Friday, March 6, 2009


By Robyn Anuakan, Ph.D. 

A San Diego Sunday is best enjoyed in historic Balboa Park.  There’s a dog run on the West side, long rolling sidewalks up and down the hills adjacent to Sixth Avenue.  Drummers form a circle in a pine grove and meditate for hours on rhythms that only the sky seems familiar with, contesting for an audience with those on their way to museums.  Lovers hover around the base of grand Eucalyptus as the scent of spring oozes forth in March.  We were all taking a day away from politics.

And then a tree falls; not the whole thing, but enough limbs collide to strip it of branches larger than a pick up truck.  We saw it descend on top of the couple sitting quietly, enjoying the calmest of days, where no rain and little wind caused any ruckus to warn the park. There was no reason as far as we could tell.   Just a hill with arbors laboring to give us all shade in late afternoon.  And it told us we need to hurry up, to support the President’s plan of getting everybody Universal Health Insurance. 

We are a silent community, lingering serenely under the trees of our city, some reading in beach chairs alone, others walking their dogs or picnicking with friends.  But when the tree released its unnecessary arms, shed its top-heavy appendages, we could not respond quickly enough.  It buried them alive, and Timeteo*, its main victim did not want us to call the paramedics. 

I heard the leaves brush the branches, the crunch sound I might have imagined because it fell like water and music mixed in a glass; it fell like the best friend that suddenly departs in silence.   If they survived the blanketing of fresh sharp wood, then they would certainly need first aid.  So I grabbed the water bottle I had just opened, and ran up the hill to see what was left. 

The limbs dropped like foul play we would not want to contemplate, but was so beautiful because we’d never seen anything like it, not descending upon two people.  We knew this was a serious moment for all to respond, though some remained in their chairs reading, perhaps too high from the sun’s warmth to move into action.  Others came, said “should we call 911?” and brought their skills in triage. 

It swallowed them whole, this mélange of beige and green foliage draped them like a mean curtain of nature.  It was soup and salsa spread upon humanity for our baneful ignorance of climate change.  Making its own wind, the Eucalyptus spoke out: “See Me!”, and we all gasped.  Out of no where the earth speaks sometimes.  You get to choose which wisdom it provides.  Perhaps the trees will devour us if we don’t do something soon. 

It hit the ground in about five seconds; the bounce left us giddy.  What a playful and deadly gesture from nature on such a crisp calm day.  For me it was the fear in the young man’s face, not of his injuries, but of what he could not afford: ambulance fees, hospital stay, lab tests, radiology, doctors’ exams, prescriptions for his concussion, the stint for his leg, worrying about liability or coverage from the city, rules for sitting under a tree, and time off from school. 

One woman grabbed a bag of ice from her cooler.  An off-duty marine kept the young man awake, asked if he knew his name.  Another park go-er began dialing the cell, giving the EMT directions on our location while Tim’s sweetheart ran to the car for their phone with numbers of close family to call.  She’d endured only a scratch on her foot because her beau had probably shielded her with his back and head as the massive arms of nature went kaput.  I figured that was reason enough to marry him. 

We all waited to rescue them because first we had to rescue ourselves out of the astounding phenomenon we’d seen, such awesome ugly beauty generally featured in movies with special effects.  A copper-colored man that could have been homeless stood taller.  He’d helped remove this fella from beneath the bed of roughage, salad for a tyrannosaurus.  We all became Tim and Lisa’s buddies—an impromptu club—quickly-formed and concerned enough not to leave the two on down there alone.  We talked to each other about what to do while we waited, we convinced him to lean against someone’s blanket.  Amidst Tim’s protests, I rubbed his back and joked about his classes at Southwest College.  “You get out of all exams this semester, my dear.  Just tell em a tree fell on my head, you’ve got witnesses." 

But sadly we all witnessed the distress too, of a young man who’d come of age in a country that frightens its citizens by denying them Universal access to health coverage.  The paramedics showed up; the police and fire vehicles and park ranger showed up; the public showed up, and we were all hoping that Tim’s injuries were minimal.  But we could not be sure that the help on the scene would end the nightmare of worry ahead.  I told him if he were my son, I’d insist he go. He consented, and then, Officer Diaz told me about the tree that had killed some children recently. 

We looked at the debris again, bathing in the sun’s haze on the park floor. What more could we do, what will our country do? Lisa called this morning to say they both were fine.  Tim’s on crutches, but their both back at school.  It’s not the first time I’ve seen a student warrant health care and resist getting emergency treatment, but I certainly hope our new Administration will make it the last.


*The names of all were changed for privacy.


Dr. Robyn Iset Anuakan is a professor of History.  She teaches graduate courses for California State University, Dominguez Hills, and works for the California Education Department’s Environmental Curriculum project.

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