Robert Chianese in VC STAR May 17, 2015; rev 2020 06 09
Our beloved Two Trees are about to diminish by one.
The smaller Blue Gum Eucalyptus on the right has faded into a skeleton of a once-thriving tree. This may be a marker of other such natural collapses in our fragile biome of coastal sage scrub.
Our world is changing and in ways that are at once alarming and disorienting. If climate change means anything it means the loss of the familiar, a loss lamentable and hard to accept and therefore prompting denial. I think it is hard for us to look at two-tree hill today and not see how it looked for many years. If you look at it now, you can see part of Ventura dying.
Joseph Sexton in 1898 planted thirteen eucalyptus saplings on the brow of the hill. He thought they would look stunning and surely they did. Over the years they were abused and chopped and sawed and replanted and damaged again, though when there were five, the city declared them a Ventura landmark. They were alien transplants to begin with, but soon won the respect and delight of the locals.
Like all majestic living things, they seemed to collect and then disperse a silent wisdom. Standing under them was a meditation.
As some have before, I, and a wiry 80-year old neighbor, Bernie Pike, tried to replenish them years ago. We planted blue gum sprouts only to supply fresh roots for gophers. We then tried oaks, protected in wire cages. They grew but the cattle ate them. We had to settle for the two. And now they are going.
Ventura is a unique place. It began as a small town set under hills that trail down into a narrow plane then spread gently onto a beach. That sweeping movement of soil and vegetation from earthquakes and debris flows constitutes our townscape. The discrete east-west hillsides set up a counter rhythm that plays trills against the broad north-south slope of the land. From the Two Trees prospect, you saw that city whole.
Unwise development interrupted all that flow. First the freeway severed the town from the beach. Then that seaside hotel shot up and broke the horizon. Now two massive hospitals race to block views and alter our sense of our town space forever. And the inevitable developers hope to lop and chop and level the hills into flat parcels for high end tract homes. The sense of scale, space, and rhythm of the city and its setting get violated by a public and leaders focused on parts not the whole –-either the beach, or the harbor, or mid town, or the quasi-quaint downtown, or the hillsides. They judge them as lagging money makers needing a big shake up.
Some business folk who want large complexes downtown complain that Oxnard’s mega center, The Collection, is “poaching” on our downtown shops and eateries. But going to The Collection and heading downtown are two very different experiences—one is an exposed mega mall while our downtown is just that, a town with its own hodge-podge vitality, contours, history, and character adjusted and evolved over time to an eclectic style at human scale. Market that. From the stark geometric grid of The Collection, there are hardly a hill or tree in sight.
Since human climate disruption will cause natural things inevitably to disappear from view and awareness, we need to discriminate between what loss of the familiar we can control and what we cannot.
We obviously have to be careful now to preserve as much of the variety and shape of our natural surroundings as possible. And, we need to preserve and embellish the inherent character of our under-appreciated town in all its variety, irregularity, and uniqueness as a healthy counter to gigantism and sameness. We should not allow its particular charms to vanish in a flurry of “development,” or fade away like its remaining trees and shrubs and even the hills themselves.