A Tree Fell

The story of a maple and the boy who loved it

One night I heard a noise, like the dog had knocked over the dresser in the other room. I knew it wasn’t that. I walked out back, and there it was, resting on the roof: a limb from the silver maple that stands next to the house.

The roof was fine, and the limb wasn’t the largest one on the tree, but that night I knew I had a big, grown-up decision to make. I’d called a tree guy out to the house a few months before then. He noticed the maple was less than a dozen feet from a bedroom the previous owner added on to the back of the house in the 1990s. It’s good now, the tree guy told me then, but in a year or two you’ll have to get rid of it. You don’t want it cracking your foundation, he said, and silver maples have invasive roots.

The kid in me loved the tree. My neighborhood, Beverly Woods, is covered in big, wide leafy maples and magnolias, most of them planted in the early 1960s around the same time that John Crosland built most of the homes here. The silver maple next to the house was maybe 70 feet tall, and it threw out shade over the entire deck. It was possible to open the back door and walk around the entire deck and always be protected from the rain and the rays. It was wonderful. I grew up in a neighborhood in Ohio where trees were the same way. I hung from their heavy limbs. I nailed together more than one OSHA-unapproved treehouse. I never imagined why, or how, anybody would ever make one go away.

But I had to make a decision, and when it came to the money, the decision was easy. The price to remove the limb and trim up the rest of the branches was high. But the price to take the whole tree down was, as tree removals go, low.

I made my choice and called my wife. She knows when I get choked up. “You’re upset,” she’ll say, and I’ll say no, and she’ll say again, “You’re upset,” and I’ll say no, and we’ll repeat this little cycle until one of us cracks.

I always crack.

I kept trying to justify my decision to her, but mostly to me. It’s a tree. One damn tree. It’s not some hand-drawn sentient being from a Shel Silverstein poem. It’s a large plant that’s growing too close to the house. We were going to take it out eventually.

I get way too attached to objects. I give them extra meaning. I got emotional the first time my wife told me to take a bunch of old t-shirts to Goodwill. Not those shirts, I said, lump in my throat, pointing to a pile of ratty, smelly cotton. The kid in me said the shirts were important. A link to my past. Get over it, the adult in me said. So I did.

I took a deep breath and called the guy back. “Take it all down,” I told him. His guys sawed a few limbs down on a Thursday, but the weather got too bad, and they had to stop.

I looked up at the tree. It looked healthy and strong. No, the kid in me screamed. You’ve made the wrong decision. There’s time to stop this. You can save this tree.

But the grown-up didn’t stop it. The next Tuesday, the guys came back and cut the rest of the maple down, limb by limb, slice by slice, until the whole thing was gone, a 50-year life turned into mulch in the back of a trailer. The shade, the shade I’d taken for granted, was gone, and the harsh sunlight streamed directly into the backyard in places that probably hadn’t seen it in decades.

“Wow,” I said to the tree guy. “I’m going to have to get used to all of that sunlight.”

He looked at me and shrugged. “Well,” he said, “I can’t put it back.”

I stared at the stump. I counted the rings like a kid, a big, stupid kid with enough money to make him feel like a grown-up. The adult in me kept trying to explain it to the kid, saying it was OK and that the tree provided a lot of shade as long as it could and there are plenty of other trees. And then grown-up me went off to try and forget about it while the kid’s eyes started to well up. The silver maple was gone, the sky was where the leaves used to be, and the stump stuck up a little. Sometimes the hardest things to get rid of are the roots.

Categories: Opinion, The Buzz, Way Out