Signs on Trees

drinking water 1

Sign no. 1

I walk or drive past this tree two or three or four times most days. The sign appeared about a week ago. It bugs me.

How does it bug me? Let me count the ways . . .

Forget about counting. I just want to blog about it.

In the sign’s defense, or in defense of whoever put it there, I must admit that it is not located in one of those pristine places where I can harbor the illusion that I’m almost the only one who ever goes there. When I first noticed the sign, I was standing on asphalt. Through the trees dead ahead I could see a playing field and the high metal fences of the tennis and basketball courts. Just beyond them is the West Tisbury School. I could almost see that. Much closer and off to the left is a nursery school. The fence around its outdoor play area is weathered wood, but the playground equipment is so brightly colored it has to be plastic.

I even like the blue of the sign. I’d wear that blue. I’d drive it. Maybe I’d paint a door that color.

But the sign bugs me. What’s it doing there?

Did this just become a “drinking water supply area”? I doubt it. Nothing’s been built at this end of the road since I moved to the other end of it seven years ago. If a well-digger’s been around, it must have been both silent and invisible; otherwise I would have noticed.

More to the point, has anyone been doing anything to compromise the drinking water supply? I haven’t noticed that either. Even more to the point, what actions or inactions might compromise the drinking water supply? In other words, the sign tells me to protect the drinking water supply, but it doesn’t tell me what I can do.

The sign doesn’t tell me who put it there either. It’s not like the plain paper signs that used to grace the bulk bins at the grocery store, which said something like “No hands inside the bins per order of the board of health.” In a single glance you could pretty much guess that the signs weren’t the store’s idea. Now most of the bulk bins work by gravity: you put your produce bag under the spout and let the grain or whatever flow into it. Your hands never touch the food. The food supply is, presumably, protected.

The other day some of us were talking about the new “graphic” warning signs on cigarette packs and promotional materials. The old warnings weren’t doing the trick, so it seems, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that warnings include pictures as well as words. Will the new warnings be any more effective? It’s doubtful. The FDA’s FAQs are quite clear about the hazards of smoking and the health costs thereof, but when it comes to the scientific rationale for the new warnings, they fudge all over the place. Note how often words like “indicate” and “estimate” and “increase the likelihood” appear.

drinking water 2

Sign no. 2

At least the “Drinking Water Supply Area” signs don’t include graphic images of the effects of drinking unprotected water. For that I am grateful.

But still — the signs bug me. The reason the signs bug me is that either they’re calling attention to a problem that doesn’t exist or they’re calling attention to a problem that does exist without giving us a clue what to do about it. My strong hunch is that the real purpose of the signs, as with so many other signs of this ilk, is to make the sign posters feel virtuous, as if they’re doing something. In this case, protecting the environment.

Which they aren’t. And that bugs me.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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8 Responses to Signs on Trees

  1. It’s very possible the water needs to be protected from theft. Maybe we should set up 24-hour video surveillance, in case unauthorized people show up in the middle of the night with drinking straws.


  2. tompostpile says:

    If that’s the ICS yard, ask them first. They may have just “thought it was a good idea at the time”.

    One of my biggest pet peeves about signs on trees is that as trees grow and their trunks increase in girth, they push on the backs of any signs attached to them, which actually pulls the fasteners through the sign, Eventually the sign drops off the tree. The fasteners, however, remain, leaving a real hazard to anyone who may cut that tree up in the future. There’s nothing more aggravating that running into metal with your chain saw blade, your maul or wood splitter, or even worse, a sawmill blade.


  3. Shirley says:

    Ask your selectmen about these signs – how are we supposed to protect what water???


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