R.I.P. Dear Old Oak Tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is, in the eyes of others, only a green thing that stands in the way.”

––William Blake
Claude Monet, Fontainebleau Forest, 1865

Our recording studio is located near the access road in a busy industrial/residential area. Traffic noise is our daily soundtrack. An occasional train whistle pierces the air from the railroad crossing on the other side of the freeway. The hum of morning rush hour is punctuated by the roar of semis hauling milk to and from the nearby dairy. Across the alley is a historic building once teeming with AT&T operators handling directory assistance and long-distance calls; these days, just a handful of people come and go.

Inside our building, the studio environment is cool and quiet but far removed from the green peace of nature. Until recently, when we were bogged down with the inescapable paper and scut work required for the business end of music, we could always take a moment, look out the front window, and rest our eyes on the Dear Old Oak Tree.

Beautiful, majestic, and probably close to a century old, its thick trunk branched into a dense canopy shading a large corner of the vacant lot across the street. It was home to who knows how many birds, bugs, and squirrels; and a welcome oasis for back-packing pedestrians making their way in blistering, concrete-reflected heat. Gazing at it triggered an instant lowering of blood pressure, a deep inhalation of peace.

But the vacant lot was sold, and in late August came the bulldozers. At first, they dug deep trenches around the Dear Old Oak Tree, roped off by yellow tape. Though glad to see development in the area, we fretted for the tree’s health and safety. The low hum of heavy machinery rattled our windows and kept us on edge. And then, on the morning of September 3rd, we pulled into the studio parking lot and looked across the street.

The Dear Old Oak Tree was gone. Vanished, without a trace, the ground filled in and leveled as if it had never been there.

We were heartbroken. I called and left a message with the city’s tree preservation office, asking if anything could be done. The next day, I got a call from the city arborist, a personable man named Mark Bird, who commiserated over the loss. He told me that the developer had gone through the required mitigation process and pledged to plant at least twenty young trees on the property, which is being developed as a small strip center anchored by a laundromat.

A small comfort, but the loss looms large. We feel as if we are mourning the death of a friend. For over a decade, the Dear Old Oak Tree was a part of our everyday working lives, Mother Nature’s ambassador in an urban desert of concrete and stone. It made the area greener and more alive, the air fresher. It made our lives better. I had filmed footage of it, which you can see in the video below; I now regret not filming more. Joël paid homage to it three years ago with this presciently elegiac track––also in the video below––from his 2016 release Monet’s Garden.

We know that a laundromat will be welcomed by many folks who live in the area and by the hard-working truckers who pass through; clean clothes are important to the quality of life. And hopefully, those twenty young trees will grow quickly. Maybe in fifty years, if all goes well, they will be as beautiful and majestic as the Dear Old Oak Tree. And our response to the loss is to plant a tree at the studio this fall (pictures forthcoming).

But wouldn’t it have been beautiful if the real value of the Dear Old Oak Tree had been fully realized? It trapped carbon dioxide and released oxygen. It cooled this urban heat island. It cleaned the air by trapping particulate matter. And we can assert wholeheartedly that it reduced stress. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the developer had recognized all these things and planned the building around it? Imagine a plaza, the Dear Old Oak Tree in the center, shading picnic tables where folks could sit and read or have a cool drink and a conversation while waiting for their clothes to dry. And then imagine twenty more trees planted around the property, where people could park their bikes or cars in the shade. Wouldn’t that have been beautiful?

What we lost….

Leave a Reply