From mulberry to mulch: a life lesson

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

We live at the intersection of Continuity and Change.

As I write this — at the intersection of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street — I'm looking at the hole in Scoville Park where my mulberry tree used to be.

It wasn't my tree, of course, but I was fond of it. I wrote a column two months ago [When being 'shady' is a blessing, Viewpoints, June 20], extolling the virtues of shade, which this particular tree provided in abundance at the entryway to Scoville Park, a popular gathering place. It resembled Shel Silverstein's "Giving Tree," and I became attached after months of gazing at it out the window in Red Hen, one of my favorite writing perches.

The Park District of Oak Park must have read the column, too, because Diane Stanke, who handles PR for the parks, was kind enough to call and give me a heads up. As part of the extensive Scoville Park rehab now underway, my mulberry tree was coming down. It was diseased, she said, and, I suspect, was also too big to fit into their restoration plans.

Nevertheless, I appreciated the call. It gave me just enough time to snap a photo. By noon last Thursday, the craggy old beauty had been reduced to a pile of mulch. Sic Transit Gloria Mulberry.

I'll be OK, but that corner is going to have some serious shade issues next spring and summer.

The park district took another large tree down on the north end of the park by the playground and tennis courts (former and future). I got a call on that one, after the fact, from a distressed resident who lives across the street. "I am not sanguine about this," the caller said. I understand how he feels.

I also understand that trees have life spans, contract diseases, get infested with bugs. But Oak Parkers — aka Tree City U.S.A. — are attached to their trees.

Attachments are dangerous. They cause suffering, the Buddhists tell us, and they're right. As Mary Oliver (not a Buddhist) puts it in her poem, "In Blackwater Woods,"

To live in this world

you must be able to do three things:

to love what is mortal,

to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

She was talking about people, of course, but it applies to other life forms, and even to objects. I once threatened to chain myself to the Magikist lips sign at Cicero and the Eisenhower Expressway. I didn't do it (I'm sure you'd have heard), and the sign is long gone. Most of you reading this probably don't remember it, but, trust me, it was a magnificent monument to neon advertising.

I also threatened to chain myself to the Maze branch library should anyone threaten to tear down that monument to my childhood love of reading. I likely would have followed through on my threat, but in spite of that the library managed an extensive restoration of Maze without destroying its charm. So I'm hopeful the park district can do the same with Scoville Park.

Change, we're constantly told, is the only constant in life. It's the Great Paradox. Our ability to attach is one of our best qualities, yet it also causes much of our suffering. If you don't learn to let go, you're in for some serious pain. If you never attach, you'll never be truly human.

Those who monitor such things say the rate of change in the world is accelerating. That feels like a threat to many. You can tell by how fiercely they resist it. Thirty years ago, for instance, some Americans put up stiff resistance to the Equal Rights Amendment. They were afraid, among other scenarios, that their daughters would end up in military service, serving in combat. The ERA went down to defeat. And today? Women are serving in combat anyway. And women average 22 cents less than men for the same jobs.

Plenty of change, not enough progress.

We live at the intersection of Continuity and Change. Progressives tend to embrace change (if it leads to progress). Conservatives tend to embrace continuity. Although we think of ourselves as a deeply polarized people, I believe everyone is a mix — like dominant and recessive genes. In one person, the progressive side is dominant. In another, it's the conservative side. If you talk long enough, you'll find the progressive's conservative side and the conservative's progressive side.

It's a question of balance. The only way to find the right balance is to learn to tolerate the tension between change and continuity.

I trust that when the park district is through with Scoville Park, I will still recognize it as Scoville Park. Continuity will be preserved. I also trust that I will like at least some of the changes.

But I'm still going to miss my mulberry — and so will everyone who sits by the horse fountain at Oak Park and Lake on hot, sunny days.


Reader Comments

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65 Days Until The National Nightmare Is Over  

Posted: September 2nd, 2012 8:54 PM

No shade = heat exhaustion = delusional Ken.


Posted: August 29th, 2012 9:36 PM

The Catholic church and Republucans are evil - right Ken?

Brent Borgerson from Oak Park  

Posted: August 29th, 2012 8:30 PM

I remember when we moved here 32 years ago that "they" took down the 2 parkway elms on our East side of a North-South street. This resulted in many hot days until the Ashes "they" planted matured. Now the Ashes are diseased and coming down! Ken, chain yourself to "my" horse fountain in Scoville Park

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