"Trees are the kindest things I know/ They do no harm, they simply grow ..."
-- Harry Behn
Back in fourth grade, I had to memorize the Harry Behn poem "Trees" and recite it in front of the entire student body during an Arbor Day program at Valle Vista Elementary School in Southern California. It was my very first public-speaking engagement.
I still have nightmares.
The poem itself paints trees as loving entities -- spreading shade for sleepy cows, and gathering birds among their boughs; giving us fruit in leaves above, and wood to make our houses of; leaves to burn on Halloween, and in the spring new buds of green -- the cheesy rhymes go on and on ...
Well, clearly, Harry Behn never met a tree from Harrisville.
Because if he had, he'd know that trees are more than just our benevolent, leafy friends. He'd know that trees have a dark side. A sinister side. A destructive side.
Indeed, in Harrisville, city officials say the trees are wreaking havoc the likes of which haven't been seen since the last Roland Emmerich movie. (Rumor has it the disaster-porn director's next film will be titled "Chlorophyllistines.") No less than 13 property owners in Harrisville are receiving letters from the city letting them know that their trees have been very, very naughty. And that the homeowners need to pay for the damage -- mostly in the form of cracked and heaving sidewalks -- caused by the rogue trees.
So, what's the problem here? In a word: liability. Somebody might up and sue the homeowner -- or the city -- if they trip over a crack in the sidewalk. So the trees must be dealt with. Harshly.
It reminds me of a lesser-known piece of tree-related poetry, titled "Harrisville Trees."
(with apologies to Harry Behn)
Harrisville trees are rather mean
Not like the ones in Mountain Green
That grow so straight and strong and tall
And cause no grief or pain at all
But Harrisville? Those trees are punks
With messy leaves and dirty trunks
They tear up sidewalks -- driveways, too
So neighbors lawyer-up and sue
Among the other sundry gripes
Their roots invade the sewer pipes
Till bathtub drains are running slow
and toilets start to overflow
These trees are evil, guaranteed
Each one sprang forth from a bad seed
They're positively byzantine
Yes, Harrisville trees are rather mean
Of course, there are those of us who can find the good in trees -- even in the rotten ones like those in Harrisville. I mean, call us crazy, but some of us would gladly endure a few cracked, upheaved sidewalks in exchange for a nice, shady, tree-lined street.
I know this, because I've seen the before and after pictures. A number of years back, the city of South Ogden "dealt with" a few of its residential streets. City officials, apparently upset over tree-root damage to sidewalks and utilities, tore out all of the big trees lining several streets. It turned them into a flat, featureless neighborhood that, frankly, is still only a shadow of its former self.
It takes, what, an hour or two to form up and pour a section of sidewalk? I dare say it takes a little longer to grow a tree.
And that's the saddest part of this story about the sidewalk-eating trees of Harrisville. I've known plenty of people to come across one of those beautiful tree-lined streets in an older, established neighborhood and say, "Nice trees."
But I've yet to hear someone look at one of these newer, denuded neighborhoods and say, "Nice sidewalks."
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.