Willow Belinda Status
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I hope this page will give you some information about what happened vis-a-vis the Willow Belinda -- the fight for its survival and its tragic fall.

At right: Deborah with Arlington HighSchool students at a rehearsal the day of their trek to sing to the tree, Belinda

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 house comfortable."

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 Initiative.

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 new trees.

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,' " Nadeau said.

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 the same.

"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

“Oh, crap.”

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 chipper.

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

Mr. Benoit.

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.

Greg Nadeau

Mon. Nov. 24, 2008 - Joe Benoit (Landlord) Describes why Willow Should Come down

.On 11/24/08 6:04 PM, "benoitconsult@aol.com" <benoitconsult@aol.com> wrote:
Dear Mr. Nadeau -

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 next Spring.

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 that responsibility.

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.

Very truly yours,
Joe Benoit

Mon. Nov. 24, 2008 - Sister Willow Threatened in Richond, VA  -  Link to the story here

A fan sent me the following article about a similar tree in Richmond, and similar efforts to save it!

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! :

Richmond 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 a lawsuit.

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 doing.

"There needs to be a plan for preserving our green infrastructure instead of cutting it down one tree at a time," Kuhn said.
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 sign.

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 way."
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 tree.

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 the tree.

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 Van Shane.

"It really is a beautiful tree," Dummott said.

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 said..

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," she said.

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 hickory.

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 community leaders.

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 site.

“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 names.

Nov. 15, 2008 - A letter to the Mayor of Somerville.

Hi All,
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 the issue:

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.

You can read a brief account of the happenings here:

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, see "Belinda".

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 property.

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 Benoit:

"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 ...

If you are interested in staying informed about the tree or would like to see a picture of it go to:

If the tree must come down, I think we can all agree that a special goodbye party is in call!
And if not, let's party with the tree anyway :)

Stay tuned......Julia (savethewillow -at ' gmail.com