My Tree by Cathy Dellinger

July 7, 2001, NEK, Vermont

I sat under the maple this morning sorting through papers that should have been dealt with yesterday. The sunlight filtered down through the branches that have just finally leafed out after scattering what I thought would be a never-ending shower of seed onto the lawn and through the flower beds. Miniature maple forests have emerged, a world I happily explore while weeding. Some are reluctantly pulled, others remain to fend for themselves. I suspect at some point a majestic maple will develop amid the flox and hollyhocks. For some reason, although I am told I should, I can't yet pull them all...maybe it's because I feel like an executioner or maybe it's because my imagination runs wild when I see these 2" forests minding their own business beneath their towering neighbors.

I thought about the maple that once flanked the southwest corner of this house. I first came upon it during the dead of winter standing, naked and tall, in line with its neighbors that edge the road that cuts through this little village. The snow banks were piled up to the sills of the windows with no way to get to the front door. I had never seen so much snow nor had I any idea what existed beneath it. All I knew it was love at first sight, before I had even made my way onto the breezeway and through the kitchen door. Yes, there are two here ...but the front door is NEVER used.

I came back to the house, for good, that July. The maple had leafed out and looked pretty impressive. The summer came and went. I spent most of my time cutting back overgrown flower beds, berry bushes and weeding around the tree. When fall arrived its leaves turned golden and danced in the afternoon sun. I was falling in love with this tree, slowly familiarizing myself with its limbs and leaves, the texture of its trunk and the way it moved. I'd watch it through the bedroom window when my eyes would slowly open to the day. Listen to it brush against the house at night during a summer storm. During the winter, when the northwest winds would slam into the side of the house, I would hear it tapping, wondering if it was seeking shelter from the cold.

The following spring I noticed lilies of the valley popping up around its trunk. Pansies were added and the grass that was encroaching was dug back allowing some breathing room for the roots which in my mind reached to the center of the earth. Pansies have always held a special place in my heart. As a baby, I've been told since I can't remember THAT far back, my mother would plant pansies with me sitting beside her. It seems I had a thing for them back them, plucking their smiling faces and popping them into my mouth when her back was turned. Who woulda thunk as an infant I already had knowledge of edible flowers??? In any event, while tending to MY tree, I also noticed a strange mushroom growing out its side. No, I didn't sample it and disappear on some magical mystery tour, but I did ask a friend about this peculiar growth...whose advice was not too encouraging. Mushrooms seem to like decaying trees, so I was told this could be an ominous sign.

The seasons came and went. The fallout from my maple that peppered the lawn after the snow had melted away (much to my amazement and delight) seemed to increase and that damn mushroom never failed to appear by early June. Then the woodpeckers began to frequent the upper trunk, too frequently, and with much tenacity. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on here, but I guess I was in denial. So I continued to plant more annuals around the base of this most beautiful tree that seemed to be slimming down a bit, but continued to blaze in the fall and tap at the window during the winter storms. I figured my TLC would keep it going and there really wasn't anything to worry about.

Then, one glaringly beautiful spring morning my neighbor came walking up to me as I was clearing out weeds, pulling back grass, and planting more pansies. Her house stands about 75' from MY tree (which is actually "our" tree) and is edged by their expanse of lawn which is maintained every other day by her anal-retentive husband (I know, not nice, but true).

"Lotta stuff came off that tree this winter" she said.

I didn't look up, just nodded my head, hoping she'd go away.

She went on, "Ya know, we watched that tree this winter. That long limb up there looks wicked bad and it's hanging right over your roof."

I nodded and kept working. I knew exactly where that limb sat, where it bent, where it connected. She didn't seem to catch on, that her words were going in one ear and out the other at record speed. I wasn't processing her language. But that didn't stop her.

"That other one, over there, comes down in the road someone's gonna get hurt and, ya know, could cost big bucks if someone got hurt."

I finally stopped, got up from the cool grass, dusted of my knees and looked her in the eye. I could feel the heat rising in my body and it wasn't from the sun. Calmly I asked her what she was getting at. She went on about some tree and a car and, no, no one got hurt but someone might have, and we might not be that lucky and she's got a cousin who has a friend whose uncle has one of those tall things and they could come on over and take this sucker down in no time, least that's what her husband told her.

"Cool" I said. "I'll get back to you." I took off for the stream.

For weeks an endless discussion ensued over "putting down" MY tree. We could cable it...we could trim it...feed it...anything, but no way did I want that baby cut and blocked or chipped. I was losing ground fast especially after the cousin of the cousin of the friend down the road whose brother was an arborist came by and pretty much handed down a death sentence.

A week later I woke to the sound of the flat bed driver unhooking chains, moving the cherry picker onto the road. Moving faster than the speed of light I threw on whatever I could find, knowing the day had come and I was not gonna witness the execution. I walked over to the tree, touched its massive trunk, said my goodbye and got into the car taking off for the barn.

With tears in my eyes, I slowly drove past MY tree for the last time. I never in my life thought I would shed tears for a tree....but I did.....

The following spring, the lilies of the valley appeared along with the pansies that had seeded themselves in the summer before.

The mushroom appeared too. There was talk of removing the stump, (for free!!!), which sent shivers through me. Nothing would be left, not a fragment of what once was. My farmer friend stood his ground. His pipes from the spring ran way too close to what was left of MY tree and he wasn't gonna have to deal with replacing them.

"Have enough to do without that." he said, insistent that the stump was staying. I held the ground right next to him, smiling. My neighbor just happens to be his younger sister, so he had some clout.

The top of what remains of the old maple would be a perfect place to perch for the 4th of July. The surface of the MY tree is smooth and flat and warm...a most delightful place to watch the parade.


Copyright 2001 Cathy Dellinger

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