Tree antenna

Thursday, May 7 


When the highlight of my day (and likely my week) is a dump run, I have no life.  And when it’s the only thing I write about in my diary for that day, it’s obvious I’m locked down. 

I plead guilty as charged. Not only that, but this is the second trash run to appear in this space. 

The first trip was a heroic (at least in my own eyes) clean up of an illegal, drive-by dump here on Yankee Hill. 

And yesterday’s?  Well, there’s a story behind it. Which I will now unfurl – like it or not. 

I delivered to the dump a TV antenna that had lived in one of my pine trees for more than 30 years. How it got there dates back even further – to the mid-1970s. 

Back then, my Yankee Hill housemate Randy and I had a perfectly good TV, but reception was sketchy. The set was connected to an antenna – as dishes at the time were for food only. 

With that aerial, we could pull in maybe eight stations from either the Bay Area or Sacramento. To hone in on our channel of choice, one of us went out and twisted the antenna’s pole while the other hollered when reception was as good as it was going to get. Which was never that good. We went through this drill in downpours, blizzards and searing heat. 

Over time, Randy moved out and my fiancé and future wife, Suzy, moved in. We had two of our three children while living at that old house. But our primitive TV situation stayed the same. 

When we built and moved into a larger home on the same property in 1990, we were hoping for better. The satellite TV business was brand new, so we checked it out. 

But that era’s dishes were about as big as the ones the government now uses in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Plus, they cost a fortune. Finally, a technician told us we had no clear shot at a satellite anyway.  

So we went to Plan B: mounting a seven-foot-wide antenna atop a tree. The aerial was equipped with an electric rotor controlled from inside our new home. For us, this was fine. Compared to what we had at the old place, it was right out of The Jetsons

Except for this: We were in the middle of a five-year California drought that had already killed wide swaths of pines throughout the foothills. And I apparently wanted to murder one more. 

By topping the 40-foot ponderosa outside our new house and sticking an antenna on top, warned a Forest Service friend, “you’re going to kill that tree.”  

This was the era of Earth Day and all things green.  And here I was, sacrificing a pine with many decades left in its life. All for getting marginally better reception for Doogie Howser, Matlock, LA Law, Cheers, Saturday Night Live and Monday Night Football.

A tawdry tradeoff?  Maybe, but I did it, then waited for the ponderosa to die as we enjoyed slightly better TV. 

Within five years, dishes became smaller, satellites were numerous, and prices had dropped. So we traded maybe a dozen antenna channels for scores of them via dish. We disconnected our electric rotor, but left the antenna up in the pine.  

Removing the aerial at this point, we were told, would do nothing to prolong the tree’s life. It was still doomed. 

But it wasn’t: Over the decades that followed, the ponderosa grew and grew. Eventually the tree overwhelmed the antenna. The aerial was almost lost in a thicket of limbs and needles that grew up and around it. Later in the pine’s life, it was difficult to even see the old antenna. 

Then another drought hit. In 2016 and ’17, we lost 27 ponderosas. Our supposedly doomed antenna tree was not among them. As trees died all around it, this topped pine prospered. 

My thought here may be heretical and it is certainly not grounded in science, but I nevertheless wondered:  Had that antenna somehow saved my tree? And, with obsolete, junk antennas available by the tens of thousands, could large-scale aerial implantation have stemmed the catastrophic pine die-off? 

I was smart enough not to run this theory by the Forest Service. 

By now, you may be wondering about that dump run I mentioned at the top of this story. 

Fast-forwarding quickly, the topped ponderosa did die. But not because of the supposed killer antenna. Instead, PG&E cut the pine down because it had grown tall enough to threaten one of the utility’s nearby lines. 

A contract crew felled it in February, and removed the timber and slash. But the loggers left the antenna and the ponderosa round to which it was attached.  Over the years, the tree had almost engulfed the antenna in a kind of arboreal love embrace. 

Bending its tines, I manage to fit and secure the antenna and pine round in the bed of my pickup with bungee cords. 

I drove it to the transfer station and had my only social contact of the day with the booth attendant, who charged me $21.50.  I had hoped he would ask me for the story behind my tree-bound antenna.  But he showed no curiosity. 

Which is why, dear readers, you were stuck with it.  

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