The following articles, letters, etc. are in reverse
chronological order (most recent first) (DHC)
Sun. Nov. 30, 2008 - Weeping
for Willow's Demise (Boston Globe) By Danielle Dreilinger,
Globe Correspondent Link
to the story here
Zen monks have long asked: If a tree falls in a forest
and no one sees it, does it make a sound? In Somerville's
urban forest, the answer is clear. It seems as if no tree
falls without neighbors seeing - and raising a ruckus.
The owner of a huge willow on Thorndike Street
had it cut down on Friday following the latest in a series
of tree squabbles that have led the city to explore ways
to increase protections on trees.
Visible from the Linear Park bike path nearby,
the willow had racked up at least three names - Belinda,
Bertha, and Tim - and two songs by harpist Deborah Henson-Conant
of Arlington. It towered over three-deckers, some of its
branches as thick as a typical trunk.
The tree got a two-week stay of execution after
neighbors came out to block the originally scheduled removal
on Nov. 12. After that, they sprang into action, going
so far as to bring in their own arborist for a second
opinion in the pouring rain last Tuesday.
Henson-Conant serenaded the tree Nov. 19 with
the Arlington High School choir.
Smaller-scale opposition arose on Pearson Street
when the city tried to take down a 25-year-old oak tree,
Alderwoman Rebekah Gewirtz said.
Neighbors protesting a building project at
42 Craigie St. objected largely to the removal of numerous
trees on the property and focused on possible damage to
a 100-year-old elm. One person went in and made an inventory
of the trees on the site.
As a condition of zoning board approval, the
developers had to agree to make "best efforts"
to preserve the tree. Despite that, opponents have continued
to be concerned that a new building would come too close
to the tree, irreparably damaging its root system.
Without trees, said Craigie Street opponent
Maureen Barillaro in July, "it's just so unappealing
and ugly, and it just takes away from what makes your
Gewirtz is leading an effort to create an ordinance
to protect trees on city property. It would require a
well-publicized hearing before the city took down a healthy
public tree. If a private citizen requested the hearing,
he or she would have to pay to advertise the hearing and
- if the tree came down - replace the tree within a year.
A committee would help advise the city on how to manage
and maintain trees.
Progress hammering out the ordinance has been
slow, though. The key dispute seems to concern healthy
trees that damage private property.
Even as he planned to take down the willow on Thorndike
Street last week, owner Joe Benoit of Boston said, "I
love the tree."
Residents often point to the paradox that Somerville
is at once "the most densely populated community
in New England," as the city's website puts it, and
an Arbor Day Foundation "Tree City USA." Among
other qualifications, a Tree City must spend at least
$2 per capita on forestry programs. There are 90 in Massachusetts.
Mayor Joe Curtatone promised in his 2008 inaugural
address to increase the number of living trees by 20 percent
over the next four years. The city plans to undertake
a complete inventory of public trees this spring, said
Brad Arndt, coordinator of the city's new Urban Forest
He estimated Somerville has 40,000 to 50,000
trees. The most common are Norway maples, now considered
an invasive species.
Beyond aesthetic value, you can calculate an
individual tree's monetary value in filtering particulates
and preventing stormwater runoff, Arndt said.
"There is no question that urban trees
can cause, in some cases, considerable damage," Arndt
said. The inventory aims to find good locations to plant
Greg Nadeau, a neighbor and "Belinda"
fan, hoped the city would one day have an ordinance that
covered privately owned trees as well. "I think it's
directly analogous to historic homes," he said.
Benoit said he plans to plant a city-friendly
replacement in the spring.
Sat. Nov. 29, 2008 - Weeping
for the Willow: Somerville neighbors lose fight to keep
tree from being cut down (Boston Globe) By Michael Levenson & Danielle Dreilinger,
Globe Correspondent Link
to the story here
SOMERVILLE - They serenaded the big willow with a harp
and a high school choir. They offered to pay $1,500 for
its upkeep. They held handmade signs that read "Tree
Butcher" and "Save Our Tree." They even
went to court yesterday, seeking a last-minute restraining
order to prevent it from being cut down.
But their efforts came crashing down yesterday
in a blast of sawdust and woodchips. A work crew, guarded
by three police officers and a police cruiser with flashings
lights, converged upon the four-story willow with a crane
and chainsaw, bringing it down piece by piece to its raw,
pale stump. Neighbors, who had mounted an aggressive campaign
to save the tree, stood morosely in a driving rain, watching
as the crew lowered segments of the trunk onto the sidewalk.
"There's an enormous sense of sadness
and loss," said Kerri Lorigan, who, with her husband,
Greg Nadeau, was instrumental in organizing the campaign
to try to save the tree on the corner of Thorndike and
Howard streets. "We live in the city, and we just
want a little bit of balance and want to preserve, wherever
it is, such a particular beauty."
Joe Benoit, who owns the property where the
willow grew, said he had no choice but to fell the tree.
After the tree began dropping huge branches several years
ago, damaging electrical wires, cars, and fences, he consulted
an arborist, who determined that the tree could fall and
should never have been planted so close to Benoit's three-decker.
"It was a dangerous situation, and I was
concerned about the safety of my tenants and other people,"
Benoit said. "That's the bottom line of that, or
I would not have taken it down."
Somerville, home to 40,000 to 50,000 trees
and many environmentally sensitive residents, is no stranger
to such battles. Residents recently rose in opposition
when the city tried to take down a 25-year-old oak near
Tufts, Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz said. On Craigie Street,
neighbors concerned about a development raised hackles
about possible damage to a century-old elm.
But the willow was the protagonist in a far
more epic struggle. Estimated to be between 40 and 100
years old, the tree's thick, green canopy provided shade
for neighbors, absorbed the roar of passing cars, and
added a touch of grace to the neighborhood.
"I heard probably a dozen people say to
me: 'That's the most beautiful tree in Somerville,' "
Benoit did not disagree. He had loved and cared
for the willow for more than 20 years.
After the tree began dropping branches he tried
pruning it, "but that only made matters worse,"
he said, by spurring the willow to sprout heavier, more
unstable branches. Eventually, he consulted an arborist,
who said willows are by nature prone to cracking during
storms. The arborist recommended taking the tree down
and planting a young linden, oak, or hickory. Neighbors
were unwilling to let it die.
When Benoit first tried to remove the tree
Nov. 12, neighbors "stood under the tree and stopped
it from being cut down," Nadeau said. A week later,
Deborah Henson-Conant, a harpist, serenaded the tree with
the Arlington High School choir. Nadeau also hired an
arborist who determined that the tree had a good structure,
and distributed leaflets that declared: "This tree
does not need to come down."
"It's a neighborhood icon," said
Ellie Botshon, 39.
When word spread yesterday that the work crew
had come a second time to remove the tree, two neighbors
raced to Middlesex Superior Court to seek a restraining
order to save it. Benoit hurried there, too, to argue
his case. During a hearing, Judge Joseph Walker "heard
the various arguments, and agreed to let the tree come
down," Benoit said.
"I hope that people will go on, and will
find other good things that we can be happy about,"
he said. For one thing, Benoit plans to plant a new tree
in the yard.
After the willow was felled, Nadeau looked
through photos of the tree from a few weeks ago.
Lorigan said the neighborhood would never be
"It was - and I need to speak in the past
tense - an enormously beautiful tree," Lorigan said.
"It was the simple visual and audible pleasure of
walking by the tree, hearing it, and seeing it. It was
such a rare sight."
Fri. Nov. 28, 2008 - Thorndike
Street Willow 'Belinda' Comes Down (Somerville Journal) By Kathleen Powers Link
to the story here
As she looked up Thorndike Street Friday morning,
Deborah Henson-Conant saw the tree-cutter trucks coming
for a tree she had immortalized in song.
The tree is at this writing almost entirely
chopped down at this hour, and has been mulched in a wood
Today’s actions cap off a weeks-long
event where the landlord, Joe Benoit, attempted to take
down a 40-year old willow tree on his property, despite
the protests of neighbors in love with the tree. Neighbors
have named it Tim, Bertha and Belinda – the name
Henson-Conant used when she wrote a song about it.
According to his son Ralph, who was watching
as the tree came down today, the willow was planted in
1968 by Antonio Auciello. The elder man had been working
with friends to secure grape vines with willow whips,
and stuck one of the willow branches in the ground. It
took, eventually dwarfing the triple-decker at Howard
and Thorndike streets.
Al Bermani, watching the willow’s branches
being cut down by chainsaw, noted there is a spring that
starts near the willow, and in colonial times, he said,
a brook ran from Thorndike to Alewife Brook.
“They’ll need three trees to suck
all that water,” Bermani said, saying the water
will be up to his chest in some basements if there isn’t
another way found to absorb the water.
Ward 7 Alderman Bob Trane was on site while
part of the tree came down. He sympathized with neighbors,
telling stories of how he used to play under the tree
as a child.
Tue. Nov. 25, 2008 -
Greg Nadeau (Neighbor) Explains to Landlord How/Why Willow
Should be Saved
Thanks you for your letter [below]. I really
appreciate you reaching out.
Joseph Alongi from Boston Tree Preservation
just left. He met with Bob Trane and me after inspecting
the tree. He was immediately clear that the tree is in
no immediate danger and that removing it may likely impact
flooding in the area. He promised to deliver a written
opinion by the end of the day with more specifics than
the Cambridge Landscaping opinion and a far more balanced
view of the situation.
The bottom line is that substantial ongoing
pruning of the tree for the next few years is a safer
option than taking it down prematurely. The tree is under
no immediate threat in any way and additional pruning
could reduce the risk to below that of other trees. Counter
to what Paul Harlow from Cambridge Landscaping wrote to
you, this location is not a bad location for a willow,
since Tannery Brook runs underneath the street, the tree
serve an important purpose. As you will see in the BTP
letter later today, your buildings basement and that of
your neighbors are at real risk of increased flooding
if the tree comes down without additional drainage work
being done by the city.
Boston Tree Preservation’s recommendation
is to do approximately $1500 of preventative pruning every
two years to eliminate all realistic risk (no tree is
totally risk free). I am ready to raise the funds to pay
for this. Bob Trane is ready to get the city involved
with developing a plan to deal with the eventuality of
the tree’s removal. He will reach out to you once
we receive the letter from BTP.
Please call me at ... if you are willing to
talk with me.
Mon. Nov. 24, 2008 - Joe Benoit (Landlord)
Describes why Willow Should Come down
Thank you very much for the concern that you
have shown for the situation of the willow tree in the
yard of my property at 21-23 Thorndike Street. As you
perhaps know, I have loved and cared for this tree for
the more than 20 years that my family has owned the property.
It's humbling and heartwarming that so many neighbors
and friends have shown a concern for the tree.
The time and energy that neighbors have shown
towards this tree is truly edifying. As you know, I called
off the planned removal of the tree two weeks ago in order
to pay respect to and hear the concerns of many with regard
to the tree's removal, and have responded by having one
of the arborist's written recommendations circulated.
The reasons noted in his letter concerning the dangers
and condition of the tree, as well as his recommendation
of why the tree should be removed, are totally consistent
with what a number of arborists have told me over the
last several years. As you may know, two years ago falling
branches did damage which took down electrical wires and
damaged automobiles and fences. I tried pruning the tree,
which unfortunately has only made matters worse. The additional
pruning of the tree has had the effect of making it grow
faster, taller, and more dense, with heavier, more unstable
branches in danger of breaking and falling.
I have asked the tree company to leave several
pieces or sections of the tree in the yard in case anyone
in the neighborhood would like to take pieces as a remembrance
of the tree or perhaps someone would like to make a bench
or some other suitable reminder in memory of the tree.
It is also my intention to plant a more neighborhood and
urban friendly tree in place of this tree in the year
Thank you for your offer to work to develop
a plan to hopefully maintain the tree for another 1 to
3 years, with costs being paid for by the neighborhood.
However, unfortunately that would postpone the problem
and would not really solve the basic problem of the danger
to my tenants, neighbors, people just passing by, their
property or the legal liability involved to me personally.
Now that I have been warned by several experts
of the dangers to people and property, I have been assured
by other advisors that I would be legally responsible
if someone were hurt or killed or property were damaged,
and there is no way that you or other neighbors can assume
Should something of that nature happen, I alone
would be held responsible (e.g. No plan of cabling would
cancel that responsibility if the cables were to fail.)
There really is no alternative that can be
taken at this time other than the removal of the tree.
I regret that, unfortunately, I am compelled at this time
to go ahead with these plans with all prudence and sincere
caring for the safety and wellbeing of my tenants and
others in the neighborhood. Otherwise there would be no
reason for me to incur the costs which I myself am going
to pay for this removal. I sincerely hope that I can count
on your understanding and support as a neighbor in carrying
out this necessary action.
A fan sent me the following article about
a similar tree in Richmond, and similar efforts to save
Dear DHC and crew...although I moved a year and a half
ago from the Boston area to Richmond, VA, I stay on top
of what's happening via your newsletters and my family
who attend your shows in the area (They loved the waiting
room for heaven!)! My daughter is student-teaching at
Arlington High School, and excitedly phoned me to tell
me what was going on with you and the students and Belinda
as the pilgrimmage was in progress to visit and serenade
the tree! Lo and Behold, right here in Richmond, Belinda
seems to have a Southern Soulmate who may be meeting a
similar fate. Sadly, you are not here to sing about it!
residents come to willow oak’s rescue By
Rex Springston, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: November 24, 2008
Two Richmonders are willing
to pay the cost of bolstering a big willow oak in
North Side that the city recently marked for removal.
One of the residents, veterinarian Kim Kuhn, lives
beside the tree in the 3900 block of Seminary Avenue
in Ginter Park.
Kuhn said two members of the city's urban-forestry
staff told her Monday that the oak would be cut
unless she paid an expert to bolster it with cables.
The 85-foot-tall tree
has a crack between a fork about 20 feet above the
ground. City officials say one side of the tree
could fall and hurt someone, exposing the city to
Kuhn said she is happy
to have the chance to fix the tree at her expense.
Still, she said, that would set a bad precedent
-- residents paying for work the city should be
"There needs to
be a plan for preserving our green infrastructure
instead of cutting it down one tree at a time,"
Some residents have long contended that the city
is too quick to cut valuable trees after marking
them as hazards. Kuhn is stepping into the battle
for the first time.
In late October, city
workers painted an orange X on the oak and posted
a sign on it reading, "This tree is scheduled
to be removed." Someone has since removed the
City spokesmen say no
decision has been made on whether to cut the tree.
But Kuhn said the urban-forestry
representatives, John Chupek and Norm Brown, made
clear the tree would be cut if she didn't have it
bolstered to industry standards.
"They have made
up their minds," Kuhn said. "But every
tree is a hazard if you want to look at it that
The tree stands on city property beside the street.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch
asked Sharon R. North, a city spokeswoman, what
came of the talks between Chupek, Brown and Kuhn.
"No definitive decisions have been made at
this time," North said by e-mail. "The
talks are still ongoing."
Kuhn hired three tree
experts who examined the oak and called it a low-to-moderate
risk that could be repaired for about $300. The
city estimates the cost at up to $2,500.
South Richmond philanthropist
and retired real estate investor W.E. Singleton,
75, says he, too, would pay to bolster the oak.
"I would love to see this tree saved,"
he said. "It's a gorgeous tree."
Kuhn said she welcomed
Singleton's offer and might split the costs with
him. The two have not talked. Kuhn said she first
wanted to work out details on how to bolster the
Kuhn said she and others
plan to ask the City Council tonight for a policy
of saving valuable trees when possible.
The advocates say trees provide economic benefits
such as cooling homes and reducing air pollution.Contact
Rex Springston at (804) 649-6453
Wed. Nov. 19, 2008 - Arlington
Loves Trees Too: Arlington High choir celebrates endangered
Somerville tree (Somerville News) By Jack Nicas Link
to the story here
"Belinda, Belinda-the most beautiful tree
in town!" sang the Arlington High choir under the
Thorndike Street willow tree Wednesday afternoon.
The tree continued its celebrity this week
with a musical celebration by 61 Arlington students and
2007 Grammy nominee Deborah Henson-Conant. The group performed
two of Henson-Conant's original songs, Belinda and Birth'A
Bertha, both named and written specifically for the tree.
One week prior to the celebration, 15 protestors
deterred the Cambridge Landscaping Company from cutting
the over-100-year-old tree down. On Wednesday more Somerville
residents turned out to enjoy the music and celebrate
Henson-Conant, now an Arlington resident after
18 years in Somerville, strummed her harp and the choir
sang along; the ensemble performed both songs twice.
The choir has been learning "Belinda"
since September, when the group chose to perform the song
alongside Henson-Conant in its December holiday concert.
Arlington senior Darius Dummott, one of the choir's liveliest
members, said the students knew the tree existed when
they began rehearsing, but had never actually seen it.
That is except for one member.
"I've known the tree since I was a kid,"
said Leah Eva, whose sister lives nearby on Seven Pines
Avenue. "They started singing it and I said, 'I know
this tree!' Everyone looked at me like I was crazy."
Eventually the choir became curious and wanted
to meet "Belinda," said Dummott. "It was
our idea; we wanted to come out here and see her."
Two days after deciding to visit the tree,
the group heard it was endangered, Henson-Conant said.
"So we decided we better get down here. We want to
support the tree and support the community."
On Tuesday, arborist group Boston Tree Preservation
will reexamine the tree to determine if it really needs
to come down as the Cambridge Landscaping Company insists,
said Thorndike Street resident Greg Nadeu. "The tree
deserves a second opinion," he said.
Many of the Arlington students said they agreed.
"This tree went beyond my expectations," said
"It really is a beautiful tree,"
Wed. Nov. 19, 2008 - Somerville
Loves Trees: Neighborhood standoff saves weeping willow,
for now (Somerville News) By George P. Hassett Link
to the story here
When the four-hour standoff was over, the chainsaws
were packed away and the tree was still standing.
A crew from Cambridge Landscaping Company came
to West Somerville Wednesday morning to cut down a gargantuan
weeping willow tree that had hung over the neighborhood
for more than 100 years. Four hours later, with the tree
still standing tall, all they had was proof that Somerville
loves its trees.
"It was the classic civil disobedience
confrontation," said Julia Prange, who lives at the
corner of Thorndike and Howard streets, where the tree
sits on private property. "The guys with chainsaws
were yelling, 'Don't you have jobs?' and 15 of us were
just standing under the tree, protecting it."
In Somerville, the densest city in New England
with only 12 percent open space, signs of the earth's
natural beauty are especially cherished. A controversial
condominium development was halted in February when Mayor
Joseph A. Curtatone refused to allow a city tree to be
cut down to allow for construction.
And in June, a group of neighbors on Craigie
Street organized to oppose another condo plan that put
a 90-year-old elm tree in jeopardy.
The sight of nature's beauty in urban Somerville
made Deborah Henson-Conant stop in her tracks one night
years ago on Thorndike Street. "It took my breath
away," she said of the old weeping willow at the
center of last week's dispute. "Here was this tree
in the middle of the city and it was clear that someone
was protecting it. It's beautiful in its own right but
the fact that it was in Somerville, such an unexpected
place, made it absolutely beautiful to me. For me, the
tree represented not only beauty but also community."
Henson-Conant, an acclaimed harpist, was so
moved that she wrote a song about the tree, "Belinda."
The song includes lyrics such as: "Belinda, Belinda
-- the most beautiful tree in town/Belinda, lean your
lovely limbs down on me."
When someone in the neighborhood told Henson-Conant,
that they called the tree Bertha, she wrote another tribute,
this one titled, "Birth 'A Bertha" with lyrics
that go like this,
"Oh the Birth a Bertha was a long time
back/Down in Davis by the railroad track/Bertha, Bertha,
baby, don't you know/Bertha, Bertha - I love you so."
Henson-Conant said when she performed the song in other
states and in Europe, fans would ask where the real Belinda
(or Bertha) was.. And neighborhood preschoolers, she said,
sing the songs when they pass by the tree. "A lot
of people have a lot invested in that tree," she
The four-hour standoff last week featured "verbal
punches and a lot of emotion," said Ellie Botshon
who lives in the neighborhood and was part of the group
that saved the tree. Protesters, however, understand that
the tree sits on private property and if it is a danger
should come down.
The problem, they said, was the lack of communication
from Joe Benoit who owns the property the tree hangs over.
Benoit said after a rainstorm a few years ago
in which tree branches fell and smashed cars parked below,
he pruned the tree to keep neighbors safe. But the idea
backfired, he said, when the pruning caused the willow
to grow taller but not stronger.
So when he hired Cambridge Landscaping to cut
the tree down last week, he said he was surprised at the
loyalty some neighbors had to the willow.
"I understand it though," he said.
"It's sort of heartwarming that people care for it
and appreciate it. Had I realized [cutting the tree down]
was going to be such a shock to people, I would have tried
to get more information out."
Still, he said, the tree is coming down. And
despite their initial reaction, neighbors understand.
"Thousands of people have an attachment to this tree,"
Botshon said. "If it is dangerous, take it down.
But the community is going to miss it."
Before any chainsaws are taken to Belinda,
Henson-Conant is planning to send the old tree off right:
with song. Today at approximately 3 p.m., she will be
joined at the corner of Thorndike Street by an Arlington
High School choir group to sing her tributes and say goodbye.
"I'm really happy that [the standoff]
allowed people to know the tree is coming down and those
of us who love it will have the chance to pay our respects,"
Wed. Nov. 19, 2008 - Neighbors
Plan a Fond Farewell for a Famous Neighborhood Willow
Today (Somerville Journal) By Auditi Guha Link
to the story here
“The loveliest tree in town” is
called by many fond names but has to come down, and a
group of kids are planning to come and sing to it this
afternoon in fond farewell.
An old willow at 21 Thorndike St. has been
receiving much attention since the landlord tried to cut
it down last week. But neighbors who claim that it is
a rare beauty in a dense neighborhood stopped the tree
from coming down after a protest and said they would like
some notice before neighborhood trees are chopped down.
Landlord Joe Benoit said he too likes the tree
but that it is causing harm to his property. He had an
arborist look at it who recently recommended that the
tree come down.
Arborist Paul Harlow from Cambridge Landscape
Co. Inc. responded in a letter to Benoit saying that this
tree should never have been planted in this location,
that it has overgrown the space it needs to stay healthy
and is a hazard to the neighborhood.
He explained that the root area is too small
and it will soon start pushing up the foundation, which
can damage the property and the roots. Its thick crown,
after years of pruning, is also prone to damage by heavy
rain and snow.
“The large willow at 21 Thorndike St.
in my opinion should be removed,” he wrote in a
letter dated Nov. 17. “Willows by nature are a weak
wooded trees and easily break during storms, Due to the
number of people and cars under and around this tree I
would have it removed as soon as possible.”
Harlow recommends planting a more manageable
species for a dense neighborhood like a linden, oak or
In response, Benoit sent out a letter to his
neighbors this week saying that much as he likes the tree
he is afraid it will have to come down. He promises to
notify his neighbors of the date when it is finalized.
“Over the last few years I have tried
pruning the tree instead of removing it because I have
loved the way the tree looks. But this has not worked
and has only made the situation worse,” he wrote.
“Now that it is so clear that I have been warned
by experts of the dangers to people and property, I would
be held negligent and irresponsible if someone were hurt
or killed or if property damage were caused.”
Neighbor Greg Nadeau wrote to the Journal last
week to describe the event that took place. He said that
folks were aghast to see four massive trucks from Cambridge
Landscape setting up to take down one of Somerville’s
grandest trees. A four-hour face-off ensued as about a
dozen people placed themselves under the tree, blocking
the workers from taking down the tree, and contacting
Alderman at Large Jack Connolly responded and
contacted the landlord. He said that Benoit is working
in good faith with the neighbors to see what can be done.
Meanwhile, a 'Save the Willow' email group
has been formed, letters have been written to City Hall,
and the neighbors stating their feelings for the aged
willow have signed a Will of Rights.
Everyone plans to gather around the tree this
afternoon at 3 p.m. to hear a group of children form the
Arlington School Chorus sing a song called Belinda written
by artist and neighbor Deborah Henson-Conant who has been
singing songs about this tree for years.
She said the kids fell in love with the tree
through the song that they have been rehearsing for their
fall concert, and asked where it was. When she offered
to show them, they suggested they could sing to the tree.
After they learned the tree was in danger of coming down,
they scheduled their session for today at 3 p.m., Henson-Conant
said. For details about the song you can visit her Web
“If the tree must come down, I think
we can all agree that a special goodbye party is in call.
If not, let's party with the tree anyway,” said
Julia Prange, one of the neighbors who organized the email
group and protested having the tree cut down.
Wed. Nov. 19, 2008 - Harpist
Dedicates Song to Threatened Somerville Willow Tree
(Somerville Journal) By Deborah Henson-Conant Link
to the story here
I'm a performer/songwriter and been singing
two different songs about that tree for nearly 10 years.
The Arlington High School chorus is scheduled to perform
a choral version of one of the songs, "Belinda,"
on their Dec. 3 holiday concert and when they recently
asked where to find the tree, we all decided to take an
after-school field trip and sing the song to the tree
some time this month.
Last week, when we heard about the tree's imminent
danger, we moved up the date and will be singing there,
and videotaping it (to put on YouTube), this Wednesday
around 3 p.m. with 60-90 kids from the choir.
Arlington High School Choir Director Cheryl
Christo wrote to me: "A parent owns Bridgestreet
Productions, and will begin videotaping the 'journey'
as we take the 77 bus to Davis Square and walk to Belinda
when school gets out at 2:25. We expect to get there around
3:00 or a little after. We are excited!"
I'd been singing the song, "Belinda,"
in my concerts for about five years when someone came
up to me after a show and said, "Hey, I know that
tree! But it's not called 'Belinda' - it's called 'Bertha'!"
Thus was born my second song about the tree,
a kind of rhythm-and-blues called "Birth 'a Bertha."
I also hear that the boy who lives across the
street from the tree calls it "Tim" -- so it's
a tree clearly beloved by many people under many different
Nov. 15, 2008 - A
letter to the Mayor of Somerville.
Here is the letter I sent to Mayor Curtatone and city
Parks and Open Space staff. It is my hope that we can
use this unfortunate situation as a catalyst to adopt
a (historic) tree preservation ordinance in Somerville,
so that there is at least some form of public process
required in the removal of such trees, even when on private
property. That way residents don't have to wake up to
the disturbing shock of craind and chainsaws in their
neighborhood with no warning. I encourage you to contact
the following individuals at City Hall asking them to
pursue such a policy measure:
*This isn't a form letter, of course, but
can give you some sort of an idea for how to approach
Dear Mayor Curtatone,
Perhaps you have heard word of the giant, ancient, willow
tree fiasco that took place this Wednesday morning at
23 Thorndike St in Davis Square, where I live. (I should
apologize to your staff for calling so incessantly,
but honestly, we were desperate!!! )Basically, we tenants
were notified the previous day by our landlord that
there would be some "pruning" and "yardwork"
but when we woke up, there were 3 large trucks with
cranes and a pack of workers from Cambridge Tree Work
intending to cut it to the ground.
In case you are not familiar with this
100 year old (at least) tree, I have attached a couple
of pictures. The tree is a deeply cherished icon in
this community and even has multiple names and a song
written about it: http://www.hipharp.com/audio.html,
If not for us neighbors and other community
members who came out to stand underneath the tree and
make the calls necessary to finally convince my landlord
to halt the operations, that landmark tree would be
gone today and for no known rhyme or reason. Our landlord
has since been in touch to let us know that he never
desired to chop the tree, but that multiple arborists
have told him it is necessary. I have responded that
we are understanding of that, but would like to see
that in writing before such drastic measure is taken-
and also to be granted the time for the communtiy to
say goodbye (this is a VERY well-loved and iconic tree).
In addition to bringing your attention to this issue,
I am contacting you today because this incident has
shed light on the fact that the City of Somerville currently
has no formal protection for trees on private property,
regardless of their size or public value. Of course,
residents deserve autonomy over their property, but
when the nature of that property also provides a cherished
public good (in this case, the beautification and character
of the tree and the shade, protection and cooling it
provides our neighborhood), I believe there ought to
be some sort of public process required before any major
alterations are made.
I realize that Somerville has already
approved an Urban Forest Initiative, and is committed
to increasing its open space and tree cover. With such
goals at hand, it seems inconsistent to allow property
owners to take down massive, rare, and deeply loved
trees without any warning or explanation. This community
deserves better than that.
Regardless of our willow's fate, I am
hoping that this situation can serve as a catalyst for
Somerville to adopt a tree preservation ordinance for
trees of a certain height and/or diameter, even on private
Please let me know your thoughts on this
issue, and your ideas for we can move forward as a community
to prevent such unfortunate incidents in the future.
Thank you, I hope all is well.
Nov. 13, 2008 - A letter from
the tenants in the house next to the Willow and their
landlord's description of why it may need to come down.
Dear Neighbors and Concerned Citizens,
First of all, thanks to all of you for your efforts
and support this morning in preventing the giant and
magical Willow tree(aka Belinda or Tim) from being felled
without any public rhyme or reason. If not for us, that
tree would not still be standing tonight and no one
would have a clue why. And while there is still great
chance it will not stand for much longer, we are now
in a position to be informed of why such drastic action
is necessary and that the decision to take it down has
been based on extensive, credible, expert advice. I
want to share with you the email that all of us tenants
received this afternoon from our landlord, Mr.Joseph
"Dear Julia, Amanda, and Sarah
For many years - even before you have lived on Thorndike
Street - we have cared for the gigantic willow tree
on the property and have loved this tree. We have
tried to be good custodians of this beautiful tree.
What we have learned from tree experts
is that weeping willows often grow like a weed near
streams in the country but are not the type of tree
recommended to be planted near a house in the city.
A densely populated city yard and street is not a
great habitat for a willow because of the height and
thickness it can attain, and therefore, the damage
it can do - both above ground and below ground. Its
root system can spread extensively and can greatly
interfere with underground plumbing pipes and foundations.
The impact of New England weather, including snow,
ice storms, heavy winds, and hurricanes, has already
taken its toll on this tree. In recent years huge
limbs from this tree have come down and damaged neighboring
cars and fences and pulled down electric wires.
Additional pruning of the tree has had
the effect of making it grow faster, taller, and more
dense, with heavier, more unstable branches in danger
of breaking and falling. It has grown so dense that
a number of expert arborists have advised us that
the tree, unfortunately, now must be removed because
of concern for your safety and that of other people
in the neighborhood. We are, and I'm sure you are,
very concerned for life, limb and the property of
yourselves and the people in the neighborhood.
As you know, we had contracted for tree
work to be done today, with the final determination
now being that the tree should be removed. But before
that action is taken, I have asked an arborist to
pull together more details of his concerns and reasons
why the tree should come down. I'll be glad to get
this further information to you sometime within the
next couple of weeks and hope that this will make
it easier for you to understand why this unfortunate
removal needs to take place.
It is also our plan to plant a more
neighborhood and urban friendly tree in the place
of this tree in the yard in the Spring.
Best wishes, Joe Benoit"
Nov. 13, 2008 - Thorndike
Street Willow Threatened
Friends, neighbors, tenants, and people
passing by were aghast to see four massive trucks from
Cambridge Landscape setting up to take down one of Somerville’s
grandest trees. Tenants complained that the landlords
representative had told them only that “tree work”
would be done, not that a tree which affects the entire
neighborhood would come down. Several long-time residents
opinined that removing the tree would lead to floading
in the area. The tree was assessed at over a hundred
years and is a defining feature in the neighborhood.
Deborah Henson-Conant, the famous harpist, composed
a song about this tree and is said to be preparing a
YouTube video with Arlington kids about the tree.
A 4 hour face-off ensued as about a
dozen people placed themselves under the tree, blocking
the workers from taking down the tree, and madly dialing
city and other community leaders. Alderman Jack Connelly
was the one who came through reaching Joe Benoit in
CO, the absentee landlord who owns the tree,and convincing
him and Cambridge Landscape to take a break and re-consider.
Mr. Benoit pledged to Neighbors rejoiced and vowed to
organize for another day as the trucks moved off ...