Pine Tree Swan Song
Orange flags mounted on wood stakes announced that the lot down the street had been surveyed. Dense with oak trees, palmetto scrub, and ancient pines that towered like nature’s skyscrapers, I knew the texture of this street would soon change when the lot was cleared.
Much of the development where I live has retained a rural sensibility. Undeveloped lots surround many houses, and depending on where you live, if you look the right way—away from your neighbors’ houses—you can almost pretend you are in the woods. Many homesites are so wooded that the owners don’t have to pretend. I’m fortunate to own a home with those pretend benefits. An undeveloped lot sits south of my house, as do at least three lots east of it. Pine trees, both mature and saplings, oak trees, scrub palmettos, and, alas, far too many Brazilian peppers make up my view.
My view wouldn’t change when the lot down the street was cleared, but the street view would—and soon. One morning not long after the stakes appeared, the sound of bulldozers and bush hogs silenced the birdsong. First, the heavy equipment took out the oaks, cabbage palms, scrub palmettos, and even the Brazilian peppers. The heavy machinery rumbled through the lot each day, moving, mowing, crashing the growth to the ground. Dump trucks lined up, were filled, and drove away containing once-living greenery.
Too hardy and far too tall for the first stage of clearing, the ancient pines still stood in place. However, I knew the day would come when they, too, would meet a clear-cut fate. These sturdy pines had weathered many a storm and many a drought. They stayed put in 2004 and 2005, when hurricane after hurricane slammed the area. Residents were storm weary, but these pines persevered.
Days later, when heavy equipment roared the morning awake, I knew the pine trees would be gone by sunset. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the sounds of the machines’ mighty effort to topple those pines. Cracks, creaks, sighs, and groans sliced through the air as the pines were pushed and prodded into submission. The pines resisted at first, their roots continuing to hug deep within the Florida soil that had sustained them for many decades. Persisting, the machines finally accomplished their goal. I heard a funeral dirge as the trees toppled with resounding cracks and crashing thuds as they hit the ground.
I am almost certain I was the sole onlooker concerned about the trees, even from a few lots away. I sensed a kinship and felt it only right and honorable that someone witness their last needles blow in the wind, catch the pungent scent of pine sap in the air, and hear the massive trunks hit the ground. I even felt some inner pain as they and I said goodbye.
I know the lot on which my home sits was once covered with native Florida vegetation, probably relatives of the same oaks, pines, and palms that died an unsung death in the lot down the street. I know that progress and preservation fight an ongoing, no-winners battle. We want our houses, our businesses, our stores, our places of entertainment. Balancing the desires of people and the necessity of nature has never been easy. I think it’s only fitting, however, that when we remove habitat to provide ourselves with the trappings of modern life that we take notice. Our spirits must awake, become aware, and yes, even sing a pine tree swan song.