Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Middle of the Road

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way" - William Blake. I was reminded of this quote when I read this short editorial in NY Times by Maura J Casey. In a world with little tolerance for eccentricity, it is hard to imagine that decision being made today, says the author. Difficult to digest, yet absolutely TRUE.

NY Times Editorial

When I saw employees of my small Connecticut town digging around a tree near my home, I feared they were getting ready to cut it down. Thankfully, they were just replacing a nearby street sign.

The tree is an ordinary maple, but it stands at the juncture of two roads. Not at the side of the road, mind you. In the middle. When you turn from one street to the other, you have to drive around the tree, which is at least 60 years old, and grows smack in the center of the pavement. It is a reminder of a slower time that always makes me smile.

The road is one of the few remaining lightly traveled ones in town. Once, all of this town’s roads were lightly traveled. Tractors and milk trucks ambled in greater numbers; now today’s busy commuters whiz by. The traffic — which at certain times of the day can be near constant — forced the town to install its second stoplight about five years ago, followed soon after by a few fast-food franchises. A Chinese restaurant moved in, and now we can pick up kung pao chicken without having to drive 15 minutes to the small city nearby. Such are the privileges and the constraints of civilization.

That’s why the site — and sight — of the tree, the silent, leafy sentinel of a slower time, is at once amusing and comforting. Sometime, decades ago, town officials decided to pave around the tree instead of cutting it down for the convenience of cars despite the fact that it probably made more sense to remove it while widening the road. But it was a perfectly good tree, and someone argued, successfully, that it be left alone. In a world with little tolerance for eccentricity, it is hard to imagine that decision being made today.