Where Have All the Palm Trees Gone?
January 18, 2006|Posted in: Uncategorized
If I stand on the sun porch and look west, I can see the tip-top of San Francisco’s skyline. Closer at hand, I can just see two or three palm tree tops from this window, trees that I know for a fact stand right near the shore at Crab Cove. It really makes me feel like I’m living on an Island to tell friends, “Yes, I can see the beach from here. See those trees? Those are at the beach.” It’s a perk of Island living to get to see palm trees waving in the wind.
Around the other side, right behind the house, there’s an apartment complex – shhh, we won’t mention exact locations, but it’s one of those ugly pastel-colored monstrosities, like two shoeboxes stacked atop each other, all cement and stucco and fake clapboard siding. There is a definite reason your Alameda neighbors went up in arms back in the early 1970s, and together passed the long-standing Measure A against buildings larger than two units. It’s because of hideous architectural boogers like this one. Probably the only saving grace about the awful thing is the two beautiful palm trees that grow in front.
From the upstairs bedroom, yes, from our very bed, we can see the palm trees leaning into a hard wind, or standing still with the grace of an icon. It is a lovely thing, to be lying in bed on a sunny morning, with a cup of hot coffee and the Sunday papers scattered about, and be able to see two beautiful palm trees right out the window. It is quite a peaceful sight to gaze out at the multi-colored sky in summer, when the sun is setting and all the sky against the far Oakland hills is purple, violet, pink and orange. The two trees stand like silhouettes in black against this backdrop.
And in recent weeks, on these cold and blustery days, we’ve lain under the covers and listened to the trees sigh and blow, the leaves shushing and keening in the wind, and though it’s no hurricane outside, just our typical Northern California winter, we love to watch the shaggy heads of these trees bow in the gray rain.
Other people might watch their birch or liquidamber trees for the signs of the season, and in other climates leaves fall and grow again, or snow fills branches in winter while fruit fills them in summer. Palm trees don’t change much, just grow slowly taller, drop a few fronds once in a while and in general add to the ambience of the neighborhood or desert island. For the two of us, the palm trees seemed like a sign of benevolence in the universe, that we would find a house with such a view, that our bedroom window would frame it, that we could see it from the wide raft of our bed, and we could gaze on those trees and daydream of our next trip with the kids, or without them, and what we’d like to do together when the last child leaves the nest.
Imagine my surprise when I came up the stairs last week, wondering about that loud buzzing noise, to discover my view was destroyed. Out the window, I could see two workmen on slings around the tree trunks, way up in the air, where the heads of the trees used to be. The lovely fronds were gone now, and the workers systematically scooched down a few feet, hacked off another chunk of tree-trunk with their chainsaws, and sent the pieces to earth with a loud thunk. It was ugly and brutal and so very uncivilized.
In another hour they were done.
I wonder what people are thinking when they chop down a tree like that. Was it just too much trouble to pick up a few palm fronds? Did the landlord or property management company think that even more cement was a nicer option for the residents and the neighborhoods? Were they operating under that misguided sense of “improvement” that some people fall under, such as whoever renamed the perfectly appropriate South Shore Shopping Center to something that is not accurate, descriptive, unique nor even remotely related to Island living?
Before you write me a storm of e-mail, asking how I can ask such weak questions in the face of deadly hurricanes, endless (and useless) war in Iraq, the starvation of children in Africa or the state of Nick and Jessica’s marriage, let me just say that while I can’t do much about the aforementioned natural and man-made disasters, I can still sigh and wonder.
You know, there are a lot of great things about living on an Island. Is it too much to ask that we try not to destroy those things with selfish, short-sighted, thoughtless acts? When I’m queen of the world, I’ll make a law that no palm trees may be chopped down without a damned good reason. Until then, and it may be a long wait, I’ll be looking out our bedroom window and missing the view that was.
Write to the Queen of the World at firstname.lastname@example.org
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.