Column Date 2005-12-14

Woodman, spare that cell tower

If you’ve ever doubted that we live in a land of make-believe, listen to this.

In Adirondack Park in New York State, on the unspoiled eastern shore of beautiful Lake George, they’re putting up a 104-foot cell tower. Ugly? Apparently ugly is in the eye of the beholder: this tower is to be disguised
as a pine tree.

The people who build cell towers have learned, over the years, that the rest of us consider cell towers to be a serious blight on the landscape. So they’ve hired teams of cell tower makeup artists who have gussied-up cell towers to look like other things -- pine trees, Saguaro cactuses, religious crosses, and who knows what else.

But I have already seen a cell tower made up to look like a pine tree, on a major parkway north of New York City, and believe me, only God can make a tree.

This ‘Franken-Pine’ looks exactly like what it is: a giant, metal cell tower with fake branches stuck onto it. They’re probably plastic branches, too, in which case they will (theoretically) last forever.

I say theoretically because I recall that, some years ago, the City of Los Angeles found that pollution and auto exhaust were killing off trees and shrubs on the divider strips of highways. Replacing all this greenery was costing them a fortune, so they put in plastic plants and bushes.

Within a year or two, however, the acidic gases from pollution had caused the plastic to deteriorate and crumble. They had to replace the plastic shrubs with real shrubs, which turned out to be cheaper in the long run.

So there is the real possibility that in a few years, pollution will cause the Franken-Pine to lose all its pine needles. In which case it will look like...well...
a big tower with strange plastic rods sticking out of it.

But besides being just plain ugly, there are other potential problems with this cell tower makeover idea.

For instance, being made of metal, the Franken-Pine will be impervious to bark beetles and other insect pests. After a bad infestation, it may well be the only ‘tree’ standing.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility of a major forest fire – I can see the day when, after a huge blaze, the only thing left in the forest is the Franken-Pine. (“Daddy,” asks the three-year-old, “Is that what a tree looks like?”)

Not only that, but as more and more cell companies come into an area, can we expect a veritable forest of Franken-Pines, with only the occasional real tree remaining for nostalgia’s sake?

And can we negotiate to have them build some other kinds of fake cell towers, besides pine trees, for variety? Something deciduous, perhaps? Something to attract tourists to watch the changing of the plastic leaves each fall?

And, by the way, what about the dogs? Will they feel comfortable peeing against a metal tree?

There are way too many unanswered questions here, and I think we should declare an immediate moratorium on putting up these Franken-Pines.

Because pretty soon, we won’t be able to see the forest for the cell phone towers.

©2005 Peter Tannen