Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Taking Down a Tree

The same day our neighbors had a tree taken down, I planted one. Despite the seeming congruence of these events, I knew nothing of their plans to cut down their pin oak, and they knew nothing of mine to plant a blue spruce. Nonetheless, while the arborist ascended the eighty-foot oak and began to cut away its branches, in a nearby yard I dug my tree’s hole.

“Taking out a tree is a very personal decision,” my husband remarked, watching the work from our yard. Meaning: the neighbors had some very good reasons to take down the tree—including the fact that some of its branches had been broken in Storm Alfred back in the fall and its trunk and roots were buckling one side of the driveway—but I knew that what he meant was that if it were our tree, we would try to find a way to save it. A mature oak is not something to be taken lightly.

As the careful dismantling continued, others came out of their houses to watch, and it became a neighborhood event on a Saturday afternoon, something to witness. My children spread a blanket on our lawn, under the maple, and picnicked within view of the action. We watched how carefully the arborist studied the tree, as if it were an equation that needed to be balanced, calculating where to cut, how the branches would fall so they would clear the roof, the house, the cars. The branches swung away, one after another, safely to the man on the ground, who fed them into a chipper and reduced them to mulch. Soon, only the trunk remained, picked clean of limbs, pointing at the sky.

We were back inside, the children resting in their rooms, when a boom reverberated with such force that I looked out the window to see if something had struck the house. But no: it was simply the trunk being felled, striking the earth. It likely weighed around ten thousand pounds, the arborist told my husband. Such are the stems of the earth’s mightiest plants. The trunk was chainsawed into massive chunks and left strewn on the neighbors’ lawn.

When the chipper was full, my husband asked the men to dump its contents in our driveway, and for days we spread the mulch around the garden, under the children’s new playhouse, in the flower beds, keeping parts of the felled tree in the neighborhood, making use of it. And several days later, when I was home with just my son, a truck with a big claw came and gently lifted the sawed sections of trunk off the lawn, one at a time, placing them into the truck's bed as gently as a farmer would place eggs in a basket. My son watched all of this from a distance, asking for the camera to take pictures, to document the event.

And then there was still the denuded yard to grow accustomed to, the stump to study. My son examined the remains of this being, practicing his counting on its exposed growth rings. And so over days, this tree became a lesson: we learned how in its mass and bulk it was something to be reckoned with. We saw how serious and arduous the dismantling of a tree is; it is an event, something deserving of our attention.

And as all of this was going on, this happened, too: I positioned the blue spruce’s root ball in the hole and filled in the earth around it, starting a new tree in the neighborhood. But that’s another story, for another time.

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