The Common Good

Sawdust and Mistaken Identity

 I had a happy childhood, with few moments of true anguish. One that I will always remember, though, is when they cut down the tree on Euclid Street.

Throughout my early years, I would often take walks with my parents down this street, stopping to play on this tree’s bulging roots and hug its large trunk. On this particular weekday, my favorite tree had been replaced with a stump and some sawdust due to the risk of it falling over and taking out all the power lines its branches had engulfed. My four-year-old self was in shock.

I spent the afternoon wailing, to the dismay of my parents and the neighbor who came over for a play date. To this day, when I walk down Euclid Street and see pieces of the branches still hanging on to the power lines, I remember what it felt like to lose my first friend.

I’m not four years old anymore, but my heart still sank when I read that a historic tree had been cut down in Washington, D.C.’s Farragut Square by mistake. While details are unclear, somehow a tree company hired by the park service to remove a dead ash tree ended up removing a 140-year-old gingko tree on the other side of the park – the tallest in the city and a neighborhood landmark.

When the tree was honored by the National Park Service in 2006, historian Jonathan Pliska wrote that the tree was “significant because of its size, longevity and association with the transformation of an undeveloped tract of land into a small, urban park, Washington, D.C.’s first memorial to a naval hero. Today the tree remains, as it has been for over a century, a character-defining feature of Farragut Square’s notable landscape design.”

Whoops.

In fact, a friend and I had walked past the ill-fated tree on the very day of its demise. Headed for the Metro, we saw its branches hanging from cords as the work crews took it down. I laughed at first, thinking that the branches looked like giant Christmas ornaments, and then the four-year-old in me lamented the loss of what was, undoubtedly, somebody’s friend.

Nobody understands how exactly this particular mistake could have been made, and all parties involved probably feel pretty terrible. The Washington Post implies that the tree could have lived 2,850 more years, which definitely suggests that its life was cut short.

Many years after the Euclid Street incident, I returned to my parents’ house for my summer break from college. I knew the maple tree that had the defining feature of our front yard had come down the month before, but seeing the stump and sawdust still left me with a sense of melancholy. We went out as a family to buy the maple’s successor, and eventually landed on a vibrant candidate: a tiny gingko tree.

Let’s hope this one makes it past 140. 

Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners. 

Photo: Ginkgo tree leaves, Tito Wong / Shutterstock.com

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