Where the eucalyptus were

THEY'RE cutting the trees down next door to the house next door, the huge old eucalyptus trees somebody planted 60-odd years ago to border the roadway that led from the apricot orchards to the main road. The chain saws cut into the afternoon and my studio time. Their unforgiving sound barges through this autumn day. The windows are open. The air is all pungent with eucalyptus oil. They're cutting the trees down. No more marvelously curved magenta leaves to soften the space and the sounds between the house next door and the house next door. No more curls of paper bark to astonish me with their watercolor washes of rose-mauve, pale turquoise, or celadon. No more seed pods brought home to string, or to stamp patterns in clay, or to gather and send all the way to Massachusetts for fragrant fireplace burning.

They're cutting the trees down next door, methodically, competently, thoroughly. Somebody comes to claim the wood, ``burns better than oak,'' they say, ``so heavy.'' I remember the nights I sit at my desk and look out into a windy dark, watching the sparks leap through the branches, an electric dance. I watch as Orion's belt moves up from behind them, one, then two, three stars shining. And the house next door is beautified, all wrapped in eucalyptus branches. How many trees, five, six maybe, rolling with the wind, delighting the space, gracing the neighborhood with sound and color and lovely smell.

Who's cutting the trees down next door? Is it somebody's Tree Service as the two big trucks and the mulcher parked nearby proclaim? Should it be ``Tree Dis-service,'' I wonder? I look at the lean young men who carry out the assignment, all matter-of-fact. Are they widening the road, making way for progress, blazing a trail? Do they get to know trees, I wonder? Do they come to love trees and finally have to quit this work, I wonder?

They pile up the wood, cut the stumps off clean, rake up the leaves, grind the branches into mulch, and sweep up the sawdust, erasing the grace from the spaces between the house next door and the house next door.

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