A tree is not the same thing as a building. It embarrassed me last weekend to say this ridiculously obvious fact to one of my new neighbors who wants to put the “up” in her fixer-upper. She’d just offered to trim back a couple of overgrown trees in her backyard in exchange for my not getting too riled up about her plans to build a two-story addition that would most likely take away part of my splendid views and privacy.
In my Santa Barbara home, I watch the lines of pelicans float along the bluff each day. Last month a hawk tried flying through my glass kitchen door, confused by an owl decoration. When I first looked at this property, three red-tailed hawks circled high above the real estate agents and me, and I asked them if we could stop talking for a few minutes and watch these amazing birds — their actions a novelty for me. This is the second time in the seven years I’ve lived here that a neighbor has offered up parts or all of a tree in hopes of gaining my approval of development plans. The last time it was a beautiful pine tree that occasionally harbors the wild birds that fly over from the Douglas Preserve for short visits.
Before I moved here from Orange County, I associated a hawk with a trowel, the tools I used as a construction laborer during the McMansion craze. I’d grown tired of waiting tables while earning my degrees. In the 45 years I lived in The Big Orange, I’d never seen a soaring hawk, although the plastering and stucco tool might resemble one if you use your imagination. When I was a kid in the ’60s, I once picked oranges off the bulldozed trees that surrounded Disneyland, and I often rolled down my car window on the I-5 to take in the sweet scent of the seemingly unending orange groves. After college, I taught high school art in Garden Grove, where I supervised up to 45 students each period as they squashed around my classroom’s one-faucet sink during the scheduled 10-minute cleanup.
It took a whole lot of money for me to finally escape the gridlock, strained infrastructure, and overpopulation of The Big Orange and move to Santa Barbara. For an assignment, my grade-school daughter asked me what we did to help save the planet; I told her we have solar panels and we live in a small house that saves energy. We appreciate the abundant nature here, and we trim back our trees and bushes so we don’t block our neighbors’ views. I guess you could say we value trees over buildings although I’ve never before called myself a treehugger. If trees could talk though, I’m sure the one across the street would have a few words to say. The neighbors couldn’t agree on shade or sun, so the huge treetop was vertically sliced down the center to keep both sides happy.
I feel lucky to have moved to this relatively small town of Santa Barbara from the megalopolis of Orange County. I wanted a greater sense of community for my family when I loaded up the moving van and headed here, completely unaware of its King-of-the-Hill wrangling that seems to stress my neighborhood community, including the hawks and trees.