Over the past week, I have watched my five-year-old granddaughter defy gravity hundreds of times. In the pool, she has learned how to move her arms and legs to keep herself afloat and swim from Papa to Mama to Grandma Martha to me. On roller skates, she can keep her four-wheeled feet beneath her and propel herself across the rug from one end of the living room to the other. Bare floors and sidewalks are next! She delights in mastering the invisible, implacable force that pulls her body down.
Trees also defy gravity. Their trunks are rigid enough to stand tall, yet flexible enough to bend with the wind. Their deep roots hold firm against the forces of wind and water, at least most of the time. In their most amazing feat, they pull hundreds of gallons—several tons—of water from roots to leaves every day, a distance that can extend more than 300 feet in the tallest trees.
All of a tree’s anti-gravity powers are no match for humans with chainsaws. Once a tree is cut off at the base, it has to fall.
Until a couple of weeks ago, that was to be the fate of Luma, a huge, 200-year-old Western red cedar tree in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. She stands on the edge of a human-created lot. The developer, Legacy Capital, could have designed their planned six-unit housing around her. The original design did just that. But then the developers decided to subdivide the lot so that the tree was in the way of buildings. The City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) issued a permit. Luma had to come down.
But this magnificent, life-giving being drew human allies to her. Neighbors rallied and participated in gratitude ceremonies to acknowledge all that she contributes to the neighborhood. The Snoqualmie Tribe took notice and determined that long ago, the tree was modified to mark the site of a temporary camp along a trail through dense forest. They notified the City that the permit to cut the tree violates state and Tribal law protecting culturally-modified trees (CMT). Activists climbed up into the tree and vowed to stay there until the tree is no longer in danger.
We hope that Luma can be saved. That will be an important victory. But the City’s new so-called Tree Protection Ordinance that just took effect provides no protection for culturally-modified trees, no provisions for consulting with tribes regarding tree-cutting, and inadequate protection for the thousands of mature trees throughout Seattle that are threatened with destruction during development. We are experiencing dramatic climate change that has created the hottest summer on record throughout the world and a devastating drought in the Pacific Northwest. It is insane to destroy mature trees at the rate the City of Seattle allows now.
It’s time for humans who know the value of trees to defy gravity, to stand up to the ones who pass bad laws and wield chainsaws, to stand up for trees. Our lives, our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, depend on it.
To stay informed about efforts to protect Luma and other trees throughout Seattle, click here.