Dereliction of Judy

The public works manager said to Judy, the ugly tree, “With a little help, you’ve kept your part of the bargain. The city complies with standards, and you’ve adapted to the space we’ve provided for you.”

The tree said, “You’ve said nothing of my beauty, my age, or my being a home for birds and animals. And providing welcoming shade for tourists.”

The manager said, “None of the creatures you protect are anything exotic or special. To be honest they’re considered nuisance animals. If they’re gone, more will simply move in. If you’re gone, they’ll find another home.

“As far as beauty goes, well, you’re awkwardly shaped where most people view you—at the trunk—and to be honest they hardly look up at all. You’re not a visitor’s attraction, not a destination. Unfortunately for you, Charleston has beautiful trees. And we do protect the habitats—the homes—for desirable animals. You are neither beautiful, nor that kind of home.”

Tree: “Here’s how I ended up being oddly-shaped. I gave up forty-percent of my roots to a worker with an axe and a sidewalk layout order. From someone like you. And this was before the benefits of a leaf tree could be explored. Before conservation was a word that applied to one’s actions.”

Manager: “That happened before,”

Tree: “Before conservation was a word.”

Manager: “Before my time. That was long ago.”

Tree: “Allow me to tell you. Right after the axeman left, I went into emergency mode. I flowed extra growth to my remaining roots. They bulked up. They held. I’m here.”

Manager: “It’s funny how nature is asymmetrical. And buildings have specific design. Town planners have employed branch trimming, essentially tree reshaping, to accommodate tenants’ wishes. We’re sorry but your top-half shape was never a classic tree form. Blame nature for that. Not the city. Not man.”

Tree: “The only way my roots were going to support me was by my growing disproportionately large branches to establish a center of gravity. I had to compensate—a lot!—to grow most of the mass on my right, where I wasn’t cut. The asymmetry was not what I wanted to do, not what I wanted to grow up to be. This was why you didn’t get your pretty classic tree.”

Manager: “I’m sorry.”

Tree: “Counterbalancing over my intact roots has kept me from falling over in storms or from saturated soil.”

Manager: “We built a courtesy fence that arcs around you. Our accommodation. Your guarantee for the free earth you need.”

Tree: “The people who built the courtesy fence barely looked at me. I have seen trees removed for lesser intrusions than what I impose on this block. So when will I be gone? I shake every time a city worker cocks his head at me. What’s the basis of his evaluation? Who’s my advocate? Does the city man think I’m an eyesore? Because I admit it. That’s exactly what I am.

“Does he know that cannonfire sailed through my branches when our city was bombarded? And that I deflected some of those shots? Destroyed their destructive energy? And I would do it again, gladly, for Charleston.

“Like all of the other legacy out-of-favor oddballs of the world, I’m banking that I’m not worth the resources it would take to remove me.”

Manager: “I understand—I understand now. You are part of this community. You will not be removed. We will take consideration for any future municipal work. Not just for you. For all our living things.”

Tree: “From my height I can see far. I’ll be keeping watch. What is said today grows weaker tomorrow.”

Manager: “I’m just a public works manager with a clipboard and no political pull. What can I do?”

Tree: “Value me. Understand my worth. Spread the word. Grow your numbers.”

Meet Judy, the disfigured tree of Charleston. How did she get to look this way? Care to know?

About Ara Hagopian's The LITERATE Show

For over thirty years, I have enjoyed drawing beautiful shapes and writing complementary stories. The imagery tends to focus on our place in the world—whomever or whatever we may be. I am influenced by Twentieth Century history—I read vintage magazines, books and letters. Inspiration comes from visualizing human achievement and personal interaction—derived from people, places and things which may be obscure, but never insignificant. My pen-and-ink THE MAGNIFICENT RECOVERY was selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for their 2008 summer art auction.
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