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The Giving Tree

August 10, 2011

 The biggest disappointment that I feel here is when I witness scenes from the children’s book, “The Giving Tree,” being played out in my community. It’s the book where a young kid sits under a tree for its shade, enjoys its fruit, uses its branches and eventually cuts the whole thing down until nothing remains but a stump in the ground.

Last week, they chopped down the Mango tree. Not just any mango tree, the mango. It was a huge tree located on the main road in front of the primary school that was used as a meeting spot. People would hang out under its shade to wait for transport or use it as a meeting point. It was common to hear, “Meet me at the Mango,” and everyone knew precisely which mango was meant. People also posted posters and announcements to its trunk, because it sat on the one spot in town that everyone frequents.

On Saturday morning, my friend Erin was visiting and we awoke to the sound of a chainsaw going to work. When we hear the crack and thud of a tree, I commented, “oh the sound of a felled tree,” without thinking much of it. People use wood to build houses all of the time, and it was no longer alarming to me. However, as we walked past the school on the way to a meeting, I immediately noticed, grabbed her arm, and nearly shouted, “They tumbar-ed the mango!” My spanglish way of saying that they chopped down the mango. I approached the violators and began questioning.

Me: Why are you doing this?

Chainsaw guy: I’m just being paid. The owner got permission from the environmental agency to knock it down.

Me: But why does he care?

Chainsaw guy: He claims that the roots disrupt the floor in his house.

Me: But I have a mango about six feet outside of my house.

Chainsaw guy: I know, the mayor protested but they still gave him permission.

Erin: Jessi, let’s go. Nothing can be done now.

Photos: Left: Bobi poses in front of the felled Mango. Right: A perfect example of the tree on a hot summer day, even includes a flyer on the trunk.

It seems silly to assign so much value to a single tree, but the fact is that chopping down the mango speaks to a larger truth about the relation between deforestation and development. It reminds me that before parking lots, strip malls, and car dealerships, we used to have a lot of trees too. If Chichica is to turn into a bustling hub town for a region of 150,000 people, it will eventually have to plan for such growth, likely at the cost of the existing tree cover.

I was equally shocked when I visited the High School the other day. As I approached the Principal to say hello, I caught him mid-conversation with the Principal of the Primary School. It was actually kind of obnoxious because they were shouting at each other from across a field. He said “What did you say about turning the school garden into a parking lot?” The other principal yells back, “Huh? The garden into a parking lot? Yeah, I said that was a good idea.” The other responds, “Ok great, I think so too, so we’ll move forward on that.” My jaw dropped as I thought to myself ‘this is how decisions are made?!’ Catching me with that look on my face, the principal turned to me and asked, “Whats wrong Yesi?” Uhhhhh nothing.

When I was younger, my hometown in Arizona decided to bulldoze a large hill on the side of the highway in order to build a mall. My mother was vehemently against it. She always said, “but they are going to lop off the entire hill (was it called bullwhacker hill?) in order to build a mall!” I didn’t understand her grievance at the time, but as I grow older and gradually more hippie, her sentiment makes a lot of sense to me. She was calling out the developers and city planners for making short term decisions for the sake of growth. The way that some American communities have chopped and trimmed in order to meet growth goals is not the right blueprint for development.  It seems worthy to note that nowadays the mall is rather sad – customers are scarce and many stores are empty.

The truth is that a lot of my area in the Comarca is already deforested. Population pressure pushes families to dedicate more and more land to agriculture and cattle grazing while very little is left fallow for long. Not to mention the amount of trees cut down trees to get firewood for cooking. Centralizing the population in larger towns, such as Chichica, actually makes sense to better preserve outer-lying areas. While this increases the possibility Chichica will make bad development decisions, the anger and disappointment that most people felt about the mango being chopped down demonstrates that they value nature. The real question is whether the value of preserving trees is worth more than it would be if put toward other uses.

What kind of economic incentives can be created to encourage tree growth and discourage tree hacking? Tourism (see article)? A program to subsidize natural gas to promote switching to gas stoves? Charging a fee and requiring permission from the environmental agency? (cumbersome and did not save the mango) A program that teaches farmers how to plant trees and provides them with saplings? Paying farmers to plant trees?

Whew, I have a lot to think about. In the meantime, the trees keep falling and it is not getting any cooler out!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    August 10, 2011 9:11 pm

    I harken back to your previous post ‘What the French guy said…’
    Peace and Goodwill

  2. Sally O permalink
    August 16, 2011 3:34 pm

    Jess, It really does make you stop and think. I am sad for the mango tree and the frustration you felt. Thanks for the story.

    • August 19, 2011 2:39 pm

      Thanks Sally O… I knew you loved trees too! I’m happy that you are reading. I hope all is lovely in Prescott!

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