Prose & Comments: Tree hugger



The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

I believe trees are to be treasured and preserved whenever it is feasible.

I feel elevated and simultaneously humbled looking up at a stately oak. Recently, my family was walking through the Old Nursery Woodlands Preserve and came across a specimen of untold years. We had a moment of joy (and a great photograph) when three of us, holding hands, extended our arms and could barely reach around the giant truck to enclose its 15-foot circumference.

Whenever I get the chance, I like to visit old growth forests. A few years ago I got to see a 700-year-old Sitka Spruce on the Oregon coast. These majestic specimens thrive on the moist air rising up from the Pacific and grow 150 feet tall and 50 feet in circumference.

A few more years back I took the opportunity to travel around The New Forest in England, a place where specimen trees have names such as “The Knightwood Oak” and “Eagle Oak.” Their 500-plus-year histories intersect with those of medieval kings and conquerors. While traveling between old growth enclaves, I had to routinely stop for groups of free-roaming ponies while they decided if I was allowed to progress on their roadways. Someday, I hope to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, where some living trees exceed 4,000 years of age.

I also believe in the protection of land owners’ property rights. From time to time I hear a complaint at a committee meeting, read a letter to the editor, or see a post on social media disparaging a neighbor for any variety of activities done on their property.

I have lived in municipalities with few developmental restrictions, where personal and commercial interests are allowed to have free rein with unpredictable consequences. I am also familiar with jurisdictions where every design element of a home has to pass a barrage of tests for color, shape and feature set.

I like the balance we have struck in our town, where we still allow for a reasonable diversity of opinions on taste, enterprise and lifestyle.

To maintain this balance we need to avoid passing regulations that are contrary to the right of quiet enjoyment and the use of our premises in peace and without interference. As difficult as it is to pass new laws, in my experience, it is much harder to repeal them.

All too often I fail Fitzgerald’s test of holding opposing ideas in my mind, and I risk becoming dysfunctional. These are the moments I do my best to concentrate on the things I can individually affect.

I am saddened that the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) could not preserve the lots that the Gaynors purchased on Cobbetts Lane and quickly clear-cut. However, at the same time that Blaise Laspia’s nursery crew was planting those trees around 1970, they were also planting trees across the street that still stand and are protected by the CPF, owned by the public and need our attention.

If, like me, it pains you to see mature, healthy specimen trees removed from our Island, then I invite you to contact me, any volunteer at Mashomack Preserve, members of the CPF, the Communities that Care, the Friends of Trees, or the Shelter Island Group for Trail Preservation.

There are many opportunities throughout the year to connect with your neighbors, enjoy time in nature and help protect our treasured open space.
— Craig Wood is a Shelter Island Town assessor.