The last 11 years of our residence in Taiwan were on the campus of Tainan Theological College, a parklike oasis in the middle of an otherwise noisy city. Part of the land on which the college sat had been purchased from a man who had planted it in a variety of fruit and exotic trees in the 19th century. To a certain extent, these trees were left in place and buildings situated between them. Not wanting anyone to walk past in ignorance, subsequent educators had labeled many varieties. Living on campus, I learned to identify Australian Beefwood, Cuban Mahogany, Poinciana and Camphor.
A few years of “deferred maintenance” had led to overgrowth. A passing typhoon could result in banyan trees toppling over. These had to be sawn apart and removed. In the summer of 2010 something evening more destructive arrived, a tree trimming crew. Equipped with cranes, tractors, and dump trucks, they perpetuated a chainsaw massacre, lopping off branches, topping tall trees, removing nuisance bushes, and generally bringing the sky back to ground level. A walkway that had been blocked by crooked juniper trees became useful again.
Where we now live, on a street in Holland, Michigan, we experienced a chainsaw massacre in 2019. The city was replacing hundred-year-old water mains, storm drains and sanitary sewers. For six blocks, almost every street-side tree was removed. Now, just one street north of us, people live in a green tunnel of foliage. By contrast, we’re in a desert.
After construction finished, our newly paved street, with new curbs, driveway aprons and sidewalks, was also gifted with new trees. Spindly little things held up by posts until they take root. A few people along the block have tied colorful pieces of cloth and other decorations to them as a way to cheer the visage of a city on lockdown during the current plague. If we can’t have leaves (yet) or even tree trunks (for a few years to come), we can, at least, have color.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.