Henry Mitchell, famed author of the Essential Earthman column for The Washington Post, used to ridicule people who lived under a canopy of trees, likening them to cavemen, and I would always laugh in agreement. Trees were nice but a wooded lot? Not for me. I need the sun and so do most of my favorite plants.
My current property once offered the best of both worlds; plenty of sun in the morning and afternoon, plus a beautiful, ancient Horse Chestnut on the north side of the house, giving us cool shade and a beautiful view from the office window. We’d been talking about getting it looked at by an arborist; years of abuse by the utility company had surely weakened it. Unfortunately, high winds this past weekend were more than it could take. It split nearly in two – a massive portion crashing down within inches of our neighbor’s house. The rest was removed, unceremoniously, by city workers a few days later.
I wonder how long that tree watched over our house. About fifty feet tall, I would guess it had been there a long time. Was it here in 1912, when our house was built? Maybe not that long, but I’ll bet it was here in the ’40’s, when the mistress of the house planted all of the climbing roses that I still tend. It was definitely here in the early ’70’s, when our basement was updated with shag carpet, wood paneling, and a gold and pink sparkled vinyl bar that was purportedly used as an after-hours club for neighborhood folks. It remained unchanged through so much – swaying and creaking in the wind even as drug traffic and gangs muscled their way in, infiltrating the once quiet neighborhood. They didn’t last nearly as long as that tree did, though, and only those that have been here a long time remember when bars on the windows were a necessary evil. The tree lost its leaves and sprouted new ones year after year after year, a slow and steady constant – one of the few that could be depended upon in a place that has changed so much over the years. A gust of wind, perhaps a flash of lightning, and it was gone. After all of these years.
I won’t miss the sticky pods that pummeled my car each fall, but I will miss that tree a lot. I bet the squirrels will, too, and probably my cats who would scale it from time to time in a failed attempt to catch one of said squirrels. I peered into the stump, so rotted that even if I had the notion, counting it’s rings would be impossible, and felt disappointed. Had I really thought that something would be revealed there? That somewhere in its core lay all the secrets that tree had surely kept? Maybe for a second.