Pining for drier days

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In the delightful 1986 film “The Money Pit,” a novice homeowner, played by Tom Hanks, carves a heart in a tree as a gesture to his girlfriend (Shelley Long), only to watch in horror as it falls over. He informs her sadly, “We have weak trees.”

So do I. And if ever those of us living on California’s beautiful Central Coast needed confirmation, we’re getting it in this strange winter of excessive rain, wind and other expressions of nature’s wrath.

Long before there was talk about climate change, trees known as Monterey Pines took root in these parts. If you’ve never seen one, picture a 75-foot lollipop propped in a shallow bed of sandy soil. It’s tall, top-heavy and supported by flimsy roots. It doesn’t take much to make these majestic giants tumble—and when they do, the roots just pop out of the ground, leaving a hole barely larger than the ones golfers aim for at the nearby links.

The other day, a seemingly healthy pine crashed across the road in front of my house, knocking out power. A week earlier, a neighbor was awakened at 4 a.m. when a Monterey Pine fell through his front door. Panicked, the guy got permission (you need that here) to cut down five similar trees in his front yard, leaving just one remaining specimen standing at the corner.

When the next storm hit, that giant tree keeled over, roots and all — mercifully falling away from my friend’s house. I’ve lost five big trees on my one-acre property this winter; along our block the total is about two dozen. The Pebble Beach Company estimated that nearly 200 large Monterey Pines in the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest fell in just one day last week.

I found an article in an old Sunset magazine that summed up the matter succinctly. A Monterey Pine, it said, “gets damaged by smog; loses lower limbs and, with them, any pretense of being a wind or privacy screen; drops great quantities of needles; blows over in high winds; breaks walks and driveways and clogs sewers with its roots.” The report went on to say the beloved species, “gets infested with insects and mites, doesn’t live very long (as few as 15 years), and sometimes inexplicably falls over.”

A few years ago my homeowners’ insurance was abruptly canceled when the provider decided these closely bunched trees posed too great a threat by falling or catching fire. I managed to get costly coverage from another company, but the fine print says I’m liable if a poorly maintained pine lands on someone or something.

Folks feel the same way about the local deer population as they do the troublesome trees. They’re beautiful and clearly part of nature’s plan, yet there are too many of them and they wind up causing a lot of damage.

Sitting here without power for the ninth day this winter, and looking at the mess of fallen timber on the street outside, I’m musing about Joyce Kilmer. While only God can make a tree, the rest of us are charged with cleaning it up.

Copyright 2023 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Peter Funt’s new memoir, “Self-Amused,” is now available at