City of trees

“Have we always been the City of Trees?” he asked.

“Yes and no,” I said.

“When the pioneers starated rolling in, Sacramento had trees everywhere. People valued the trees for the shade. Remember there weren’t swamp coolers or fans in those days. But they also needed trees to build and to use for fuel. A lot of people who got here didn’t have a place to live. They built fires against the trunks of the trees. That’s how big the trees were.”

“Then the trees fell over,” he said.

“I guess so,” I replied. “I guess property was damaged and people killed or injured when fires finally burnt enough of the trunk so trees fell, or were so weak when the rains and floods came they got knocked over.

“A lot of trees burned in the citywide fires of 1852 and 1854. Between the cutting and the burning, we weren’t the City of Trees we were when we started. The settlers though, needed trees for shade, even if they didn’t need to build anything else and they had a wagon to haul fuel in from somewhere. They started planting trees everywhere.

“I don’t know when we became the official City of Trees. We started getting famous for our trees in the 1880s. When C. K. McClatchy returned from Paris in 1911, he wanted to make us a city of trees like Paris.

“When I look at art from the 1800s that depicts Sacramento, the name I see is The City of the Plain. It’s a lithograph by George Baker done in 1857. The inscription under the lithograph reads:


The City of the Plain

“So he got his image from looking down from the mountains?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “There weren’t airplanes. Maybe there was a three story building he viewed the valley from.

“What amazes me is his detail. The lithograph depicts the trees in town to be part of an overall tribute to the precision of city planning and commerce on a flat wilderness. Baker has the space between Sacramento and the mountains all flat. More like geometry’s plane than grassland. He considered a plain to be boring, rather than teeming with life like Indians and John Muir did.

“He makes it look like a vast distance of flat to the mountains, but it’s only ten miles to where the hills start in Orangevale.

“It seems to me he never stepped from his office to see the area a few people marveled at. There’s another bird’s-eye view of Sacramento done in 1870. I don’t think Baker did it, but the same sense of emptiness between town and the mountains exist. The two lithographs captured the boredom of the rice fields in the next century, rather than the home of wildflowers and buzzing bees that Muir walked through and lusted over and slept in.

“I like a painting done in 1849 by George Cooper. It has a lot of trees towering above buildings. Through the trees are the mountains. The painting is exciting and mysterious. It makes me think of how neat it would have been to live here and be part of the adventure.

“The lithographs of 1857 and 1870 make me feel that Sacramento would have been a great place to watch the mountains but a boring place to live.”

“Or the sky,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Without any trees, the sky would have been more important,” he said. “People would have been forced to watch it.”

“There’s a guy who agrees with what you said,” I said.

“There is?”


“Go on,” he told me.

“He wrote an article in a local weekly paper in the 1980s. He said the old timers planted trees so they would not have to see the sky and be overwhelmed by God. I think he was saying that all the talk about God that the pioneers brought with them was put to the test after they destroyed the trees and had to look up and see God go up and out forever. It scared the shit out of them.”

“Kind of like you’re implying the grassland scared Baker,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“So they planted trees to forget about their fear?”

“That’s what I think he was saying,” I said.

“What do you think?”

“What do I think?”


“I think people feared the plains and the sky. The fear they had from crossing the Great Plains and sailing on the ocean they brought with them here. I think they liked the sky at night, but the vast sky in the daytime was too much. It’s too bad. The Sioux saw the prairie as divine. The ancient Athenians loved to look at the vast sky and the ocean from their city. The ancient Irish saw spirits in trees. We didn’t see trees as divine when we cut them or when we planted them.

“We had it all going for us. Except for the fifteen years between 1855 and 1870, there were good sized trees. If you lost interest in looking at the trees, you could walk to the edge of town and climb one to look out at our great grassland and the mountains and peep through a space between branches to the sky. God was everywhere.

“I see God everywhere like the Spaniards wanted to name something after the Blessed Sacrament. The Spaniards didn’t see nature as divine, but they loved God. They were on the right track when they gave us a sacred name. Of all our names – The City of the Plain, City of Trees, River City, Capitol City, Camellia City – Sacramento is our best. What we need to do is adopt a sacred outlook to go with our sacred name. We can pray to our rivers and use the grass under oak trees as places to make love and have a baby.”

“And look up to the sky together when we finish doing it to thank God for life,” he said.

“Yes,” I choked.

“It sounds great,” he said. “How will you get it to happen?”

“I won’t,” I said. “But think of this.”


“We can’t focus on rivers or trees because they are right here for us to touch and linger with. We don’t know how to touch or linger. We’re always reaching for the future. A view of the sky and the mountains symbolizes the future. The sky is limitless like the future. The mountains are monumental like we hope our future is.

“You can’t walk to the edge of town anymore to climb a tree to look to the mountains and all that sky between us and them. What you can do though is find a building with a view. If you work in a big office building you can walk out to the hall during break and look to the sky and mountains aching for your retirement. If you’re way up on one of the top floors where you can see the rivers and a few miles of trees too, you might feel magical, that life is really pretty good and your kids will be rich and famous like the mountains and all your grand kids will have a blast playing in our urban forest.

“We’re a city of everything. We always have been. That’s where our potential lies, in allowing everybody a view of what we have – our mountains, trees, rivers, the sky, the valley.

“We have the relatively new justice building. Supposedly the grand view is for the jurists, not reserved for the judges. Our next steps are to move the five floors of our library to the twenty-sixth to thirtieth floors of the newest skyscraper. Then we can have public parks on the roofs of future skyscrapers. Everybody who wanted a grand view could have one.”

“It sounds like you don’t get a view,” he said.

“The only view I’ve had was when I went to Sac State,” I said. “On my way to talk with my professors, I’d stand in the hall if it was winter and look to the mountains. It was beautiful.

“I didn’t think of my future though, of having a cabin in the mountains; a penthouse apartment; a private office with a view from the top. I thought of the past, when the air was clear and there were no suburbs and I could walk all over the valley and up into the Loomis Basin.

“Even in the old days,” I continued, “people didn’t focus on walking. They rode a horse, or on a wagon or buggy, a riverboat or train. Today we ride in cars. Our name the City of Trees would mean more if we walked. We could have a mystical passionate image of our city from walking and wondering, rather than a teenage lust to put Sacramento on the map that we have now.”

“But we don’t walk,” he said.

“No we don’t. It’s too bad because walking is one of the most important things if a city wants to be great or magical. With all our trees you’d think people would be walking around filled with wonder or excitement, but like you say, we aren’t.”

“So how do you get to see everything?” he asked.

“I don’t,” I said. “I take what I get. When I lived in Midtown I’d take the bus to see a friend off of 65th near Fruitridge. It was too far to walk, especially with all the cars and few trees.

“The ride through the old part of town and past Land Park is pretty with all the trees. Then you get to the end of the park and look south to all that sky. On clear days it’s great.

“I loved going out there in February and March when it’s clear and windy. I d get off the bus at 65th. As I crossed the street I’d look to my right and left – the Sierras looming bright white and the Coast Range a dreamy silhouette.

“When I got across the street I’d walk real slow past the cemetery to watch the spring grass blow. I’d stop and look. Then I’d start walking, turning to the sky to the south, then to the Sierras. When I got to the corner to turn off, I’d stop and gaze back to the Coast Range.”

“What about the rivers?” he asked.

“I get there when I can,” I said. “The bus ride through the trees, then out to all that sky and the views across the valley and to the mountains was and is beautiful. I feel lucky.”

Third World Souls

You blessed America more than other countries God, but something isn’t right.
We have everything and nothing. We are no longer blessed.

I was never able to totally understand it, then I read about our declining nation.
A writer said it is true we are a first world nation as far as consumer goods
and finance, but we are a third world nation spiritually.

That did it for me.
Now I can proudly say what I have always felt. We have nothing.

I wish a poet from the Mexican jungle would write that in America
they can’t see the jaguar’s eyes flash on a distant mountain because
there are too many lights and everyone is afraid to go outside.

I know there’s a Muslim woman walking with her husband,
each of them all covered, saying to one another,
Americans are lousy lovers. They let it all hang out.
There is no mystery to love there, no understanding
that your long wait for your lover is analogous to
your long wait for God. Your lust for your lover
is only OK if you lust for God.

We need to hear it God. There is no illumination here.

There was in the eighties and nineties when graffiti artists frightened us with their
bold vision, Our country is so ugly we redeem it to the best of our ability. What
are you doing to make yourself bold and illuminating?

We refuse to shine. Our third world souls get darker, uglier, less receptive each

We need more flashing eyes. Help mine to flash again, be a beacon in the night.
Give my nation a vision to turn off street lights, walk in darkness lusting over
stars, laughing when we bump into each other, talking until constellations change.

We are absolutely zilch. God: help us, and me, to step from the depths of our
poverty so our lust for you, ourselves and strangers tramples on our fear.

Copyright © 2023 by David Vaszko

Friday, March 2

Dear Jim,

March came in like a lion. It rained from midnight to 9 am yesterday and the wind blew like hell. When I woke up there was a puddle on the window sill and water on the floor.

I knew it was going to rain after I got to work, so I put a rug and thick towel on the floor beneath the sill. Then I put some buckets to catch the water below the leaking points. Then I took a heavy classy new bath towel that Sis II gave me and that I hadn’t used yet on the sill to absorb the water.

That was a brilliant move. When I got home from work there was no water in the buckets or on the towels on the floor, but the towel on the window sill was soaked.

It’s been a stressful week, more because of the weather than anything else. It’s been very cold and windy. I itched like crazy, but I was pretty good about not scratching. The rain has made me itch less.

This morning I went downtown to a quarterly staff meeting. It was boring. The organization is so full of positive horseshit it makes me ill. I felt like retiring.

Downtown is as ugly and lifeless as ever. I used to think beautiful architecture made cities great, but I don’t think so any more.

A city is great when there are lots of people walking who are too busy to be afraid, or when people are not afraid and so they come out to walk leisurely. Sacramento could build buildings and design neighborhoods to my aesthetic satisfaction, but people would continue to be afraid and lifeless and Sacramento would continue to be soulless.

The other night I listened to a Bishop Sheen program from World War II. I stumbled across his rebroadcasts a few years ago on Catholic Radio.

Mom and aunty always listened to him. Dad remembers him. Do you? Did you listen to him? At the seminary did they make you guys listen to him?

I was impressed by his sense of authority. He definitely was not positive. The current pope is, but I wish he spoke with authority about what is wrong with the West.

Bishop Sheen wasn’t cool. The current pope is. I liked Benedict because he wasn’t cool and didn’t try to be. He was full of love and respect for others, even those he felt were destroying the West.

What I like about the current pope is he loves the great poet from his homeland – José Hernández. Hernández wrote an epic poem through the eyes of the narrator, Martin Fierro. I read the first book in Spanish as best I could. It was incredible.

Fierro is a cowboy on the pampas – Argentina’s Great Plains. He talks of his struggles there, the land, the Indians. Someday I will buy the book, and the Spanish equivalent of the OED, then take my time to gain a better understanding of it.

Anyway. Sheen was speaking about godless modern man. Sheen said that man wants Eternal Life, Truth, and Eternal Love and seeks these as God; therefore God is man’s ultimate end.

He said that the reason ”Christianity does not speak to modern man is because modern man is only part man, a disconnected man.” I agree. People today want to live forever and expect to live until they are ninety. but they are not interested in a transcendent God to live with when they die.

People don’t want Truth to guide them through life. They want facts to build a career, get the prize, and become rich. People want to be able to fuck into their eighties, but they don’t want to feel or cultivate God’s eternal love or eternal mercy.

Sheen is intense. I’ll try to listen to one broadcast a week, but I don’t know if I will be able to. Nobody talks like that anymore.

Or I should say, Catholics don’t talk like that anymore. A lot of times when I am tired of listening to Radio Católica or the Mexican station from The City, I turn the FM dial all the way to the left than back to the right to tune in to public stations.

Every time, the first station I get is a fundamentalist Christian station from Oakland. I’ve always hated the pompous tone of the guy either reading from The Bible or giving a lecture. I’ve said, ”Oh please!” or ”Fuck you asshole!”, then changed the station.

But last week the narrator sounded authoritative to me, not pompous. I listened. He read from Malachi. Here’s the quote I like: ”The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel.”

Yes. Truth is a burden. Honoring God is a burden. Obeying the Ten Commandments is a burden. Loving God every second of every day is a burden, especially nowadays when God is hated every second of every day.

Listening to that guy read in an authoritative tone fit the authoritative tone of The Bible. If a positive reader read that passage, the listener would not feel the seriousness of God’s message and would not feel the heaviness and fear that Jews felt when they heard the word of the Lord to them, God’s chosen and burdened people. Now I understand what professors meant when they said you have to read the classics from the point of view of the Jews, Greeks, or whatever.

For three days I listened to that station and went to its’ website. On the website is a list of songs sung on the station. One of the titles caught me: When I Survey This Wondrous Cross.

It got me thinking of the cross and the crucifix. Which is better? When the Protestants broke from the Catholics, did they reject the crucifix? Is the crucifix too negative, too bloody?

I think with the crucifix the focus is on Jesus’ suffering. With the cross things are more abstract. We are at a crossroads. We have a burden to carry. There is hope. What exactly does one focus on?

So I got to thinking about the cross as something to see from a distance – sitting in the parking lot looking at the cross on the steeple. Or being on a hill in San Francisco seeing the cross on top of a church far away.

The cross is a beacon, a symbol of God’s suffering and our redemption. A crucifix makes Jesus’ suffering real. What did he go through for us?

Remember Mt. Davidson? I wonder how many people have surveyed that wondrous cross. I know liberals hate it. Maybe Catholics hate it too.

I like it. I’ve never meditated on it. But I’m glad it is there saying fuck you to all the godless juvenile artists. The left never sees the cross as a symbol of God’s infinite mercy, but only Western arrogance.

I don’t think you liked it, but we never discussed it. Maybe you thought I didn’t like it, which I didn’t until twenty years ago. I wonder if an artist or progressive ever buys a home because of it’s view of Mt. Davidson.

It’s funny that in a city that so many people come to with so much hope, the great symbol of hope is far removed from the neighborhoods they move to. They think it’s BS anyway.

That’s it for now Jim.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko


Imagine somebody from a country where God is taken seriously,
Coming here.
Carrying trust in his heart in God’s infinite mercy.
Trying to hang on in America, in Sacto, in Midtown.
Terrified of our infinite nothingness, our pseudo spirituality,
Our hatred of Christianity, our founders, our government, each other,
of everything Western.
For the first time in his life,
He needs God’s infinite mercy for himself.