My interaction with the Knoxville Utilities Board over a big tree produced an illuminating view of mortality. It happened like this. We have a red oak near the street which had grown until its bark was rubbing against— actually stripping insulation from— the electrical cable. One day our neighbor noted huge sparks shooting out of the tree. Startling, to say the least.
As a good citizen, she called the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), which zipped over one of their technicians to tell me the dire consequences to neighbors and passers by. I was to sign a permission to have the tree removed. The tree was dying anyway, he added. I’d get, for my good (or enforced) citizenry, some safer dogwoods and/or red buds. So I signed. There seemed to be little else to do.
A couple days later, another KUB guy, an arborist came by, waving my document, which he had pulled from a stack. I had no need to sign it, he said. Mine was a fine oak tree and “the tech guys” could easily move the wires. He doubted that the tree was dying or even unhealthy.
At this point I called an arborist at the University of Tennessee who grilled me over the phone about the crown, the nature of the bark, the state of the leaves, how the roots met the earth, and so forth. My oak seemed to be passing every test for health, but the first KUB guy had been so sure.
“Well,” I asked finally. “Is my tree dying?”
Long pause. “Ma’am, of course it’s dying!”
“But . . .”
“Your tree is dying. No question. You’re dying, I’m dying. A newborn baby is dying. That’s the nature of organic things. They die!” Had I missed this fact? “Is your question whether your tree is dying faster than it ought to be?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“No, it’s not dying faster than it ought to be. No reason to cut it down.”
My red oak tree is still there, with the cables moved away. I hope we’re all here for awhile more.