Takoma Pork Spring 2006 Issue
Dr. Treevorkian
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Ax of Mercy? Tree Care Leaves Room for Doubt

Spring 2006

Sapped of its will to live, an area tree tries to communicate its despair.

TAKOMA PARK, MD—The ad simply says “Arborist,” but through word of mouth nearly every resident in this tree-lined section of Takoma Park knows Dr. Treevorkian’s specialty. Their reactions, however, are anything but unified.

“He’s an angel of mercy,” said Bruce Howard, who has lived on Elm Avenue for over a decade. Just two doors down the block, however, Bailey Cohen crossed her arms as she pronounced the tree doctor “a fraud and a scourge.” Howard and Cohen are on opposite sides of a debate being played out in the city council chambers, where a group of Takoma Park residents have introduced an initiative to make arborist-assisted suicide illegal in Takoma Park.

Takoma Park’s stringent tree ordinance is well known in this shady suburb, where ever-expanding floor plans increasingly butt up against the urban forest. Any tree with a diameter over 6 inches is protected by the regulations, which spell out a lengthy permit process for removal that can be contested by any city resident. Even terminally ill trees can be kept alive through a lengthy appeals process.

Homeowners packed the council chambers at a recent hearing on the proposal, many offering graphic tales of drooping limbs and premature leaf drop. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to watch your tree suffer,” said Howard. “I know Takoma Park is designated as a ‘Tree City USA,’ but what about when the tree wants to die? Dr. Treevorkian had the courage to help us when no one else would. He’s not a murderer, he’s a steward—or maybe a flight attendant, you know, he sort of stands by and points out the exit door, and smiles and tries to make the trip as comfortable as possible.”

That argument is nonsense, according to Cohen. “Doctors, even arborists, have a duty to protect life, not promote death. What Treevorkian is doing is just wrong.” Cohen, whose front yard contains a prominent sign with the slogan “Live Tree, or Die!” said that, like Seuss’s Lorax, she “speaks for the trees.” So far, though, the trees have no comment.

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