Tygerpen: If a tree falls hallelujah!

Just in time for Tu B’Shevat, the Israel Defense Forces announced a sophisticated new program of defensive weaponry: planting trees around Israeli towns and communities close to the Gaza border. The project should, in theory, make it more difficult for terrorists to accurately target homes and residents by sniper fire or anti-tank missiles.

I am suspicious that the IDF’s new strategy was ripped off from the U.S. Forest Service’s recent study of my hometown of Portland, Ore., that looked at the effect of trees on crime statistics. That study concluded that houses with a lot of tall trees had less crime because trees suggest a neighborhood is “more cared for” and under watch by authorities.

This, of course, is what Oregonians want the other states to believe. The rest of the country thinks Oregonians like trees because they’re statuesque and lush on summer and spring days. In reality, Oregonians gleefully await the majestic beauty of autumn or stormy winter days when  trees hurtle themselves to the pavement below or crash down on someone’s parked car that’s invariably new.

I grew up in this environment, where firefighters came roaring through the neighborhood in fire trucks to the delight of bored cats who routinely planned to be rescued from their tree perches; where lush trees were draped in the white lacy velvet filaments of toilet paper from an earnest youth’s night’s work; and where the canopy of trees blotted out the rare Oregon sunshine.

I couldn’t get away from trees: If it wasn’t the visual of trees, it was hearing on the radio “Lemon Tree,” “The Hanging Tree,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” Even worse, wondering why Clint Eastwood in the movie musical “Paint Your Wagon” sang “I Talk to the Trees,” which was reason enough to be institutionalized.

Trees continued to plague me at B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon; when I was 9, we went on an overnight to the Siuslaw National Forest. Nothing creates a love of camping like staying in a single-person shelter made of dried tree branches, sleeping on the hard, bare ground, feasted on by spiders, digging a trench for a toilet, and in the wee hours of the morning, hearing a high pitch whine in the forest that could only have come from the resident UFO or Big Foot.

I did, in fact, plant trees when I was a teenager at another Jewish summer camp, Camp Saratoga, later Camp Swig, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Without the consent of campers, our counselors chose the theme “The Junior Peace Corps.” On their command, we trudged up a 90-degree barren hill in 90-degree heat and, using picks, shovels and hoes, dug holes, planted and watered trees for several hours each day of the session. We were too tired for swimming, singing, tennis, baseball and all the other sports, such as sex, that our parents thought we were pursuing.

As a former Oregonian now living in California, I have to pretend to adore trees, even though I intentionally selected a house where the quota of trees is met by one backyard silk tree. Unfortunately, a few homes in my neighborhood have transformed themselves into virtual compounds, encased in a jungle of trees that obliterate the house and lead to the conclusion that the residents, if not insane, must be cultivating some illegal pharmaceuticals or are in a witness protection program.

The only time I enjoyed large numbers of trees was when I visited Muir Woods. I was enthralled not by the redwoods, but by the surprising swarms of ladybugs that coated the trees everywhere I looked. I mostly eyed them from a comfortable distance rather than sitting among (or on?) them, envisioning as I did the headline “Woman Suffocated By Ladybugs.”

I do not expect people outside of Oregon to understand my reluctance to closely associate with trees, whether on Tu B’Shevat or American Arbor Day. If you’ve ever seen the 1962 British sci-fi film “The Day of the Triffids” with Howard Keel (Howard Keel?!), who battles man-eating trees (or very tall plants), you know the lengths to which trees may go if they’re not intimidated.

When Keel and the female heroine are trapped, surrounded by voracious Triffids, a frantic Keel resorts to the only thing that can save their lives: He sings several selections from “Kiss Me Kate,” “Showboat” and “Kismet.” But like Clint Eastwood singing to trees in “Paint Your Wagon,” it doesn’t work.


Trudi York Gardner is not a rabbi, rebbbetzin or spiritual leader. She’s not a Jew-by-Choice; her mother made her go 13 years to religious school and there was no choice. She lives in Walnut Creek and can reached at [email protected] or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.