Dispatch № 76: Truncated

An image of a severely pruned tree in a park, one year later, showing initial regrowth of limbs after everything was cut off by a city tree-cutting crew
A severely pruned tree, one year later

It had been a beautiful, mature zelkova tree. It had a high canopy that spread beautifully over one corner of the park like an immense, lush green parasol. It provided habitat, shelter, and shade, and the pleasing noise of its thousands of leaves whispering together in the breeze saturated the air.

That is, until its patulous limbs were unceremoniously eliminated.

Last year, a tree-cutting crew from the city showed up and started work. For a few days I thought they were going to remove the tree entirely, along with two neighboring, similarly lovely trees.

Fortunately, they did not, though what they did do was scarcely better, amputating every branch and leaving the trees to start over as sorrowful, fifteen-meter stumps.

Now, nearly a year later, they are fringed with sad tufts of leaves on tiny new branches.

What is the point of allowing trees to mature beautifully over decades only to cut them back so violently? So contemptuously?

The presence of trees is a gift, in the city especially so, but clearly not everyone sees it that way. Some seem to take them as a burden, something loathsome better pruned mercilessly than cared for with any amount of sincere concern.

I used to spend hours reading and writing on a bench under those trees. It was such a pleasant place to be, and in the summer it was notably cooler in that deep shade than in the direct sun nearby. This, in addition to all the other joys of sitting under the boughs of a wonderfully large tree. Even just staring up into the branches was a joy, watching the sky sparkle through shifting gaps in the foliage.

Now the sun finds no impediment, no barrier to keep it from that corner of the park. The draw of that place has been replaced with a sad bitterness that rises every time I see those great, heavy trunks now topped with what little new growth the trees managed in the last year.

And I know that, ten years on, they may look a bit more like their old selves again, with shade being cast in a slightly larger radius from the trunk with every passing summer. But it seems so much easier, so much more compassionate and benevolent, to simply accommodate a mature tree’s calm presence than to disdainfully penalize it for existing, abusing a great and beautiful organism for no good reason, to the benefit of absolutely no one.

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David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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