“Will I see you in the morning?” Mom asked me as I waved her a good-night. She never sees me in the morning: I leave for work before she wakes. Except for the day Stanley Steamer came to blow out and suck out all the dust and debris from the heating and air conditioning ducts. Mom arose early for when the Stanley guys came, and they came just as I was leaving. I stayed long enough to show them the furnaces and to interrogate them about their procedures for how they would prevent clouds of dust from erupting from the registers to coat the furniture and soil the newly-cleaned carpets. Their explanation satisfied me. Showing them the upstairs furnace, Dad staggered from his room and confronted them with an intimidating glare and growling, “How are you going to keep clouds of dust from erupting from all the registers and coating the furniture and soiling the carpets you cleaned just yesterday?” I got to hear the shpiel twice. Dad continued to be suspicious, but I told him I was satisfied. Mom saw me that morning. And she sees me every Friday morning because the Mayor allows me to work remotely from home on Fridays, so I can commute the two-hour round-trip to Tooele only four days a week. Today she interrupted my work with a knock at the door, handing me three business cards for tree trimmers, and informing me the giant blue spruce had blown over in the night, unable after 25 years to withstand the 65 mile-per-hour gusts tearing through the valley. Playing lumberjack was not what I wanted for today. I told her I would not call them and we would not be spending $1,000 to have the tree cut up, and that I would do it myself. Changed into my work clothes, I sized up the situation, grabbed Dad’s electric chain saw, and set to work cutting limbs off the tree. That tree was special, a big blue spruce anchoring a line of tall junipers, buffering the back yard against the noisy traffic passing day and night on the collector street. Where it had stood now gaped an unprotected gap, every driver able to gaze into our back yard, the car noise augmented. There was nothing to be done but to cut up the tree. I love trees. I even hug trees, the special ones, like the redwoods in California and the sequoias in Yosemite and the cypresses in Kentucky and the oaks and tulip trees in North Carolina and the mimosas and maples in New Jersey. I patted our fallen spruce and whispered, Good-bye, old friend, I will miss you. Starting at the base, I methodically cut each limb from the trunk, stacking them in huge piles, and with each cut I felt a twinge of sadness for the loss. I heard a knocking on the kitchen window and waved to Mom who waved to me. Half of the shallow roots had torn out when the tree fell, while the other half kept the tree suspended at a perfect height and angle for me to dissect it. With the limbs all removed, I bit the saw into the trunk and piled the logs on the park strip as free firewood. I miss my wood burning stove that stayed with the house I had to leave seven years ago. I miss the sounds of crackling wood and expanding iron, the orange glow through the glass, and the heat wafting outward with the perfumes of melting crystals of frankincense and myrrh. Unbeknownst to me, Mom was so worried about my doing the job alone that she called a neighbor lady who called her husband and told him to come help me. With his jeep and winch, he pulled the stump out of the ground, then shoveled soil back into the hole. Dad, after showing no interest in his power wheelchair for six months, suddenly insisted on riding it out the front door and down the ramps and along the sidewalk to see his friend Burke and the result of our work on the tree. The wind blew 50-degree air over the deep snow, melting it measurably before our eyes as we worked. My body aches, but the job is done, and I have said good-bye to an old friend. Will we plant new trees to fill the gap, new friends to replace the old? We must.
Tag Archives: Trees
Courage at Twilight: Off Into the World Again
I sat in my car in the driveway facing west toward the Oquirrh mountains, toward Tooele, toward where I have poured out my life’s energies to protect the little town. Dear God, I thought somewhat desperately, I am off into the world again to do my little part and to make my little contribution, and wondered if I could do this another day and another month and another year and feeling so tired. A tiny hummingbird swooped down deliberately and recklessly and precisely from over the tree canopy to hover at tall red penstemons, darting its beak into the flowers where I knew the tiny pink tongue was licking at nectar. If that little bird in this big big world can swoop down from the sky its tiny glorious fragility, maybe I can go forth another day after all. And I put the car in gear and rolled out of the driveway. Mom and Dad sat in their camp chairs in the driveway looking west to the sinking sun as I backed into my spot in the driveway after work. The day was a Wednesday, my weekly twelve-hour day. I sat with them and explained how I was investigating a discrimination allegation and preparing a new zoning ordinance and drafting a tricky contract, and how I would like their permission to call the home health company and express my disappointment in their brusque behavior, their dearth of skills training, their disappearance after two meager visits—but Mom and Dad did not want the fight. I have decided that I am not willing to fight battles they themselves do not want to fight and do not want me to fight—I opt to respect their opinions and their emotional energy—and I do not want to incur Dad’s displeasure, again. Besides, he had derived some benefit from the home health debacle: we purchased furniture risers that lifted the sofa three inches; we raised his recliners three inches with double two-by-fours; we now owned a sock aid (that he tried successfully with his biggest loosest pair of tall thick black socks), a long-handled shoe horn, a dressing stick for pulling on pants and shirts and pushing off socks and shoes, a new cane with a wide gripping foot, and grabbers for picking fallen objects up from the “no man’s land” of the floor. Now Dad just needs to practice—practice will bring expertise, which will bring greater independence. Mom had the tree service come, and I now looked toward the five decorative fruitless pear trees, in the spring gloriously green and full, now looking like corpses missing limbs. The trees would grow back with relish and beauty next spring, the man assured Mom and Mom now assured me. When I prune trees, I follow the rule of thirds: never prune more than one third of a tree at one time so as not to shock the tree. These trees now were missing half their limb length and 80 percent of their leaves, with the 100-degree heat wave still blasting in August. I hope they live. Dinner would be late again tonight. I feel so tired of cooking, and I only reluctantly voice the question, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” My vim for fancy French meals has vanished, though I bring them out once every month or two. The French menu has regressed to fish sticks and hash brown patties. Or grilled bratwurst. Or grocery store pot pies. Or chicken tenders. They all are tasty, and we enjoy them, but my waistline is growing for the lack of discipline and planning. At least I always add a green vegetable or two, and we are in season for corn on the cob. Winding down dinner at the kitchen table, I spy the male hummingbird on the feeder, his black head and black-bead eyes merging into his black needle beak, and I remembered that I can do this.
Chapter 43: Trees
–Boogers are sticky!–
Dead and dying poplars stand along the ditch bank on Rabbit Lane, like sentries propped up against battles long ago lost and won. Many branches, devoid of leaves, poke absently out and up like ten thousand fingers on stubby arms. On the oldest, the only leaves huddle close to the trunk, near the base. Finches and sparrows hop happily amidst the morass for some purpose unknown to me, or for no purpose. Their nests lie hidden somewhere in dense bushes; no seeds or insects can be found in the spiky tree stubble. But safety from cats and falcons the branches certainly provide. Continue reading
Old Cottonwood (Poem)
A century ago, Erda’s church-going farmers planted a row of Cottonwood twigs behind the clay-block church building. A decade ago, a bald eagle stared down at me from one of these Cottonwood tree’s 50-foot height. Today, the Cottonwoods are gone, felled by my saw, replaced by the neighbor’s new barn. I can still see the majestic trees in family photos and in my memory as I walk home from Rabbit Lane, past Old Cottonwood, a 17-foot circumference behemoth. This poem is for that and the other great pioneer trees that sit split on our porches and burn in our stoves. (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 5: Old Cottonwood post, for more on Cottonwood trees.)
The old cottonwood is dead,
dead for many years.
Leaves have flown to join with new soil.
Sun-bleached bark has sloughed and fallen.
But the aspect of its reaching is preserved.
The trunk holds steady, the unseen roots entrenched.
A thousand branches reach sharply upwards,
spiny fingers feeling upwards,
still swaying, though stiffly.
Red-tailed Hawk still reconnoiters from a favorite high branch.
Great-horned Owl still softly calls its mate.
And Kestrel now rests in its cavities.
Chapter 5: Old Cottonwood
–Engage your mind or others will engage it for you.–
Cottonwood trees are the legacy of the departed farmer. Once mere twigs, they grew quickly to become giants of the valley landscape. The oldest Cottonwoods are slowly dying. Each Spring the emerging leaves draw in closer to the trunks, leaving more of the outstretched branches as bare as skeletons. More and more bark sloughs off, leaving the trunks to bleach in the Summer sun. Dead Cottonwood trees resemble the ruins of medieval cathedrals. The bare branches seem sculpted and shaped, like the flying buttresses that once supported a stone ceiling but that now lift up the ceiling of the sky. Continue reading