Woodman, Don’t Spare That Tree!

Deej Webb identified 5 “homicidal trees” on the Merritt Parkway — big ones, with the potential to fall and kill someone.

And that was before this month’s monster storm.

The 1980 Staples graduate grew up with the mindset of most Westporters:  Suburbia = trees = wonderful.  You didn’t think about the presence of trees, any more than you questioned air or cookouts.

But on his daily commute to New Canaan — he teaches high school history there — Deej saw trees that could kill him, as easily as they killed several motorists in the past few years.

He saw CL&P crews trimming branches around power lines — but leaving enormous trees standing.  The temporary fixes seldom worked.  “Four times a year, I lose power,” Deej says.  “It’s completely preventable.”

As he looked — really looked — around Westport, he realized trees are not always aesthetically pleasing, either.  Deej says that trees block what once were majestic vistas.  As an F. Scott Fitzgerald aficionado, he knows that when the author lived on South Compo, next to what later became Longshore, there were no trees at all — the author saw clear down to the Sound and across to Long Island, providing inspiration for several “Great Gatsby” scenes.

This tree sits 2 yards from my patio. I hope it doesn't kill me.

As a student of history, Deej knows that from colonial days right through to the early part of this century, there were far fewer trees in Westport.

“What we’re seeing here today is not New England,” Deej says. “It’s a man-made arboreal paradise.”

When he discussed his counter-intuitive — if not heretical — ideas with friends, they thought he was joking.  Then they looked around, saw what he saw, and figured he was maybe half-kidding.

After last week’s storm, they stopped laughing.

“Everyone I know spent a lot of time clearing their property,” Deej says.  “And now everyone is noticing how many of their neighbors’ trees  threaten their own property.”

Deej and his friends have a few ideas.  They want to work with the town to identify dangerous trees, and find discretionary funds to cut them down.  They envision a volunteer effort involving civic groups, Staples sports teams and Boy Scouts (though, Deej notes, “you can’t really hand chainsaws to kids”).

They would like to post photos on “06880” and WestportNow.com, asking:  “Why is this tree still standing?”

They hope to petition the state to take care of dangerous Merritt Parkway trees.

Yet for all his dreaming, Deej is a realist.

“I know it’s expensive,” he says.  “And I know people in Westport have fought the removal of a single tree at Longshore.  They’ll chain themselves to trees to save them.

“The environmentalists will talk about the importance of trees’ roles in oxygen.”

So he’ll settle for this:  A townwide discussion of whether Westport is overly enamored of trees.

“Is this a crackpot idea from someone with too much time on his hands?” he asks.

“Or is it an idea whose time has come?”

(“06880” readers:  Answer those questions by clicking the “Comments” link at the top and bottom of this post.  To contact Deej directly, email him:  rnwebb@optonline.net)

8 responses to “Woodman, Don’t Spare That Tree!

  1. Dan,

    Deej’s note about the water view from the F. Scott Fitzgerald house on South Compo Road, next to Longshore, brings to mind the Westport Historical Society tour of the April 25, 1777 Danbury Raid when the British landed at Cedar Point in Westport. The tour was then conducted by Barbara Raymond – and later her husband, Al Raymond (q.v. The Bridge Not Taken: Benedict Arnold Outwitted, by Damon Greenleaf Douglas, Westport Historical Society).

    Barbara would point out that this entire part of Connecticut had been clear-cut by the colonialists. One could see the Sound from Ridgefield. This awareness helps explain the tactics used by both the British and Benedict Arnold and his Minutemen during that skirmish.

  2. The Dude Abides

    Deej is right on! I live off North Avenue and just suffered five days without power. That was doable and a wake up call on how nice people are in this town when a crisis hits and also how
    spoiled we really are BUT North Avenue drops trees every time there is a heavy wind or it snows hard. So for you tree huggers, cheapskates and/or privacy mongers, cut down some trees on your yard that are near roads. Yes YOU! Stop blaming Connecticut Lighting & Power (they told me that many people refuse their trimming) and stop looking to the town of Westport. Alittle common sense and self-help is needed. Finger pointing will do no good!! If bucks are short, get a community fund among residents on your street. If you are worried about your environment, plant a tree after you take one down. Or call Deej, his chain is greased, sharpened and ready! Nice timely article, Dan, the man.

  3. Charlie Haberstroh

    About 3 years ago after the fatality on the Merritt Parkway caused by a falling tree, the First Selectman asked the Board of Finance for $10,000 to do what Deej suggests. There was no support for it, largely because experts we heard told us that there was virtually no way to predict among healthy trees which ones would fall and which would not in a storm. (Obviously diseased or dead trees are more likely to fall.)

    My guess is that wet ground, shallow roots combined with the wind to produce much of the destruction we experienced in the last storm. When a tree is uprooted in a storm like the one a week ago, how can you predict it looking at the tree and not the root structure?

    Anecdotally many of the trees that fell seemed to be pine trees, some of which are not native to this region and were originally planted many years ago as ornamentals. I think that the damage would have been greater if in fact we had a hurricane in the fall with deciduous trees in full leaf.

    The idea that citizens should inform the Town, CL & P and homeowners who have suspect trees on their properties is a good one. I know for one, I informed CL & P a number of years ago of a huge, but diseased tree which threatened wires on Berndale Drive. They took no action…and of course the tree fell on the wires a few years later in a storm.

  4. Linda Gramatky Smith

    I agree with Deej because I was looking at a 30′ tall tree (maybe more) that was a stray seedling, a STICK, literally, in the ground when we moved back to Roseville 17 years ago. It is in the parkway right by the road. And as it started to branch out, I started to prune it. Well, it is now a huge tree and not a very pretty one at that. We have let CL&P prune around the wires, but I noticed the other day that it is completely surrounding the wires on all sides. This was not a special tree, but one that I inadvertently (I was younger 17 years ago, surprise) decided to nurture. 🙁

    Could Deej please give a description of the appearance of trees that he advocates eliminating? I’m not sure which ones he’s talking about. Thanks.

  5. The Innocent Bystander

    Are we are forgetting the fatality that occurred during this storm behind the Volvo dealership??
    The side streets are dangerous as hell and mostly due to overgrown trees. If you really want an example, check out the overhanging limbs in front of the Hockenum Mansion at 63 Cross Highway. I called the police two months ago and there they hang. Does it take more to die to take care of this issue or are we so consumed with lights for the football field that we will “wait until the next time?”

  6. Right on, Deej. There’s a hollow tree in front of my house on town property that I have called the town about several times, but so far no action has been taken. I was really concerned that it would fall during the storm last week. But trees fall in dead calm too. I agree that we need to look for potentially hazardous trees and remove them before any damage is done. It could save lives.

  7. Mountain Man

    I used to summer vacation in northern Vermont. Each spring (every year), they get out their chain saws and cut down trees that they know will come back to haunt them come the next winter. If this latest storm is to be a learning lesson and Deij’s aforethought is to be acted upon, we need to take a lesson from the our northern friends and Deij’s mindset. But Rose, if the town doesn’t do anythingn about that tree, have it cut down and send them the bill or deduct it from your taxes!!

  8. Greenfield Hill Deathtrap

    21st Century settlers cowering in the shadow of 200-year old monsters capable of wiping out entire families on a whim…a near miss on human life leaves two crushed vehicles behind on Verna Hill…a shattered greenhouse on Hillside as mother and newborn watch helplessly…spiders, ticks and ladybugs thrive in the damp shadows as local inhabitants long for warm sunlight and free spirits … In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan “Tear down this wall!”… Grab a chainsaw and support the Connecticut Open Skies Initiative (COSI).