I’m going to start chaining myself to trees. I’ve got time.
Yesterday to my dismay, I came upon two freshly cut cottonwood tree stumps on my way to town. I loved those two trees. I could count on them for shade on hot summer days when I felt like I was just going to faint, when the sun felt like an actual laser beam.
Did a forester look at these two trees before the decision was made to remove them? The shade they provided, the habitat for the birds, their aesthetic beauty — were these things taken into consideration? Or did someone just say, “The trees are an accident waiting to happen,” whip out the chain saw and start up the chipper?
When the grand old cottonwood disappeared at Wayne May Park last summer blood rushed to my head, and I felt a need sit down, except I couldn’t because none of the benches were in an area that provided any shade. When the 26 cottonwood trees near Colter Elementary and Jackson Hole High School were “proven to be dangerous over the years,” down they went.
I made calls, I wrote letters, I got nowhere.
Recently it seems the cottonwood is the most vilified of trees because of its fast growth rate, fluffy snowy seeds and brittle bark. But with rigorous pruning and care these beautiful trees provide a shady oasis, contributing to the health of our environment.
Consequently, I am going to need a formidable chain and several locks.
In Texas 75-year-old Ovide Duncantell, director of the Black Heritage Society, chained himself to what he called the Martin Luther King Tree, located along the esplanade of Martin Luther King Boulevard and the Old Spanish Trail.
“I would go to prison for this tree,” he said.
Colleagues filled in for him by chaining themselves to the tree during Ovide’s restroom breaks. Within hours an agreement with city authorities was reached.
Personally, I can hold out a lot longer than a few hours. I’m persistent, healthy and have a streak of the insane. In our valley we have lost hundreds of trees to urban improvement and I’ve had enough.
No more tree by tree, gradual urban deforestation.
Years ago in Australia, Isabel Mackenzie and a friend chained themselves to a gum tree to save it from being cut down. The 91-year-old Isabel said she would stay chained to the tree for as long as necessary.
“I’m normally a peaceful citizen,” said the grandmother, who had been a resident of the community for 60 years.
The ladies stayed chained for 4 1/2 hours. Cars that passed the two senior citizens honked in support.
But they caved, feeling they had made their point, and came to an agreement with the authorities.
I’m not caving. An alternative approach to chaining could be tree sitting, which would allow me more freedom of movement, room for a port-a-potty, areas for supplies and an opportunity to become one with the raccoons — or, with the proper tools and setup, a place to eat raccoons. It could be done. Once the raccoons’ scent glands are removed I could parboil the pieces for an hour, then shake the pieces in seasoned flour and fry them up.
Pioneers ate the inner bark of the cottonwood for its nutritive value and sweetness. The inner bark of the cottonwood contains salicin, which was used as an antirheumatic drug, disinfectant and antiseptic.
Few sights were more welcome to our early pioneers than the cottonwood. Pioneers making clothes from hides used cottonwood smoke to waterproof their garments.
Early explorers depended upon cottonwoods for their survival. Trees supplied building materials for their tools and forts. Branches were used for fuel and heating and cooking. Cottonwood forests provided places along rivers to hunt and fish. Twigs, young branches and leaves of the cottonwood made better feed for horses than hay.
Large mature trees can remove more than 70 times more air pollution than young trees, and, frankly, there are not many species of large trees that thrive here in the high country. Oh, I could rattle on.
Care for the trees. Prune the trees. Let the trees live.
Embrace the cottonwoods. A town canopied with trees overrules bumps in the sidewalk.
There’s a Native American legend that mentions the little star that hides in the branches of all cottonwood tree limbs. They say the star hides there so it can always be near the people on earth, to listen to their beautiful music, to hear their kind words to one another, to hear our laughter, and, soon, to hear the cries of a woman hollering, “I am a Jackson Hole senior! A warrior, darn it! Let our trees live!”