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Tree hugger gets foiled in own yard

Some Dade City deeds are best done in the dark of a moonless night after the sidewalks have been rolled up at 9 p.m. and only the lost or the incredibly bored venture out.

At least that's what I told the contractor I hired to take down the oak tree in my front yard.

I also told him that, after my outspoken (and, as some would say, overwritten) involvement in the controversy over the trees on the Pasco County Courthouse lawn, that it would be wise to make sure any needed permits were in order.

It was I, after all, who railed against the county's plans to take down 10 old oaks around the courthouse, and who encouraged my tree-hugging friends to speak out if they thought it was as big a shame as did I.

Then I got a call from my insurance man, a nice guy who probably wishes I had bought a house anywhere but next door to his office.

Directly next door.

Whenever I want to whine about my premiums, or make a claim, I can almost shout it out my back door. And, like a lot of my neighbors, he watches my landscaping foibles closely.

To be fair, he called me a few years ago about the "volunteer" laurel oak. ("Volunteer" means they spring up like weeds around their parent trees.) This tree was one of several that shot up out of the hedge that lines the wall that separates our properties (not that we don't trust each other).

He thought that the tree was in danger of losing its tenuous grasp on the sloping embankment that leads from my yard to the sidewalk. A high wind, he said, could bring it down on his office.

Good neighbor that he is, he even offered to pay part of the cost of having it removed.

But I passed.

But then I began to notice, over the years, that the cement wall next to the tree was bulging ominously outward at an alarming angle.

That would do it, I thought. When my insurance man saw my tree taking his wall down, I would hear from him again.

Months went by and I heard nothing. I mentioned the phenomenon one day to another neighbor who also keeps a wary eye on my yard in defense of her own.

"That," she said with a snort of laughter, "is because it isn't his wall . . . it's yours. I remember the day the previous owner had it built."

Tampa Electric asked for permission to trim the tree, which interferes with power lines. I tried to act magnanimously and told them they could cut it down if they wanted to.

They just trimmed it.

When my insurance agent finally did call, I tried to drag things out.

It only made sense to take the tree down, I said, if the bids on its removal were less than the deductible on my homeowner's policy. Otherwise the financially sound thing to do was to let it smash his office since I was, after all, covered.

Insurance agents, you might note, have senses of humor about on a par with that of airport security folks, FBI agents and feminists taken to Hooters on a first date.

So I asked him to call his tree guy (he actually has one _ I don't want to know why) and ask him to give me an estimate, which I approved.

In my nightmares now, I see Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson, whose chain I pulled numerous times over the courthouse trees, notice the work at my house and stand in front pointing and screaming, "Aha!"

Then there was the distinct possibility that garden club president Pat Carver or radio station owner Lori Collins would wrap a yellow ribbon around it or chain themselves to it, chanting, "Woodman, Spare That Tree."

I wish there was another way, but insurance agents trapped in crushed buildings provide notoriously lousy claim service.

And those of us who throw stones should occasionally get practice in ducking them.

Put one in the oops bracket for me. In my Monday column I said that Oonagh Guenkel was the first woman to run for sheriff in Pasco County, forgetting that my old pal, Cindy Kuhn, the first certified female police officer in the county, ran in 1992. She has now left politics for honest work.

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