A Tale of Two Cherry Trees

Today started entirely unlike any other day, with me falling down the stairs at 3:30 am, resulting in matching scuffs on my forearms and a brief, albeit slightly exhilarating, moment of dizziness. This was the universe reminding me that it was all together too early to even consider doing things like walking down stairs and giving me a gentle push back toward the warm confines of my bed. The universe would, of course, have to deal with my shit. I was on a mission and couldn’t be bothered with gentle pushes.

What mission could I possibly be on at 3:30 in the morning? Glad you asked.

If you live in Nashville and are in any way aware of the world around you then you already know exactly what happened on Saturday. For those reading from outside the holy land, allow me to summarize… or at least try to.

On Saturday, March 30th, 2019, it was announced, suddenly and without any due ceremony, that 21 cherry trees were to be removed from the river front to make room for a monstrosity of a stage so that the upcoming NFL draft can be held in the center of down town instead of, I don’t know, maybe the stadium. But I guess that just makes too much sense. It also makes all kinds of sense that the announced destruction of said trees was to take place the following Monday.

Because yay, sportsball!

Following this announcement something amazing happened. Everyone in Nashville, gay, straight, black, white, maga hat and pussy hat, cried out in a unified voice that they wouldn’t take this shit laying down. Our mayor, David Briley, back peddled like hell, stating that the instead of 21 trees being cut down and sent to the chipper on Monday, 10 trees would be uprooted and replanted elsewhere on Wednesday.

Of course he wasn’t thinking in terms of the real issue. That issue being that this thing with the cherry trees isn’t so much about trees as it is about the city government doing things the citizens hate, mostly destroying the charm and history everyone relates to Nashville, in the name of lining their pockets.

We live in a city where the city council tried to vote themselves a raise… multiple times, and our sitting mayor got his job when our previous mayor was caught banging her head of security on tax payer dime. Naturally we have issues with this, but it gets worse. Our historic buildings are being torn down to make room for low rent housing, neighborhoods with that particular old style funk about them are being leveled and replaced with rows of identical, prefabricated, cracker boxes, and the remaining historical buildings are being turned into massively overpriced apartment complexes that no one who works in Nashville can afford. All of this because in the last few years, thanks entirely to our history and charm, Nashville has become the “it” place.

This has overcrowded our roads, inflated prices of… well, everything ($29 to park for 4 hours in a garage that smells of urine,) and in general causes a feeling of disenfranchisement in the populous which has led to a rise in crime, a lowered service standard, and the elimination of that classic southern charm we once had.

The cherry trees are not the issue here. The issue is that we weren’t told about it until the last minute. Obviously a back peddle compromise was not going to be enough.

The next couple of days brought a flood of questions and concerns from citizens. Questions about why the stage has to be in that exact spot. Concern for the well being of the trees considering that they were being moved during blooming season. and responses from various government offices that all told different stories and passed blame around the city five times before any truth began to surface.

Okay, now that we’re all caught up. Come sit on uncle Percy’s knee and let me tell you the part of the story you’re not hearing.

So there I was, 6:00 in the morning, 1st avenue. Just in time to see the first tree plucked from the ground.

I went, camera in hand, knowing to expect something, but not knowing what to expect, and spent the first two hours clicking away before anyone took notice of me. Once they did the notice was geared mostly toward the fact that I was the only photographer out there not working for a media outlet. I got to talk to people and get a personal view from the inside of what was going on. Not what was going on in the government. Not what was going on on social media. What was going on precisely at that moment on 1st ave. I wasn’t expecting that. But it left me with a deeper understanding of the issue.

I decided then that I had to pass this on. The how was a bit of an issue. Naturally I’ve chosen the blunt approach.

One of the candid interviews I stumbled into was a local arborist who requested I not name him. He was, in fact, doing his best to inform and educate the various news anchors that had gathered without appearing on camera. His reason brought a great amount of perspective.

He didn’t want the stigma of being the local villain who removed the trees. He had a great deal of concern for the entire crew working out there this morning. All good people who care about the trees very much, doing their best to ensure the they get a chance to live rather than meeting the mulcher.

He went on to give me some interesting information about the transplanting process and the misunderstanding among the populous. Information I’m now going to pass on.

A major concern was transplant shock. He explained that that was the least of their worries because of how the trees are planted. Instead of being allowed to grow wild their each in their own pot. Just like putting a house plant in the ground. The roots don’t spread, so transplant shock, while still an oblique possibility, isn’t the chief concern. When they transplant a tree the entire root ball goes with it.

There had been a brief outrage over pictures of a few stumps of trees that had been cut down yesterday in preparation for the move. And I’ll admit freely that I was briefly caught up in that outrage. However, as he explained it, those trees were already dead. They weren’t the ones scheduled for removal. And they were cut down to be replaced with the living trees being transplanted.

You can see how easily this can be turned into a crime scene.

He stated repeatedly that he and everyone else on the site this morning was there to help. That they love these trees as much as the rest of us. And that, while not the ideal situation, at least the trees have a chance of survival now.

When asked how he personally felt about what’s been going on he said, quite simply:

“I really haven’t made up my mind completely. I don’t think anyone has. There hasn’t been enough information given and that’s the real problem.”

A brief conversation with a member of the parks service, who will also remain nameless, revealed a serious distrust in the mayors office. And a fun description of what’s going on.

“You’re either so far to the left you’re an idiot or so far to the right you’re an idiot, and in the middle there’s about ten percent of us that are just trying to get by, but we don’t have a chance.”

He also asked me to be a media witness to the careful removal of a dead branch from one tree out of concern for how the public might see that action. So, as an eye witness, let me verify right now that the limb was in fact dead.

From just after the first break of dawn to roughly 9:30 I stayed and watched as all ten trees were removed.

I watched as news reporters came and went. Overheard the twisted takes they delivered on air.

I watched as people on their way to work stopped for a moment to watch. Some reaching for their phones to take a few snap shots.

And I watched people pensively reflect on the spot as though this place was a part of their daily routine that was being uprooted.

But in the end, as I watched the final tree being lowered into it’s final home, it was a solitary thought of how much more complicated this is than it seems that kept cycling through my mind.

This wasn’t about the cherry trees. This was the straw that broke the camels back. And for once we’re all pissed off together. If we manage to stay pissed off together we may do some good. We found a small compromise in the trees being saved. Was it enough, all things considered? Of course not. But it’s something. And the public outrage that brought it about, 50,000 signatures to save the trees in one day, may have shown our politicians how dissatisfied we are with their actions.

If this has seemed a tad disjointed, I apologize, I’ve been awake since 3:30am. I’m just trying to get this out there for consideration. And as a closing thought, please, don’t vilify the men who transplanted those trees today. It can’t be said that they were just doing their job. Just following orders. They went above and beyond to save those trees from the wood chipper. The end result left the river front looking much different. But the transplant went smoothly and with a little luck we may get to enjoy these trees for years to come.

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