After the latest, greatest storm finally lifted, you could almost see our choice in a shard of light: we can either have reliable electricity or we can have trees.
At this point, I don’t need to read off the scorecard. It is enough to say that between New York and Connecticut, hundreds of thousands were without power for a period of time that, in plenty of cases, stretched upwards of a week.
This is the pre-Halloween snowstorm, but I could just as well be talking about the remnants of Hurricane Irene, which struck two months ago, sending trees and their limbs into transmission lines, leaving many in the dark and postponing the start of school for many. Then again, I could be talking about plenty of other storms or squalls in recent years that have faded us into black and set our blood on temporary boil.
It’s the modern suburban do-si-do:
Storm. Blackout. Complain. Get the power back. Forget.
You’ve heard of cycles of violence? This is the cycle of power failure.
Electric companies, under intense pressure to restore power along the grid quickly and prevent reoccurrences, proposed (and in many cases imposed) a plan: they would clear-cut trees. Trees, to their way of thinking (and it’s hard to argue) are the culprits. They lurk above the wires. Unseasonal snow on leaves, a sheath of ice on vulnerable branches or unrelenting gusts of wind, snap off branches and trees and—well, we’re back in black.
The choice, however stark, appears self-evident. We have to clear-cut without apology, perform cold justice on the offenders. Or we need to stop worrying and learn to love the blackout, realizing that electricity loss is going to be as common a part of the local experience as SAT prep.
Trees are, quite obviously, alive and can have adverse reactions to being cut, especially in the wrong way. Give us a bad haircut and we’ll survive. But start hacking at limbs and it might be a different matter. Moreover, there are aesthetic concerns in clear-cutting trees. Consolidated Edison looks at issues of clearance—not beauty. A lumbering behemoth like Consolidated Edison is hardly an ideal steward of the natural world.
No matter, perhaps. We don’t have to cut the trees. But then we have to take the blackouts in better stride.
In the end, if this clown’s parade of storms has taught us anything, it is this: we face a stark choice between clear-cutting and endless bouts of darkness. If there are alternatives, experts are not aware. Are you? If you don’t have a magic bean, which do you choose? Clear-cutting? Or darkness?
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," the true story of a murderer, from Westchester, who almost got away with it. His upcoming book on volunteer firefighting across America, “Local Heroes,” is due out in 2012. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.