Pick-up sticks in St. Louis

Thursday, July 27, 2006

July 27, 2006

Dear Pat,

Two days after a fierce storm lit into St. Louis, we were supposed to go there with members of DC's family to see a musical at the Muny. We'd heard and read about the destruction the storm caused and the half million people without power in sweltering heat. Our hotel was still in operation, though, so we set off for St. Louis, a city half a million people wished they could temporarily leave.

On the edge of town, clerks in a sweaty convenience store were tallying the bills with hand-held calculators. None of the gas pumps worked. One clerk said a tree fell on her house. A pasty customer with bloodshot eyes was chagrined that none of the beer was cold. Of course it hadn't been for two days. He left with wine in a box.

Once in the city, we realized we had no comprehension of how awful the storm had been. Forest Park, where the Muny is located, looked like a god-sized game of pick-up sticks was being played there with the limbs of trees.

At first glance the grass plots inside the city's boulevards appeared to be overgrown with shrubbery. In fact those were limbs and branches gathered around the neighborhood and deposited to be picked up. On a street near the Missouri Botanical Garden, an uprooted tree had delivered a death blow to a sedan. The car's roof was now only a couple of feet off the ground.

In most any neighborhood with trees, especially old trees, limbs littered the ground. The range of destruction astonished us.

The local TV news reported that a number of towns around St. Louis still had no water.

DC and I returned home to find storm damage of our own. Winds in Cape Girardeau had downed a big limb from a tree in front of our house and damaged another. Trimming away this minor damage took hours. The enormity of the cleanup job facing St. Louisans became clearer.

A huge, soft maple shades the front of our side yard. Years ago a landscaper advised cutting it down. The tree was diseased, he said, and the shallow root system was crowding out other plant species. The landscaper also warned us that soft maples are notoriously brittle in storms. Some of the tree's limbs hang over our roof.

We ignored his advice.

DC and I lived in Humboldt County, Calif., where Julia "Butterfly" Hill spent two years at the top of a 180-foot redwood tree trying to prevent it from being cut down. If Pacific Lumber would kill this 1,000-year-old tree she named Luna, it also would have to kill her. She finally came down when the company relented and created a 3-acre buffer zone around Luna.

To Julia and many people who have lived among these trees, ancient forests are sacred ground.

DC and I love trees, too, but our experience in St. Louis has led to a tree service cutting down our maple today. I'll mourn for it. DC prefers to think we're putting the tree out of its misery.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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