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Clear Cut

Island Life

The first thing I noticed was an abundance of sky where leaves and branches used to be. I knew what had been there, why it was there and where it had come from. I also knew what had been there just a year before and, like the present vanishment, had come and gone with little to no fanfare. As there was not much fanfare when we put them in, one could say that it’s easy come, easy go, although for some the going part is not so easy.

It was either late 1983 or early 1984 when Ken Fulton came to me and asked if I would sketch out a plan for a pocket park to be constructed in the vacant lot next to the pharmacy. As I had been intrigued by the idea of what they had called "urban infill", or the reclaiming of wasted spaces, in landscape design school, this seemed a good opportunity. The sketch went to the then Vashon Business Association, a group even more ineffectual than the current chamber of commerce, and it sat waiting for some sort of approval. Sometime in late spring of ‘84, Ken came to me and said that he was tired of waiting and if I was willing we would move ahead with the installation without a stamp of approval. I had the plants and the plans, and we had donations of railroad ties from Bacchus Lumber, bench building materials from L.S. Cedar and a work crew of high school kids. In the parlance of a certain sportswear company, we just did it.

The park construction took most of the day, with finishing touches coming over the next week or so. It was interesting being there to hear comments from people passing by who didn’t think I was listening. Mostly there was scoffing about the eucalyptus I had put in and the oft-repeated: "Those will never grow here." Having since weathered record low temperatures as well as ice and snow, these skeptics were apparently incorrect in their assessments.

Unlike the nay-saying passersby, there was one person who actually stopped to talk and ask what was going on there. When I informed him of the plans and intentions for the mini-park, I can still recall what he said just before turning to walk away. The three words that he spoke that changed my day were these: "That’s just grand." Even though I had barely been on the Island two years, I knew that this was Fred Eernisse, and his endorsement seemed a good thing to me. In looking back though, there was a bit of irony in getting a nod from a person whose botanical wonderland was wiped away in a fit of excremental change even more grand than this dual tree slaughter. Plants, it seems, are not the material that lasting legacies are made of.

While it continues to baffle me, it really should have come as no surprise. In slipping back to landscape design school I am reminded of the project we did for an athletic facility being built in the wilds (yes, there are some) of New Jersey. It was new construction and in walking the site it was mostly young deciduous shrubs and trees. There was, however, a magnificent native plane tree in the middle of the space that I spent a bit of time writing a recommendation for that suggested this become a focal point of the design. We were informed not long after that that it was the first tree to get cut down.

There was of course the demise of the Monkey Tree for the crime of dropping branches in a violent windstorm and the insurance risk that apparently posed. There were the cedar trees next to the firehouse that made a slow but sure recovery after having their roots ripped on three sides to make way for more asphalt. They were cut down to make way for a concrete slab and apparently a memorial for more heroes created by mayhem caused by our own government. And then there were the two more public gardens that I did at the athletic club and the entrance to Roseballen where over seventy of the plants I had put in and nurtured were removed in the dark at shovel point for someone else’s garden. I guess it is no wonder that I have become cynical about planting for the future. I guess there may be some kind of zen message in this which I both accept and reject in the temporary memorial I constructed for the missing trees and the video record I made of it, for what it’s worth. Watch it here: