Goin’ down slow

This past Monday, we arrived at work to discover one of the blue port-a-potties that sit in the corner of the Wall Street parking lot across from our offices had tipped over, presumably with some help. It lay helpless and out of order across the sidewalk, spilling some unknown liquid into the street and down the gutter. As the day wore on, the prone potty remained down. At around noon, someone saw fit to cordon off the site by affixing yellow police tape to the potty and draping it around the trunk of a nearby urban tree growing out of the sidewalk. Passersby had to walk out into the street to get around the grim scene, which remained in place at least until dark.

Later in the day, a few asphalt acres across the parking lot away from the fallen port-a-potty, a tree crew from Yuba City began cutting down the 100-year-old orange trees along Wall Street between Third and Fourth streets. Chris Boza, the city’s urban arborist, told me the trees were rotting from the inside and presented a danger to the public. Boza posed a philosophical question: “If a tree drops a large limb in the middle of the forest, does anybody hear it, or care?” Before I could answer, he said, “On the other hand, if a branch drops on a car or injures or kills someone, it does make a noise.” Apparently a branch had fallen from one of the downtown-area orange trees recently, possibly damaging a vehicle. One bad orange tree ruins the grove. The city took out five trees along Wall, but the largest, healthiest-looking tree is still standing. However, time is short, Boza warned. Until recently, there were approximately 50 orange trees in the downtown area, planted sometime around the turn of the century, Boza said. (I assume he meant the turn of the 19th century, not the one we just experienced.) There are only 15 to 20 of the trees left, he added, and they won’t be around much longer. There is some speculation that they came from the original mother orange tree that still grows in Oroville near the Oroville Dam visitor center.

As the tree crew, Richard’s Tree Service of Yuba City, buzzed down the orange trees with their snarling chainsaws and the orange-orbed fruit bounced off the pavement, people in cars driving past yelled obscenities and cruel names at the tree men. But they tended to their task with a hangman’s steely indifference. (Actually, they were pretty nice guys—I’m just over-dramatizing an exceptionally dull column.) Richard’s currently holds the three-year contract for tree services with the city, taking over the job from North Valley Tree Service, which had the considerable task of removing the towering elm trees from the Downtown Plaza Park last year. Boza said he takes no pleasure in ordering the death of old trees, but it is something that must be done in an urban setting. The trees, he said, have a lifecycle that inevitably reaches an end. These trees were subject to a century’s worth of freezing and extreme heat—made even worse in later years when sidewalks were poured around them, subjecting them to added reflective heat. I grabbed one of the many oranges that dropped when the trees came down. The orange, I figured, was a relic from a time before botanists started cross breeding and developing special fruits, like seedless, sweet and easy-to-peel—and long before GMOs came into style. It tasted pretty good—a little tart, but really juicy. I suggest you pick one up and taste the past before it’s gone.

The next day, the remnants from both the fallen trees and the fallen port-a-potty were cleaned up and gone. All that remained were the stains.