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Revolt Against Utility Chain Saws Stirs Connecticut's Trees

They got the message and it was loud and clear: It's not good to be a tree in Connecticut.

So like others before who felt the sting of persecution, they were pulling up roots. They were getting out of town. They were fleeing the only state they'd known. It was an exodus in the making, upon getting wind of United Illuminating's plan to kill every tree within swaying distance of a power line.

I caught up with them as they were leaving.

Massachusetts seemed welcoming, said the oak from Hamden. Rhode Island, said the evergreen from Ledyard.

New York State? "Dunno," said the elm from Stamford. "Just gotta believe anyplace is better than this Nutmeg State."

"Treeocide," the oak said quietly of UI's plan. "Just plain treeocide."

I reflected on the trees' plight. Yes, they'd fallen all over the state during the storms, and not having power for several days was a humbling experience. I still remember coming home to a darkened house. Yet, to take it out on the trees was overkill.

"UI can't stop the wind, UI can't stop the rain, UI can't stop the hurricanes — so they take it out on the only thing they can stop. They take it out on us," said the elm. "It ain't right."

"It's not like we deliberately laid our limbs down upon their precious power lines," said the evergreen. "It's clearly not our fault," said the birch.

"Irene made us do it," said the sycamore. "But to hear these UI folks tell it, it's like we planned the whole thing. Now it's off with our limbs!"

It's not good to be a tree in Connecticut.

They spoke of people's short memories and all the things the trees do for people to make life livable. They spoke about the greenhouse effect, how they clean the air, provide oxygen, cool our streets, give us wood, conserve energy, save water, keep the soil from eroding, feed us apples and pears and nuts, not to mention how they serve up the beauty and splendor of autumn.

"Do they remember that?" asked the sycamore.

"Nuts," said the oak. "They just remember the trees on their power lines."

"It's crazy," said the birch. "Just when I thought we were having a longer life with more people reading newspapers online, we get UI that wants us to die. What's up with that?"

I listened as the trees shot the breeze about the fate that awaited them if they stuck around. They seemed genuinely shook. They were shaking like leaves.

Who could blame them? They'd seen how people get when they get their minds locked onto something. They were not sticking around for the tree hunt.

Then voices rang out from the wilderness. "Our roots are too deep!"

Yes, a few trees decided they weren't going anywhere. Nor were they going down quietly like trees in the forest. They began to rustle. And there were others in backyards and parks — nowhere near the power lines. Nowhere near the kill zone — doing the same.

"You mess with one tree, you mess with all," they said.

They were united, these trees. They spoke of passive resistance with a growing militancy. They spoke of dropping and lying right where they were.

"Just think of the sight of a million trees laying their trunks and branches down across the Nutmeg State," they rustled.

I thought about it. It was daunting. I wondered how they'd get up.

"We do that and we just give UI what they want," said a dissenter. "We do that and we lose the support of the people."

They were aware there were a few good people standing up for the trees. They weren't all like UI who felt the only good tree was a gone tree. Surely the folks who appreciate trees would rise up and protect them. But how many? Would they be enough to stop UI's treeocide?

"Why can't they just let us be?" asked the trees.

I left them standing there, swaying and waiting for someone to do the right thing.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His email address is frankharristhree@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at fh3franktalk.

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