What I know about trees could fill a thimble. You could stop ten people on Main Street and they would all probably know more about trees than me.

But I am nevertheless a bit sad and bewildered about the prospects for downtown renewal in Great Barrington, about losing my pear trees and having to learn to love a whole new set of trees.

I have spent many hours looking at our Bradford Pear Trees. I like sitting on the bench, watching the trees, and the modestly beautiful skyline behind them.

I know there are some who worry about the Bradfords. And, apparently, the sidewalks. Which I never worry about, except when people put out what seem to me to be very large display cases during the busy summer walking time.

The concern about the sidewalks and the Bradford Pear worry have manifested themselves into a multi-million dollar grant to rip things up and start over. The town fathers and mothers call this Main Street Reconstruction a “long-awaited and necessary project.”

Since I decided to write about the trees I went around and asked several people about why they thought we’re doing this. One concerned merchant told me the rumor was that the pears were a “fire hazard.” That the Fire Department wouldn’t be able to get to a fire on the upper floors because the trees were too tall. A nearby customer skeptically suggested if there was a problem with a tree or two a chain saw could do the job in the time it took to get the hoses working.

Someone else told me he thought that the branches and leaves have spread out so widely that they block the signs of our local merchants.

I decided to go online to the website of the Great Barrington Chamber of Commerce. This is what they wrote about the trees:

“Bradford pear trees grace Great Barrington’s Main Street. The white flowers blossom in May and for a short time provide a delicate canopy for pedestrians and birds. The leaves turn a beautiful bronze color after most other fall foliage is long gone and add yet another charming dimension to the downtown just as the holiday lights appear. It is, perhaps, appropriate that it was the pear tree that was chosen as the tree of choice for the downtown area. During the second French War, a secure place of resort, The Block House, was constructed in the Great Barrington area (North Plain Road – Rt. 41 north). It was a place of refuge for citizens and the traveling band of armies with wagons of ammunition and supplies that used this thoroughfare as the highway from Boston to Albany. An ancient pear tree marked the site of the Block House and directed the way to safety and refuge.”

All of which made me think about how changeable we humans are. In one moment, it seems so very clear to us that Bradford Pears are the perfect tree. A generation later, they are no longer the solution but the problem. The Bradfords haven’t changed; we have.

So now there’s the fear that because the pears have experienced 20 plus years of stress living in small clumps of soil – and because they’re a soft wood tree – there’s the likelihood that the trees are dying and that their branches will fall on cars and heads. A major insurance liability issue. I’d suggest putting a small sign near each tree saying that trees are living and dying things and accidents happen. You park and walk at your own risk. But I know even less about insurance than I know about trees.

Nobody wants anyone to get hit by a tree.

One person, a real estate agent in town, who seemed to know and understand the entire tree story still wasn’t particularly happy about the time it would take for the solutions: “I think it will change the face of the town – tree-lined streets add a lot of charm. The tourists appreciate the charm and losing this charm even the time it takes for the new trees to grow might hurt the image of the town and effect the tourist industry.”

Almost no one knew how much the project would cost. One person admitted he didn’t know anything about trees, but thought that at least the project would create a few jobs.

All of this got me thinking about The Public Option. Especially now that we probably won’t get one for health care, how about one for the trees. Obviously most members of the public aren’t tree experts. And I’m not suggesting that the public fix these problems. But what about having townspeople vote on which new trees they’d like to see on Main Street?

Let the Town Committee on Trees, which I assume boasts some expert arborists, pick four or five of the best possible species of trees. Let’s post pictures of them in the Post Office, Town Hall and the Library and let’s take a poll.

Let’s have a Public Option.


Mickey Friedman, who is just about finished writing a mystery, is desperately seeking a public option.

Thursday September 10, 2009 © Mickey Friedman – All Rights Reserved