Amid the many troubles in our world, the loss of one majestic tree in Sena Plaza in Santa Fe hardly ranks as a catastrophe.
But, oh, we will miss the cottonwood’s broad trunk and graceful branches.
At approximately 80-plus years — based on photographs showing a sapling in the 1930s — the tree in Sena Plaza is near the end of its life. In 2015, a 10-foot branch fell and pinned a woman to the ground. At that time, the City of Santa Fe determined the tree was still healthy and asked that Southwest Asset Management do more to keep it. History matters here. And such protections include trees that have been alive longer than most people.
The grand old tree dominates the plaza, where shops and a restaurant surround the space where the Sena family once lived and laughed. Safe in the courtyard, away from the dust of nearby streets, ladies might have worked on embroidery while conversing. Men could play music and children simply play. In those days without air conditioning, the inner courtyard was how people would cool down during the summer. It was their refuge.
Despite the bustling retail activity, the courtyard at Sena Plaza remains a place of refuge. With plenty of green plants, the cottonwood providing shade, eating at La Casa Sena on the patio proves both relaxing and refreshing. Even if it’s just a short work lunch, the atmosphere makes patrons feel as if they’re enjoying a much-needed break from the troubles of the world. Diners definitely will miss the canopy of branches blocking the sun and providing shelter.
What they won’t miss, of course, is the possibility that a branch might fall into their soup or knock them on the head. Arborists hired by management company have explained that, yes, the cottonwood is fairly healthy for its age. What they can’t guarantee is that branches won’t continue to fall and eventually hurt someone. They can’t guarantee that the tree might not topple in high winds. They sincerely believe the tree is a hazard, and this time, city officials took that explanation to heart.
Four years ago, when the possibility of removing the tree first came up, our position was that managers of Sena Plaza should save the tree — so long as it was possible. That appears no longer to be the case. Removing the tree, while sad, is a prudent course.
Even in its leaving, the tree leaves us with lessons. To maintain health and ensure a long life, maintenance and proper pruning are necessary. That’s just as true for humans as it is for trees.
Such maintenance must be provided on a consistent basis; perhaps our sadness at losing this tree will make all of us take a closer look at the trees around us. How many of them need pruning, watering and care? Or in many cases, how many need removal? We can think of several dead trees in medians around town that should be removed before they topple onto passing cars. More trees should be replaced — think of the front of the downtown library.
The lesson? Don’t wait to take care of the trees around us. They are too precious, whether in the beauty they bring, the shade they cover us with or the peace they bring our hearts. They also are a weapon in the fight again a warming planet by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the trees and soil, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. In Ethiopia last month, people planted 353 million trees in 12 hours to set the world record for most trees planted in a single day. Trees help us breathe.
Like humans, trees live. And then they die. More trees will be planted to replace the one that has been taken down — and city officials are requiring photographic proof that replacements have been installed. Portions of the tree will be given to both Native and Spanish Colonial artists, ensuring its beauty continues. All part of the cycle of life.