If you needed one word to describe Oak Park and River Forest these days, you could certainly get by with “leafy.” A friend and I were driving through town one day last week, and looking down a side street, she referred to Oak Park’s “green tunnels.” An apt description, I thought, and testament to Oak Park’s forestry diversity.

Once upon a time, those tunnels had much higher ceilings, formed by majestic, overarching, gracefully curving American elm tree boughs–a cathedral ceiling on virtually every street. But we all know what happened to the American elms, thanks to the Dutch elm beetles.

As the elms died by the hundreds each year for the past 60 years or so, the village dutifully replaced the trees, replanting a variety of species. No single epidemic would ever again cause a catastrophe–or so we thought.

Now the evil-sounding emerald ash-borer is on our doorstep and will likely be here soon if it isn’t already. Ash may not be a household species yet, but according to a survey from a few years ago, ash trees are the fifth most numerous variety in the village. So we’re about to go through a second wave of tree loss.

We had a huge ash tree in our backyard on East Avenue back in another lifetime. It provided great shade and in the fall, it would drop its leaves all at once. We’d rake them in a huge pile, let me son jump in it to his heart’s content, then drag them on large groundcloths out to the curb. And that was “fall” for us.

People may not be as emotionally attached to ash trees as they were (or are) to American elms, but we’ll notice the loss.

The only constant in life, people are fond of saying, is change. No wonder the U.S. is such a change-averse (and therefore conservative) society. We constantly deal with change, and, for the most part, we hate it. Because we’re so change-averse, in the few areas where we actually exert some influence, we become positively reactionary. It’s most obvious, of course, in politics. Now we’re in a position to finally, after approximately 40 years of national paralysis, to embrace positive, hopeful, healthy change in politics–or cave in and stick (in the mud) with the same old, same old. Let’s hope we’re smart enough for once to embrace healthy change.

And speaking of a change (of pace), what a pleasant surprise–and positive addition–the new Eastgate Cafe looks to be. Burrowing into the side of an otherwise non-descript brick apartment building, the new storefront completely alters, in a good way, the ambiance of that stretch of Harrison Street.

The Harrison “Arts District,” in general, is developing into one of Oak Park’s genuine success stories. Now if only building owner Chris Kleronomos will stop obstructing progress and work out a deal with Circle Theatre, the district can really take off.

Come on, Chris. Do the right thing. You can be a hero or a goat. Why not be a hero?

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