Isabella Colalillo Katz: The Tree
this was one of the three poplars 
that was cut down 
that inspired me 
to make the video

My Tree Story
By Isabella Colalillo Katz ©2000

About fifteen years ago, I planted three hybrid poplars on my front yard. The trees provided us with shelter from the blazing sun and lulled us to daydreaming and sleep with their ocean like sound.

Two winters ago, just before Christmas the City of Toronto decided to cut down one of the trees without informing me and threatened to remove the remaining trees. In my neighbourhood, new immigrants often cut down trees in favour of flower and grass gardens. The area is full of annuals and perennials but sadly lacking in green foliage. Trees filter the air we breathe through a process of evapotranspiration and cool the hot summer air. My poplars also provided me with a visual and noise buffer from the mad screeching of modern traffic and irate drivers.

I cried when my tree was cut down. It was like losing an old friend. In the spring, I invited an urban shaman and some friends to create a ritual to help me grieve and move on. We video-taped the ritual, By this time I had already decided to fight back by creating a documentary video describing my efforts to save the trees. A creative solution always helps me to feel better and to grow. With the generous help of my friend, filmmaker Sal Greco and my daughter Micol, we have enough footage to start editing.

The documentary collects unique tree stories from friends and other people, expressing their special insights and relationship with trees. I also focus on stories that describe the peculiar cultural biases some people; especially immigrants with rural backgrounds have against certain kinds of trees. An often repeated Italian proverb says: If it does not bear fruit, cut it.

Tree Letter

I distributed this letter widely to my neighbors as I began my video documentary.

Dear Friends and Neighbours,

If you received a notice that someone wanted to murder your child, or loved one, burn down your house, or otherwise destroy something or someone very dear to you, how would you react? If one of your neighbours decided to hurt you in such a way, what would you do?  I know that I would be very upset and very afraid and I would ask my neighbours and friends for help.

This has happened to me.

My name is Isabella Kates. I am a teacher, writer and parent.  An uncaring neighbour (quite new to the neighbourhood) has decided to threaten my right to live peacefully, by complaining that my poplar trees---the sentient beings who live on my front lawn and provide you and me with clean air, shade (yes I see all of you parking your cars under my trees!) and a place to rest, and feed to birds and animals--bother him!  The city authorities have responded by wanting to cut down at least one of the trees, and “trim” the others.  I am very very hurt that one of the tree must die.

I want to share with you my knowledge of trees. The are part of the sacred web of life.  All trees have the same right to life as humans. Trees give of themselves, generously and selflessly. The three poplars in front of my house clean the air in a ten-kilometre radius at a higher rate that any other tree in our neighbourhood. They are natural anti pollutants.  They also provide us with the pleasant rustling sound of their leaves and cooling shade during our hot summers. They serve all of us well.

Many of you love them as much as my family and I do.

When I planted these trees, about 15 years ago, there were few trees in our neighbourhood. Trees are now everywhere. This is a good thing for the health of our bodies and for our pocketbooks. A neighbourhood with trees has higher real-estate value.  It is more healthy, welcoming and attractive. We are all richer with trees.

My neighbour does not understand that by condemning my tree to die, he has condemned all of you to poorer lives.  If my healthy poplar is cut, it is as if we have killed someone we love, not out of malice, but out of deep ignorance. It will be a great loss to all.

The trees and I ask you for your help in preserving their life so they can help to sustain the quality of your own.
Please contact me to register your support.
There is a petition you may wish to sign, on my verandah. Feel free to come up and sign it.  Come and enjoy the trees.