Dear Mills Community:
The decision to cut down the eucalyptus trees along Kapiolani Road has cut into my psyche as if a dark force hunted me down every time I begin to blossom, a force aimed to disrupt every turn I take toward finding roots of reason in this consumer society of disposable and recyclable.
The subject line of President Janet Holmgren’s e-mail read: “Replacement of Eucalyptus Trees” however, with all due respect to the President, I do not believe that anything living is replaceable, and those trees are not dead yet!
After opening the e-mail and reading its contents, my compulsive nature got the best of me. My knee-jerk reaction compelled me to click reply and write: “I can’t read this … it’s much too sad to be true. It makes me want to leave Mills College.” I proceeded to sign and forward my reply, feeling lightheaded from the shock.
That evening, I could not work on my class assignments. I walked over to a group of students gathered in the east wing of Mary Morse, hoping to vent and share my rage with the younger generation, but to my disbelief the students began to justify the President’s decision. I started to walk away, which led to a heated squabble that got ugly. The students argued that the trees’ life cycle was over, that eucalyptus have a short life span, that the trees are a liability, that a car’s windshield had been shattered by a fallen branch, that they are a fire hazard, that an earthquake could topple them, and that a branch could break off and kill someone. I was incensed, but what did I expect?
For generations, our society has formulated a risk-free existence (at the expense of experiencing life) with guarantees sold by insurance companies. But cutting trees? Aren’t Mills women the progressive leaders that will fight to protect our ecosystems? To add insult to injury, I was told “the eucalyptus are not native to California. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that they’ve been around 160 years guarantees them a green card! Maybe the Irish shouldn’t grow potatoes because potatoes are native to Peru, not Ireland? The “experts” can formulate their arguments anyway they want; I don’t have to buy it, the same way I never bought this war sold and justified by our nation’s President by manipulating people’s fears via experts and engineers.
My reason to come to Mills College was the campus: its Spanish colonial architecture, its flowers, its trees, and its eucalyptus forest transport me to Chile, to my childhood’s fondest memories. The flora and fauna on campus is identical to Chile, and what’s more, in back of Mills Hall stands an example of the national tree of Chile, the araucaria, named after the province of Arauco and revered by the Araucanos (the indigenous people of Chile).
Elisabeth Nielsen Smith, my grandmother, was a profoundly spiritual poet of refined intellect that raised seven children in Chile; she taught me that it is uncivilized to damage trees or books. All my life, I’ve associated trees and books with cultivation and civilization.
So much of Mills’ identity is distinguished by its Eucalyptus trees that cutting them down to manufacture furniture has a dark and machiavellian undertone. It sets a contemptible precedent to the students: nothing’s too sacred. At Mills College, an institution of education, one would expect that trees, like books, would be treasured. The significance of the eucalyptus at Mills is of poetic transcendence; to wipe out the eucalyptus along the walkway is to trim down Mills College’s dignity.