Cambrian: Opinion

Remembering rain and extolling the virtue of stumps

Tall tree trunks are part of the forest and have their own dignity.
Tall tree trunks are part of the forest and have their own dignity. Special to The Cambrian

Two days after I left the noisy east side of Park Hill and settled into my apartment in the forested, ultra-quiet Bradford Road area, I awoke to a poignant phenomenon occurring outside my windows. 

Rain was falling. It was a soft but steady rainfall. It was as sweet as a mother humming a lullaby as she rocks her baby to sleep. It was as refreshing as a long cool drink of water after a six-hour trek through Death Valley in August. 

Remember rain? I looked it up. It can be a verb or a noun; as a noun, according to Merriam-Webster, rain is “Water that falls from the clouds … due to condensed vapor.” Indeed millions of water droplets were cascading straight down from the heavens that gray morning a few months ago.  

I certainly remember rain, and I miss it terribly. I ache for it and dream about it. 

I have a CD with the sound of rainfall — with an occasional blast of thunder — that I play to relax myself when I’m staring at a brutal research paper deadline.

Growing up in southern Wisconsin, rain was a regular and welcome event, once the winter ended and the air was warm enough for the transition from snow to rain. 

My dad always said the bullheads bit better when we were fishing in the rain on Rock River, the main tributary to Lake Koshkonong.

Even here in Cambria, I remember rain, lots of rain, thunder, lightning and even flooding, in those years before the drought. When I lived on Skye Street and it rained hard for several hours, torrents of water, a veritable rushing river, would scurry past our house, spilling well over the curb, and splashing wildly into the sewer grates — and out to the ocean, which didn’t need any more water but got it anyway because very few residences in Cambria had rainwater-harvesting apparatuses.

Noted poet Langston Hughes said this about rain: “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” 

But I digress. Shortly after my coffee brewed that morning, there was a knock on the door. It was the men from the tree-trimming company, Davey Tree, on assignment to cut the tops off of the three dead trees just beyond my deck.

They asked me to move my car so they could pull their massive white truck close enough to the dead Monterey Pines to use their cherry picker equipment. They extended that long, white arm as far as it would go, but it didn’t get close enough to the trees. So Plan B was put into effect.

That is, in the pouring rain, men in bright yellow rain gear shinnied up those tall trees. The fellow closest to my deck went up first, a chainsaw dangled from his belt as he dug his spikes into the bark and moved slowly upward. 

He coolly lopped off the smaller branches that blocked his path to the top. Precision is the name of the game when you’re high up on a tree, sawing through a 16-inch diameter trunk and dropping chunks to the ground. 

In about three hours, the derring-do crew had removed the brittle tops from three tall pines. Using their earsplitting grinder, they reduced the smaller limbs to mulch, swept up and were gone. And so was the rain.

Stumps by the Sea?

Recently a letter to this newspaper claimed that the 30- to 40-foot tree trunks around Cambria were “ugly … miscreants.” The writer referred to them as “eyesores” and asked, “Whose bright idea was this?”

I beg to differ with this letter’s theme. First, a “miscreant” is a scoundrel, a villain, a criminal or wrongdoer, according to my thesaurus. These trees have done nothing wrong. The lack of moisture is not their fault. Secondly, the tall tree trunks left standing have a natural dignity. The sun shines on them, and they cast shadows.

They have been standing proud for perhaps 70 or 80 years, providing shade and offering habitat for owls, crows, mourning doves, small songbirds and other flying and crawling critters. They were there through world wars, depressions, recessions, and even though they don’t sway in the wind any longer, they have substance as part of the drought-ravished landscape.

Even at less than half the size they once were, they provide habitat and food for numerous woodpeckers and other birds. 

For me, these three tall trunks conjure up number three in varied contexts: the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost); primary colors (red, yellow and blue); three French hens (12 days of Christmas); three blind mice; three sheets to the wind; Freud’s personality theory (the id, ego and super ego); American Pharoah and the Triple Crown; and let’s not leave out “…  of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address). 

As to the letter writer’s assertion that leaving these tall trunks standing is a cynical kind of “celebrating” of the trees’ passing — I say, quite the contrary. Each brown trunk left standing fits seamlessly in the forest and reminds us that when it comes to our environment, we’re not ultimately in charge — Mother Nature is. 

We celebrate not the dying trees, but the good fortune we all have just to be here, whether we’re drenched by those silver liquid drops or left thirsty in our rain-starved landscape.