I was not feeling well that day, but something took me into our small back garden one morning recently to inspect my orchids. Everything matters in a small garden, and I have felt particularly blessed by an errant silky oak tree perched on the bluff at the boundary of our neighbor's house and ours.
It overlooks a gulch in an area of questionable property ownership, neither theirs nor ours. I know the silky oak with its golden flowers is considered an invasive species, but I'm happy it invaded our dry little gulch.
Suddenly the sound of the chain saw that had woken me that morning shrieked again, and I heard the thud of a heavy branch falling into the brush. I ran out. "What are you doing?" I screamed.
I'm always surprised - I admit it, horrified - when people unnecessarily cut down trees, but my neighbor had his reasons, reasons shared by many who remove trees on Maui, whether or not they own them. They create rubbish. They block the view. And, as he added, "It's on my side."
I knew I didn't stand a chance. The same thing happened when we lived in Maui Meadows. A neem tree, revered in India for its medicinal uses, grew up on the property line, and I awoke one morning to the same sound. All my arguments and tears failed to move that neighbor. It was on his side. The tree was gone. We moved soon after.
The same thing also happened many years ago when I lived high up in Maunalani Heights overlooking Honolulu. A huge old monkeypod tree arched over the road from the shoulder across the street. One morning, I heard the scream of a chain saw. A county crew was there. The tree was gone. I moved. I'm not saying I left because of the tree killings, but they soured things for me.
"It's a talisman," I told my neighbor. "Bad things happen when trees near me are cut down." Besides, I added, "It takes 40 trees to produce enough oxygen for one adult to breathe in a day."
He looked over at me with interest. There was silence. Well, I said after awhile, defeated, "Please think about it."
"I'm good," he said, and put the tool away.
I checked with Jeannie Pezzoli, a member of the Maui County Arborist Advisory Committee, to see if I got my facts right. It turns out that it takes four large monkeypod trees to create enough oxygen to keep a human alive for a day. (Let us not forget the lesson of photosynthesis we learned in elementary school. Green things use carbon dioxide - think global warming - to synthesize food, and produce oxygen as a byproduct.)
At an arborist committee meeting in March, Jeannie imparted this fact to the principal of Paia School, who was seeking approval to cut down a healthy old monkeypod tree at the entrance to the school's new cafeteria. Experts say there is no need to remove it, but the principal was worried about a potential safety hazard that might ensue when a barrier is built around the tree due to grading concerns.
"I'm looking at this as a liability," she said. "We do have many trees."
Arborist committee members did not approve. "We have a trend toward lack of respect of trees on Maui," said Monroe Bryce. "I think whatever you can do to respect trees is what we'd recommend."
Harlan Hughes suggested building stepped bleachers that the kids could sit on, like an amphitheater. Maui Outdoor Circle President Elaine Malina pointed out that it can cost thousands of dollars to cut down a tree. Save the tree and make it an educational experience, Pezzoli said.
In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the remedies prescribed to a sick person by a traditional practitioner is to save life. People buy earthworms and free them, or in Asia, the small birds caged for sale.
It's not that simple, of course. You don't want to refuse medicine or release a chicken on Haleakala. Still, earning merit factors in the healing equation. I was once told to feed the fish for 21 days and my pain would go away. It was inconvenient to drive to the water's edge and cast bread crumbs to the waves, but I came to love being at the shore at all hours.
I was amazed when it actually helped.
In Honolulu at the end of April, the Dalai Lama spoke again and again of the "oneness of humanity." May my neighbor and all good neighbors reap for themselves and those they love the fruits of their beneficial actions.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.