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Hope for Trees

A tree was saved today.
A miracle might have occurred today. People who have worked in opposition for years were smiling and agreeing on something. Solutions were suggested and accepted. A tree was saved.

After years of e-mails, public meetings, and tense confrontations on the street, and a final sit-down meeting at City Hall, the city agreed to spare the lone tree on Cave Avenue that straddles the edge of the city right-of-way for a sidewalk. The sidewalk will bump out four inches into the street to maintain the four-foot width required in order to meet ADA standards.

What’s more, as the work began, the developer asked for his arch-nemesis, renowned arborist Olaf Ribeiro, to come out and consult on how to handle boles found at the base of the tree. They can be safely flattened, he said, using a diamond saw for a smooth cut. The one-hundred year old tree probably formed the boles in reaction to the street first being paved sometime in the 1970s.

Four inches of gravel now wind along a path between the big trees that line the edge of our property. Four inches of concrete will be poured on top, allowing the developer to begin building houses in what was once a small forest on the west side of Cave. This is our loss, a modest buffer between the neighborhood and the highway, a resting place for animals, and sometimes humans, between the ravine and the lower, undeveloped five acres that remain on Cave Avenue.

With a new city manager, things are looking up. The existing tree ordinance required developers to enumerate the existing trees on a property and assess their size and condition. Then they were allowed to cut them down. All of them. A proposed development north of here will affect more people and more acreage, and has drawn attention to this anomaly. It has forced us to consider who we are: Is this a rural, self-governed community of progressives? Or an anonymous suburb of a major city at the mercy of national retail and real estate interests?

Development might serve a few in the short term, but island residents seem to finally understand that wholesale clearing and building on the island will lower its desirability in the near future, not to mention lower the water table and further degrade the surrounding waters of Puget Sound. The tree ordinance is under examination for revisions that will reflect the value of trees to the island, historically, culturally, and as a vital natural resource.

A neighbor remembers when the east side of Cave was all second growth forest. Before that, it was lentils. And before that, a ship-building company, The Hall Brothers. And of course before that, forest.

We lost the battle on Cave Avenue, so the developer can afford to be gracious about a single tree. “I can’t believe the city agreed to save a tree!” Ribeiro said. I suppose he meant without him threatening to chain himself to it, which he has done in the past. Someone else suggested that we assign a name to the Douglas fir.

“Let’s just call it the Cave Avenue tree,” said another neighbor. After all, we hope the tree not only outlives us, but lasts a couple more generations into the future of the island.

This is my idea of time travel: to send more into the future than we take away. We are not anywhere close to that, but we will keep trying.
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