Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer strode from stump to stump. He checked his map, shook his head and then retraced his steps as he made a personal inspection of the great Bethesda tree blunder.
Trailed by an entourage of state highway officials, police, reporters and photographers, Schaefer yesterday took the blame for a series of mishaps that claimed seven healthy trees, left a sick tree standing and exasperated a street of civic-minded residents.
"We made a mistake. We were wrong . . . . Terrible, terrible," Schaefer muttered as he surveyed the front yard of Arun Vohra's home.
It was a case of mistaken identity. State highway crews, summoned to Vohra's Bradley Boulevard home to cut down an ailing tree, ended up destroying seven trees, including a redwood that stood 100 feet tall.
"I came home and there was my tree lying in pieces," Vohra said. "My wife was so upset she went to bed without eating dinner. My 7-year-old daughter was in tears for two hours and my 11-year-old son was absolutely furious."
"It's sad. It was a beautiful tree, a great tree," Schaefer said as he did a mea culpa on behalf of his adminstration and promised to do whatever he could -- planting replacement trees, digging up stumps -- to make it right.
"Thanks for not giving us a real hard time," he told Vohra as the two posed for pictures.
According to Vohra, the incident has its beginnings in his decision last summer to join the state volunteer program to beautify highways. He picked up litter and trash on a winding stretch of road near his house. In the fall, he summoned state highway administration crews to his home because he thought insects were killing a tall pine in the state right-of-way in his yard.
He feared the tree might topple into the road. He said state crews agreed and said they would take care of the problem. A crew came out and cut down six trees, including dogwoods and a lilac bush, Vohra said. All were healthy.
Vohra said he called state officials to complain. "They admitted it was a mistake . . . an employee who didn't know what he was doing," Vohra said.
Vohra tried again. This time, he said, he pointed out the ailing tree to a state highway foreman, who said the tree was so large they would have to get an outside contractor to take it down. But the contractor, following state orders, cut down the redwood instead of the pine.
"We're not afraid to admit when we make a mistake. We made a mistake; we didn't do it intentionally," said Schaefer, explaining that part of the problem was poor communication and part was the fact that the redwood loses its leaves and turns brown, making it appear to be dead.
Vohra, noting that not even the governor has the power to replace the lost redwood, said he was touched and satisfied by the governor's visit.
Schaefer vowed to try to plant 1 million trees during his next four years in office, and a spokesman said that the governor will lend his support to reforestation legislation. Similar legislation has been squashed in the past by the General Assembly.
"I am tree-conscious," Schaefer said. And Vohra handed over a book, "Master Tree Finder."
As for the pine, state officials said they now think it is healthy.