Some years back when the cell tower behind the DPW was first proposed, the citizens of North Reading set aside their excitement over the promise of clear voice reception and fast smartphone data and raised concern about the daunting aesthetics of this immense new structure.
It was well-founded concern. Haven’t we all seen the tall gray masts interrupting the green horizon as we drive along the wide-margined highways through the countryside? Aren’t we all a little put-off when yet another monolith goes up next to the already blighted path of a utility line or ruins the aesthetics of a stately water tank?
But the cell companies were determined to better serve our thriving little hamlet and had no problem agreeing to camouflage the tower so that it would better blend in with our sylvan surroundings. They’d foot the bill to stab a few Christmas-surplus imitation tree branches in amongst the antennae and the tower would just blend right into the forest! Huzzah!
Seems I recall hearing mixed opinions when the tower was actually installed. Some thought it was shorter than they’d expected; others thought it was taller. Some thought it blended in pretty well but nobody thought it actually looked like a tree.
Time passed, and we were all thrilled with having more bars at our places and fewer dropped calls and soon the tower faded from our attention – just another tree in the forest. Carriers came and went and antennae were removed or mostly added to the tower as the whims of the industry changed. Still, our little cell tree stood tall, relentlessly radiating low level microwave energy for us all to enjoy.
But then something curious happened. Somewhere along the way, perhaps due to over-harvesting or lack of watering, our cell tree died. And nobody, not even any of the folks who had insisted on its beautification, seemed to notice.
Any semblance to a majestic pine that the tower may once have had is now vested in a few Charlie Brown boughs sprouting from the top of the tower. The other branch-like appendages have vanished or been replaced or obscured by additional antennae. The tower’s once lush green look of a springtime softwood has been replaced by the sun-faded gray of metal and plastic repeaters.
Now, a tree dying is not that unusual. In fact, it happens a lot. We see it along the Ipswich River watershed all the time: beavers build a damn, water backs up, a swampy area is created, and the trees die. Just drive through Cat Swamp up on Route 125 or any of the other low lying areas around here and you’ll see acres of dead trees. Sometimes they’re kind of pretty with their bleached gray trunks angularly contrasting against the tannin-darkened waters of the swamp.
So, maybe our cell tower is now disguised as a dead tree? Yah, that’s it! Dead tree camouflage! Maybe this could catch on! It could be a huge revenue source for the town. We could patent the idea of the Dead Tree Tower and license it to cell carriers who encounter environmental resistance for new installations. We could even charge an annual license fee for every year the tree is to remain dead! There may be detrimental impacts though. Pretty soon, all of the cell carriers will be trampling through the environmentally fragile swamp areas to install North Reading Dead Tree Towers. There could be a backlash.
On the other hand, maybe it’s time to admit that the tower never really looked like a tree and that a cell tower isn’t the worst thing visible in North Reading anyway. Maybe it’s better to just call the tradeoff as we see it and acknowledge that if we want to have the convenience of quality cell phone service, we’re going to have to sacrifice a little bit of scenery. Or we could put up some more branches.