A buzzing racket fills the air. I turn the corner from Pearl Street to 23rd Street in Santa Monica and halt before a line of orange cones standing as sentries blocking off the street. In the distance, I spy three huge, spectral shapes with thin yellow arms stretched into the body of a tree, twisting, turning, elbows bending in and out, up and down.
White buckets perch atop the arms holding men sporting bright orange helmets and shirts. Each clutches a sharp, vibrating blade, and they’re trimming the tree assisted by those dancing “cherry pickers.”
In the distance stand unpruned trees. Their leafy branches reach across to one another creating a cocoon-like canopy, and I’m reminded of a poem called “Trees” learned as a child, by Joyce Kilmer, with the opening verse, “I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.”
Trees — they release oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and fend off global warming. Known as a city of “tree huggers,” Santa Monica works hard to protect the more than 32,000 stunning specimens creating a unique environment. And part of the protection is keeping them trimmed and healthy.
Transfixed by the three bobbing dancers surrounding the enormous ficus microcarpa, I watch as their blades undress it, shedding bushy boughs to reveal the naked beauty of its limbs, and roots that stretch out like twisted, wrinkled snakes.
A wiry, gray-haired man steps out of his house smoking a cigarette. I greet him and ask about the performance before us.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years,” he says. “They used to trim these ficus trees every couple of years, but this time it’s been five — too long. They drop more berries when they’re so big.”
He tells me he especially welcomes their shade in the summer.
Startled, as thick limbs crash down onto piles of scattered leaves and branches, we back away. Then suddenly, another yellow creature approaches, crawls down the street, and scoops up mouthfuls of debris in its sharp-toothed jaws.
We hadn’t even noticed the petite woman walking towards us. She says she wants to gather some of the limbs for firewood.
“The last time they trimmed, I got enough to keep my fireplace fed all winter,” she said, adding that she’s glad they’re trimming, since two years ago a large branch broke off, just missing her car.
I turn again to watch the show, wishing I could hop in a bucket and join the dance. Well, there are thousands yet to trim, so performances will continue for many months — Monday through Friday. Weekends are dark. I think I’ll invite my friend next week — I do have an extra ticket.
For more information on trimming dates and locations, call the Santa Monica Community Forest Management, (310) 458-8974, or check the Tree Maintenance Schedule at www.smgov.net/osm /forest.htm/.