magnificent tree last week. Today, there is nothing left where it stood except sawdust.

This tree wasn’t sick. It had been pruned and assessed for safety less than two years ago. No. It was in the way, according to the new owners of the land it was on.

Why don’t more people know that a tree this size sheltered us? Kept us cool in summer? Drank flood waters that would otherwise be in our basements? Why don’t people know that trees like this keep nature alive? That they protect the planet from overheating by consuming the CO2 we overproduce? Trees keep our human tenderness intact. They keep beauty in cities instead of only ugly boxes and asphalt. Big trees can be tended so they don’t pose a risk to surrounding structures. This one was tended not even two years before it was killed.

Our trees need protection. We need more tree huggers. Before we’re left with nothing but stumps.

There is an ordinance on the Watertown city council’s desk that could have protected this tree from demise because it was so big and important to the ecosystem. Cambridge has such an ordinance. So does Arlington. But the one in Watertown hasn’t been signed yet.

If it is important to you to protect local trees from unnecessarily becoming Ghost Trees, please contact your town councilor and ask them for action on Watertown’s tree ordinance.

11 thoughts on “LETTER: Trees Need to be Protected in Watertown

  1. Thank you, Amanda, for this eloquent plea. In a time of climate emergency, mature trees are key to planetary health. We need to expand our understanding of “private” and “public” rights so that the whim of a property owner can’t destroy a 50-foot healthy tree without at least a public conversation about the benefits and losses of such a drastic move.

  2. Amanda, thank you so much for writing and sharing this very moving testimony to all the ways this big healthy evergreen touched and benefited your entire neighborhood.

    One correction: The tree ordinance is not yet before the City Council. Hard to say yet when it will get there.

    A City draft of the ordinance is currently being reviewed by the Department of Public Works, with input from the Tree Ordinance Working Group, a joint community effort of the Watertown Environment and Energy Efficiency Committee and Trees for Watertown. This community working group researched and submitted the original draft ordinance to the City, and is striving to make sure the ordinance that is sent to the City Council emphasizes preservation of healthy neighborhood shade trees as a strong priority for Watertown going forward.

    • Thank you Amanda, Sharon, and Libby for commenting on the importance of trees.

      Informed by any number of studies, real estate brokers will readily acknowledge how much trees raise the value of a property. Mature trees can add thousands in value to a property and reduce the number of days a home is on the market, according to my broker friend.

      Other benefits, such as providing windbreaks, shade, protecting against soil erosion, absorbing stormwater runoff, and traffic noise are harder to put a dollar value on.

      One street tree Watertown has plenty of and one which homeowners should never plant is the darling of municipal tree wardens and developers — the Bradford pear. Why? It has weak wood that splits when the tree is mature and spring flowers that smell like urine or rotting fish — hardly what you would call curb appeal.

      Focusing on trees reminds that besides the closing of the post office on Main St., and the slated demolition of the 1900s-era storefronts at 104 and 106 Main St, another victim of the O’Connor Capital Partners project was a huge old-growth tree that stood in the rear of the Salusti property. Early one Saturday morning, after getting my coffee at the Crown Cafe, I headed for the Greenway by way of the parking lot only to find the grand old tree had been cut down and was being dismembered as postal workers and others sadly looked on. “What’s going on?” I asked. The tree was not healthy, one of the “arborists” said. I called Watertown’s tree warden on Monday, and he took a look at the huge stump. He said it appeared the tree had sustained damage at some point, but that tree seemed to have healed itself, and was likely 70 to 100 years old, having weathered countless nor’easters. The tree warden said there was nothing he could have done because the tree was on private property.

      That tree provided shade for residents of the adjacent properties and relief from the asphalt nothingness. A few years ago while passing through the parking lot, I heard the most beautiful bird song coming from the old tree’s canopy. I searched and searched with my binoculars and finally saw the tiny songster. It was my first and, to date, my only Blackburnian Warbler sighting.

  3. Please publish the date that the ordinance requiring preservation of healthy trees is up for a vote.
    Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.

  4. Thank-you for saying so directly what needs to be said and acted on over and over everywhere! You embody inter-connectedness – and yet we humans act like we are NOT all connected with both living organisms and with earth/air/water (and fire?). And mature trees store more carbon than new trees. And what about our children? A story:
    One day a man was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.

    Choni sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon him which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, Are you the man who planted the tree? The man replied: I am his grandson.

  5. Amanda,
    Thank you for your thoughtful note. For people interested in maintaining healthy yards for themselves and their neighbors I recommend BOSTON TREE PRESERVATION. They know how to preserve healthy trees as well as healthy yards without invasive techniques or harmful plant applications. 2 Draper St., Woburn, MA 01801. Tel: 781-729-0095. Highly recommended!
    Ann Asnes
    Bellevue Road

  6. Thanks for writing the letter and alerting the rest of us. I sincerely hope the ordinance makes it through City Council promptly and in its best form.

    Evidently, some people dislike trees so much that they will mount a campaign against any neighbors on whose property there’s a tree or two (or more) that might possibly cast a shadow or drop a leaf on properties nearby. The anti-tree resident will claim that the tree is diseased (even if duly certified healthy), imbalanced and threatening to fall in the next storm, or represents the odd public nuisance of seeds, twigs, pitch, birds’ or squirrels’ nests, etc. Sometimes they warn directly of vulnerability to a lawsuit if the tree-keeper doesn’t take the tree down immediately, even in the absence of it posing any true threat. Somehow they not only ignore the aesthetic contribution of the tree in the neighborhood, they forget the economic reality that in the summer, shade trees keep air-conditioning costs down , and in the winter, evergreens and even leafless deciduous trees reduce the impact of high, freezing winds.

  7. Sometimes the only way to have a garden in one’s yard in Watertown, where neighboring properties are so close together, is to cut down a tree to allow sunlight to reach one’s soil. Or maybe people just want to have some additional sunlight in their yard for other reasons. Not everyone who takes down a tree is an ignorant, earth-hating person as some of these comments seem to imply. All this blind support for the ordinance is short-sighted. If trees are so important than the city should maximize trees on city-owned property first.

  8. Perhaps not everyone who takes down a tree is an “ignorant, earth hating person” but there are enough of that sort to go around. Perhaps they just don’t understand the value of green assets.

    I chose my current dwelling partly because of the trees nearby, both public and private. Each year I have a pair of cardinals nesting in my backyard tree. That tree provides shade for me to work at the picnic table on summer days. The maple in front of my house keeps my apartment cool on hot days.

    While trees are providing aesthetic benefits, they are also removing CO2 from the atmosphere. This is increasingly important as we battle climate change. I love our trees.

    If you must cut a tree, please replace it so that future generations will be able to enjoy a mature tree.

  9. I want to thank you all for your comments. I think that sometimes we lose sight of the value of trees, because we’re all too busy to be still and observe.

    When I was much younger (a twenty-something) and living on a different street in Watertown, but close to a major street, my husband and I had a huge tree in our yard. Our backyard neighbor, a very nice old gentleman, approached us about that tree. He asked if we could share the cost and take it down. I think that he was finding it hard to keep up with the leaves in fall, and this guy liked a clean lawn!!

    In the spirit of trying to be cooperative neighbors, we agreed. Within 24 hours of that tree coming down, we knew that we had made a big mistake! That nearby busy street? We could see all of the traffic and hear it night and day. Not only that, but they could see us. Our private backyard was no longer private. There was also more dust and dirt. We had no idea how much that tree had given us! We planted another, not as close to our neighbor’s property, but somehow it never got big enough to come close to doing the job that our large tree had done.

    And these days, when we are experiencing such rampant development in our City, with its attendant aggregate noise pollution, these trees, will be part of the solution, as long as we have enough foresight to understand their value.

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