It’s spring in Sacramento. Baseball diamonds are full of kids, gravel crunching under their cleats, and the smell of fresh-cut grass mixes with whiffs of wisteria and star jasmine. I was lost in memories of my Sacramento springs over the last 50 years while running the annual Spring Shamrock half-marathon, lingering on thoughts of early boyhood crushes ...
Then I turned left up 13th Street, crashing headlong into the grotesque blue trees.
I’ve written about these ungodly trees before. In 2012, Sactown Magazine published a photo of Seattle trees painted electric blue and issued the challenge: “Great ideas from other cities that we’d love to see here.” In response, the Sacramento Tree Foundation, Sacramento Metro Arts Commission, and Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau collected $25,000 to hire an “artist” to paint 20 large sycamores on 13th between J and K streets. Good thing children weren’t nearby; he might have painted them, too.
The trees were supposed to stay blue for six months. In spring 2013, they were to shed their bark, revealing their natural brown trunks and restored dignity. It was deemed to be just long enough to make a “statement about Sacramento and deforestation.”
Oh, this was to be a great moment in Sacramento’s art history, a “magnificent living outdoor art project” that would stimulate conversation and attract tourists who would “plan trips to be photographed with the blue trees” and promptly post or tweet them.
Do you know anyone who would go out of their way to view these defiled trees, and publicize pictures of them on social media, except lawyers gathering evidence for a crime against nature? What were these city leaders thinking?
Sure, Sacramento has matured over the last two years, from being wooed by an idea that you would expect at an elementary school birthday party to being confident enough to help build a classy sports and entertainment arena downtown. Our city is on the rise. One can’t imagine the city again approving what amounts to public graffiti on sycamores in this beautiful City of Trees.
Yet, the blue trees remain – blistered, sad, hideous. It’s as if the act of painting them was so unnatural it shocked their botanic nervous system, making them unable to shed their bark. Don’t we care as a city about these living things, standing humiliated on a popular thoroughfare in the heart of downtown where hundreds of pedestrians and touring schoolchildren pass daily?
If one of the points of the trees was to stimulate conversation, it has succeeded in stimulating me. Now, can the people who approved them please clean them up?