I never thought of myself as a tree hugger until the trees lining the front of the Handley High School campus near our home were marked for destruction.
It was like losing very good friends. We had walked on the sidewalk beside the trees for many, many years. We moved to the neighborhood in the mid-1970s, and the trees were a prominent part of the landscape.
They were too big to completely hug, so it is more of a figurative term. But nonetheless, it defined my husband and me as true tree huggers.
We realized we had taken the campus for granted, with the open space and lush greenery, including the majestic trees which were 75 years old. The school was completed in 1923 after years of construction, and the 16 trees came shortly after.
It was such a shock. One day they were part of the landscape, and the next marked for total destruction. City of Winchester officials on various committees ruled the trees too old and diseased, plus they were in the way of a sidewalk improvement plan.
Many other trees were taken down near the area, but some of those had been pruned excessively due to electrical wires. These along the campus were not in the way of electrical lines and had retained their shape. For many years, they had done their duty heralding the majestic beginning of the campus, home of the school for seven decades.
But no one would listen to the passionate pleas — save the trees. The die was cast, and the execution was slated.
Watching the destruction was painful. Memorials included candles, flowers and even a flash mob. And then to add insult to injury, the leftover stumps were ripped from the ground so no evidence would remain.
We did observe the cuttings of the massive trunks and noticed the wood was very full and healthy — no diseases were apparent to the naked eye. But our leaders knew better, of course. Why couldn’t the ones diseased be taken down and the others left? New trees could have been planted between the old ones.
If sidewalks were the problem, why not move the sidewalks toward the campus, leaving the trees for shade and environmental purposes. But no alternatives were noted or discussed with the public.
After the murders were complete, we didn’t walk that way anymore. Small trees replaced the majestic elms, but it will take years to reach a size that would be noticeable.
It has been several years, and to this day I avoid walking on that sidewalk. It has become an unconscious act — avoiding the scene of a heinous crime.
Quite by chance, we came upon the opportunity to acquire some of the wood from our beloved trees. About two years ago, we were at a gathering when the hostess showed us wine glass stems made from the wood of the Handley trees. We were stunned and shocked, as well as pleasantly surprised. When we inquired abut how to obtain the wood, we were directed to a local wood-selling company. My husband hightailed it to the company and bought most of what was left.
The wood is a gorgeous color — it made a wonderful kitchen table. Now we have a small portion of the trees we use daily. It’s better than nothing, but we still miss those amazing trees.
Winchester is designated as a tree city. But after this tree annihilation, I cannot imagine how the title was bestowed.