When I work in the parking lot, I’m confronted with plenty of people who don’t seem very bright. Sometimes I think people could figure out the answers to their own questions if they just thought about the situation a little harder. I try to stay patient and upbeat and helpful, but honestly, I’m losing faith in the intelligence of humanity.
This season, the question I’m getting again and again (and we’re only a few weeks into the season) is some variation of Why are so many trees dead? (sometimes phrased as Why are so many trees brown? or Why have so many trees been cut down?) It’s as if people haven’t heard California has been suffering from a multi-year drought. Sure, someone from Des Moines or Frankfurt may not know anything about the weather woes of California, but percentages tell me that some of the people who are asking these questions live in the Golden State.
One day a man asked me why so many trees were dead, and I said, Drought. California’s been suffering from a drought for several years.
My co-worker looked at the man and said, Do you live in California?
The man shrugged and said, I live in Orange County, as if the drought had nothing to do with him.
I guess as long as water’s flowing from the tap, the drought isn’t real to some people.
Last weekend, one of the other people on the payroll of the company I work for was lamenting the drought. He said, In six years, there’s not even going to be a mountain because all of the trees will be dead.
I think the mountain will still be here, even if the trees are dead, I told him.
Later in the day, a grown man wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirt asked why so many trees were dead.
I said, The drought.
He asked (in what seemed to be complete seriousness), Does the drought pick out trees to kill? as if the drought were a sentient being with love for some trees and a vendetta for others.
I was pretty much flabbergasted and at a loss for words. How to even begin to answer such a question? Other visitors were vying for my attention (money to collect! restrooms to point out!), and I ended up telling the guy that some trees were stronger and better able to withstand the drought. You know, survival of the fittest and all of that, I told him. I’m not sure if that tidbit of information helped him.
The last perplexing question I received that day (from yet another grown man) came after he asked me if the trail he was about to visit were the only place sequoias grow. I explained about the range where the tree reproduce naturally (on the Western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains) and then he said, Why are the sequoias extinct?
I blinked my eyes once, twice, three times and said, But they’re not extinct. There’s one growing right there, as I pointed to the tall, tall tree towering over the others.
It turned out he thought the trees were dying out because they only grow in a limited area. (Maybe he doesn’t know what extinct means? Maybe he meant endangered?)
I explained that no one know why sequoias only grow in a limited area, that this is one of the great mysteries of the trees.
I pray to the universe to grant me patience.