Builders began construction on a house around the corner from us a few weeks ago. It started with the tying of ribbons. Orange ones around the trees. When we drove by, Olivia asked me, does a ribbon mean save it or cut it? We did a quick accounting and discovered it didn’t look to matter—with the ratio of marked to unmarked trees being about equal, half of them would go.
The small houses in my 60 year old neighborhood have more than big pictures, they have big yards. Consequently, builders stalk the perimeter of our community, barely able to contain their drooling, as they wait to pounce on the weak and broken down properties that wander innocently from the herd.
Picture quirky Dr. Seussian rhymes, with quirky Dr. Seussian outlines depicting crooked ramblers that regularly disappear with a slurp, sucked into the earth from which new monstrosities erupt with a succession of imposing 6,000 square foot clunks: bigger, better, crookeder, complete with never-to-be-used rooms, vacuous ceilings, and fuel guzzling heating and cooling units that chug and puff great billowing cartoon clouds of smoke into the azure sky above.
Years ago, builders got their hands on the two properties behind us. The houses and the trees came down together. When a three-story wall of siding went up, blocking the sunset we had always soaked in during dinner, the bitterness got the best of me.
Olivia was just 5. Gareth 8. We sat under a tree on sunny days dipping strawberries in confectionary sugar. It sounds so sweet, but during those picturesque meals, I dripped poison into their innocent little ears. I stewed about the big bad builders; I seethed about the tree-haters. Gareth called them “the big house people” with elementary derision. Olivia looked at me with the big eyes of Cindy-Lou Who, asking, “Mommy, why, why are they taking our pretty trees, WHY?”
I couldn’t possibly ever have anything in common with them.
Then it hit me: them. These presumptuous structures would eventually house people:
OMG. I had to change my tune. What if they had kids? What if Olivia went up there to play and, in her not-so-innocent-5-year-old-way, asked them why they chopped down all the trees? What if she announced: “My mom says your house is too big!”
Ugh. I’d created a monster of the Lorax variety. But nowhere near as cute, restrained, or profound.
I began to work on some softer language, some maybes and what ifs that left room for the possibility of decent, well-meaning, neighbors with way more ounces of goodness than I had displayed so far.
A good thing, because they do have kids, and despite all of my predictions and my many insightful ways of knowing, they are some of the nicest people I know. I’m not exaggerating. The nicest.
And I thought we’d have nothing in common. These people have a bicycle-powered grain grinder that puts my very electric grain grinder to shame. Who even has a grain grinder (to make their own bread) besides me and my big-housed neighbors?
It’s as if they were put there to teach me a lesson I’m already supposed to know, about judging a book by its cover, or a family by its house, or whatever.
Don’t judge. Got it.
Until the market turned enough to let the building start again.
This new construction marks the third tear-down this year. When Olivia and I saw all the trees, marked for execution, I barely paused to adjust my Mrs.-Kravitz-curlers before I called Steve to report the latest neighborhood development. I stewed. I muttered. My kids followed suit. To lighten our mood, we joked about perching a stuffed Lorax on the mailbox for all to see.
Then, someone put a big sign in the yard that said, “STOP killing trees!” Olivia gasped (and then gushed, because the girl lives for a little drama). My mouth just hung open.
Wow. I immediately recoiled, recognizing that somehow this crossed a line.
(I didn’t do it. I promise).
The woman responsible apologized a few days later. The man who owns the property supposedly told her that he’d been planning to live in the house, but after the sign and a flood of angry phone calls (apparently, although the Lorax never showed, many neighbors had called to “speak for the trees”), he’d decided he didn’t want to live in such an unfriendly neighborhood.
Hmmm…Communities are so confusing.
I’ve discovered that I can’t just decide to stop feeling my resentment. I moved here for the trees. I don’t think it’s reasonable for this guy to be surprised that we haven’t lined up next to his wood chipper with so many homemade banana breads wrapped in bows.
I think our anger is justified. But as a community, what do we do with that anger? Do we want the community or the trees? Well, I want them both, and surely it would be better if people didn’t come and exercise their ironic right to chop down our oxygen producing friends so that they can “biggerer” their houses' CO2 footprints, but once they do that, how should the rest of us react? If we want to remain a community, I think we may just have to swallow our resentment—accept the change. You know, get mad and move on, or move out.
So last week, I woke to the sound of demolition. It rattled my windows in their frames. By the time I picked Olivia up from school, half the trees and all of the little house were gone.
I registered my disappointment, tried to look the other way, and resolved to wait out my anger. I’ll get used to the new landscape. Maybe I’ll even be friends with the new neighbors. We’ll chat pleasantly over potato salad on summer holidays, share a beer on the back deck, or offer a morning salute as we walk our dogs.
It sounds OK. But I can’t help but wonder if it will be enough. We’ll never talk about what used to be, and despite my pleasantries, I won’t stop hoping for that damn Lorax to quit his dilly dallying and make an appearance before we run out of trees.
“Unless” he’s waiting for me?