The central trope of my life is this: I never really get away with anything. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about my sixth-grade attempt to show off to my kleptomatic Catholic-school friends by stealing a box of candy (chased at high speed through a mall by a psychotic teenager with remarkable sprint speed; dropped candy near the Chess King) or various romantic misadventures afterwards (unexpected text from decorated combat veteran husband who has multiple confirmed kills at 400 yards or something like that). I never get away with it.
So, it comes as no surprise that after I get done telling all of you that a tree is just a symbol, I’m given a chance to put my money, quite a bit of it, where my mouth is.
It’s your fault. You wanted cheap Chinese “luxury goods”, all the plastic shit that clutters an Apple Store. iPhones, made in China. iPhone cases, made in China. High-end, Dutch-branded headphones, made in China. Expensive designer laptop cases, made in China. Foxconn employs over a million people who kill themselves at a rate that, we are solemnly assured by the American media between shiny advertisements for products that are “Designed in California”, is no higher than the general Chinese suicide rate, which is pretty high, but what can you do.
At some point, one of the unimaginably numerous crates coming from China broke open and released the Emerald Ash Borer. It is a nightmare-looking green beetle bigger than your thumb. It lands on ash trees and lays eggs under the bark. The larvae burrow serpentine paths beneath the bark. Think of a thousand bugs chewing out the connective tissue between your skin and your body. You’d die, of course.
The Emerald Ash Borer is scheduled to kill eight billion trees in North America in the near future. As a country, we had no defense against it. The predators which hold the EAB under control in China haven’t made it into an iPhone crate yet. Every ash tree in this country and Canada will die. Eight billion trees. Eight billion, most of them mature. The Nature Conservatory says they will plant a billion trees by 2025. Well, for every tree you plant, the Chinese beetle will kill eight. We’re told that the rainforest is disappearing at a staggering rate. It’s something like two or three billion trees a year. In other words, this beetle is kicking the ass of the Global Corporate Rainforest Destroying Bush-Hitler Machine, all by itself.
And yet you’ll never hear about those eight billion trees outside of a special-interest magazine because it’s critical that we not pay too much attention to what we actually suffer as a country by sending all our manufacturing and applied science to a country full of people who, as a rule, view us as uncultured, depraved monkeys. It’s critical that the manufacturing keep leaving this country so the power and the influence shift to the politicians and the major blogs and the thought leaders in Silicon Valley. Once upon a time, the wealthiest county in the United States was Oakland County, where the auto executives and the $100,000-a-year blue-collar overtime workers lived. Now it’s #61 on the list. Four of the five wealthiest counties in the nation now directly border Washington, D.C. You see how the power shifts when money stops coming from commerce and starts coming from quantitative easing.
Anyway, these fucking demon beetles arrived in Ohio a few years back and they killed six trees in my backyard, including the largest one, which you can see in the photo above, tied to the back bumper of a Super Duty. They killed them slowly. My seventh ash tree is still holding out. You can poison the ground around the tree and slow the beetle but you cannot stop it.
These trees were all here when the house was finished in April of 2001 and I moved in. Back then it was my starter house, a launchpad for bigger and greater and more upscale things. But at some point I stopped caring about bigger and greater and more upscale and I just never left this place. Don’t think I’ll ever leave it not, at least not until my son leaves for school in thirteen years. When I got here, I was the youngest person in my immediate neighborhood and I filled the driveway with expensive cars. Later on, after my divorce, I’d pack a hundred people in here and have amazing parties.
Things are quieter nowadays, with the exception of the afternoons where I fire up the MESA Mark V and let the feedback vibrate my ribs. The house has grown shabby and neglected. The homeowners association started harassing me about the dead trees. I told them to go to hell. And when the storms blew I smiled and dared Fate to drop a fifty-foot ash on my head.
No longer. I’m stretching my legs, shaking out the cobwebs from nine fractures and two seasons spend inside my head. The lawn’s been weeded and I’m about to replace all the mulch with the shredded-tire stuff they have in the NJMP paddock. I’ve taken five truckloads of trash out of my basement — boxes, magazines, books, everything from my marriage. I’m going to repaint the interior. There’s new furniture coming. Might rehab the bathrooms. Who knows.
This weekend the men came to cut down the trees. Having trees cut down is more expensive than having them planted, by the way, the same way a divorce attorney is more expensive than a justice of the peace. In April 2001 they were smaller but they were strong and when fall came they were a canopy of color. Now was the time for me to put my words about trees — about them merely signifying, not having meaning in themselves — into practice. Now was the time for me to watch them come down. I was silent when they did.
The tallest of the trees had twenty feet of clear, unbranched, thick growth. I had them cut and stack it in guitar-sized chunks. It will go into the kiln and I’ll do something with it. MelodyBurners maybe but I’m thinking a doublecut Paul with a deep carved top, natural finish.
When the trees crashed down I thought about some other things, some other people. You can love someone and have a relationship with them but the beetles can get in there, they can burrow, they can leave the bark untouched but the damage beneath is enough to kill. Then one day the bark falls off and you realize how long it’s been dead, how long you’ve been ignoring it, how long you’ve been hoping that spring would come and you’d see leaves, knowing in your heart that you would only see branches.
The tree was dead long before it crashed down behind the bumper of that big truck. Really, it had been dead a long time.