You would think that I as a native Oregonian would have a particular affinity for Tu B’Shevat, a holiday known as the New Year of the Trees, which is celebrated this weekend. That’s not the case, not only because it is a minor Jewish holiday and one of four New Years in the Jewish calendar — the reason Hallmark Cards drew the line at Rosh Hashanah. No, for many of us growing up in the Northwest, a creeping anti-tree sentiment evolved even though we were programmed since birth to believe that our economy, recreation, environment and Smokey Bear’s pension (were he still alive and not subject to pension reform) all relied on trees.
When I see dead Christmas trees in January being hauled away on the freeway, I’m elated they’ll be given a decent burial. The only good thing about a tree is that it provides a home for birds.
By coincidence, this year Tu B’Shevat falls on Shabbat Shira, a special Sabbath that honors birds. One reason is because birds saved Moses’ reputation: Apparently, while the Israelites were wandering in the desert, two bad guys, one of whom resembled Edward G. Robinson, went outside of camp on a Friday night (!!!) and secretly spread manna to prove to the other Israelites that Moses was a liar when he said there’d be no manna available on Shabbat. When gullible people went out to gather manna, they found nothing — as Moses had predicted — because the birds had eaten the manna.
So how do we reward birds, especially this weekend? We carefully pour out piles of seeds so squirrels and their extended families will be attracted and consume most of the birdseed. We can’t stop the tree squirrels, unless we deforest our yards or walk into a wild bird store and quietly ask for a Squirrel Electrocution Death Machine, which the store will angrily deny carrying.
I’m being consistent here. Where I grew up in Portland, the neighborhood was devoid of trees. Our homes were more contemporary than in other areas, so I now believe the philosophy of homeowners was to clear the land of trees, like the Oregon pioneers did. The pioneers didn’t immediately add back trees for the sake of ecology.
According to local Jewish lore, there was another reason for the absence of trees in our area. Before I was born, the relatively new Jewish National Fund — incorporated in the United States in January 1926 and just finding its way — apparently sent its regional director into our neighborhood to cut down trees and issue customized certificates to neighbors that celebrated each tree removal (“From Manny and Molly”) until the home office in Israel reclarified the purpose of the organization.
My father, in fact, did plant one tree — a beautiful flowering peach tree on the side of our house. While spectacular in foliage, the flowering peach had one defect: The fruit was inedible. Early on, this taught me that even when you see how something looks, you can still misjudge it.
Case in point: We had a beautiful yard my green-thumbed father had landscaped, including the backyard hedge that Dad had funded from his hedge fund. When a more affluent Jewish family, the Horens, moved next door, they built a 7-foot fence for privacy. Relations deteriorated over the years between the two sets of parents.
Early one morning, my father came home from playing piano at the (restricted) Waverly Country Club’s Easter gala. As usual, he was dressed for the occasion — this time as a 5-foot-9 pink Easter Bunny. As he pulled into the driveway, he noticed smoke pouring from the Horens’ garage. Dad ran or perhaps hopped over to the Horens’ house and banged on the front door.
After several minutes, Mr. Horen opened the door, his eyes half shut.
“Dave?” he asked, thinking it was his brother.
“No, it’s Harry,” said the 5-foot-9 pink rabbit. “Your house is on fire.”
The door was slammed.
Fortunately, the house was saved. The cause was a cardboard box in the garage filled with hot ashes from a wood (from trees!) fire.
To paraphrase that great humanitarian Wayne LaPierre of the NRA, “The only thing that stops a bad, tall, imposing, shade-giving tree is a good guy with a chainsaw.”
Trudi York Gardner lives in Benicia and can be reached at email@example.com or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.