As I See it


Ruth Sanford


A lament for three friends.



I lost them this week. Two of them were at the peak of their mature lives, one in the first fresh bloom of youth all three beautiful in themselves and in what they gave freely to those around them. All three died of carefully thought out violence. Natural causes beyond human control I could have accepted with only a feeling of sadness or deprivation or loneliness at the personal loss of something precious.


Like any planned violence it seems, in retrospect, to be needless and to express a basic lack of respect for life in all its forms, a distortion of values in the mind of the destroyer, of values on which the whole cycle of the natural universe depends - the life cycle itself. For all of life on this earth is one and inseparable and evidence of the progress of humankind is that more and more people, other than poets and philosophers and naturalists like Whitman, Eiseley, and Burroughs, are seeing the relentless truth of it


So when the life of my friends (or anyone else's friends or no-one-in-particularís friend) is taken by violence lost in the pain is double for those who've lost and for the destroyer - a double tragedy.


The fact that my three friends were trees, not people, is irrelevant. I had lived with them every day for years the older ones for 21, the younger for 10, in all kinds of weather giving freely of shade and fragrance, beauty of leaf and bough against the sky, privacy that strengthens neighborliness (and friendship or family love, for without respect for privacy, relationships develop raw edges that wrote ravel and sharp edges that hurt), natural air-conditioning summer and winter, a buffer against noise of. railroad and highway. And more. They offered a home for the shy beautiful song birds who seek the shelter of pine away from the raucous demanding grackles and jays.


And so this morning I was awake at dawn. I heard the train and trucks more clearly but I heard no morning calls of cardinals, no warblers. I guess they have gone in search of a safer home. I miss them.


Have you ever smelled the fragrance of pine on a hot summer day or on a crisp cool day or the delicate fragrance of mimosa at sunset in July of just after a rain? I have. But I don't anymore.


And what did my friends ask? Only a few square feet of the earth in which they grew. They made no noise (only the gentle whisper of pine in the wind), they asked no care - only the right to be with the sun and the rain. And what did they die for? Space beside a drive way to put a car more conveniently - or maybe two cars.


Their passing is more distressing because, real as the loss is to me who knew them best, it is a symbol of the greater loss evident in this small neighborhood. The destruction in three days, or less, of a resource which took 30 to 50 years to grow! It happens in an hour with a bulldozer. When the railroad destroyed a grove of mature trees in order to build a substation, the sound of trains and highway traffic became evident in this neighborhood for the first time. We are working for replacement of some of those trees but it takes time - too much time. Twice within a year, a row of trees on a property line has been cut for someone's convenience, not need.


Each time the sound level of traffic rises and air pollution increases. For a tree is also an air purifying factory, and each of the thousands of leaves is a fan stirring and cooling the air. Their roots hold water in the soil and prevent runoff and flooding; every square yard of concrete increases flooding.


Each time the balance is tipped, even slightly, all people in the community are poorer whether they're aware of the loss or not. Poorer in riches which money cannot buy, people cannot create, and in absence of which they sicken and die - first in spirit and finally in body.


That is as I see it.