Sunday, July 17, 2016

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

For years the tree stood next to the east side of the house. I don't know what span of years the old aspen had seen before we arrived in the fall of 1999. No doubt it had been there as long as the house, perhaps longer, the house having been built in the mid-80s. I would put its age at over 40 years. Not an old tree as trees go. But old enough.

When we first moved in, October it was, it stood outside The Nuke's bedroom and I paid scant attention to it. Then when the summer of 2000 arrived, I became very familiar with this tree. She (he?) had one branch very low to the ground under which I had to duck to get through while mowing the grass. The Missus Herself asked, "Why don't you just cut that branch off?" I indicated that it was no trouble to duck under it, I don't like cutting branches from trees unless it's absolutely necessary. Do harm to as little as possible while making my short way through this world to the next is how I like to think of it.

But I made do. On the hottest days, I could rest in her shade, listening to the hot wind rustling her leaves, it's a sound I came to love over the years.

One day our old pastor came by and took an immediate interest in the tree, Pastor Fred was always a good judge of character. He took a leaf from her and went to his car. Pulling out his book of trees (he had one on birds in his car as well) he looked through, comparing that leaf to the pictures in his book until he found what he was looking for.

"It's a saw-toothed aspen!*" Fred was always gleeful when he found the answer to some small question in life. He was pretty good at the really big questions in life as well. (He's been gone since '08, it still startles The Missus Herself and me to realize just how much we miss that man. His smile, his never ending quest for knowledge in all things, big and small.)

After The Nuke went off to college, and then out into the world, The Missus Herself moved my computer room to The Nuke's old bedroom. I could sit at the computer and listen to that old tree's leaves rustling. They were always whispering some secret which I thought, if I but listened carefully and cleared my mind of human things, I might be able to understand. Though I tried, I never discerned her message in those long years.

In the dark of winter's chill, her branches would rattle and sway in the hard wind that came in off Narragansett Bay. But she stood strong, seeming to smile when the ice and cold would relent and the western sun would peek out from under the lowering clouds, she seemed to be saying, "I'm still here..."

As the years went by she started to lose her luster. Last year the southern side of the tree never sprouted leaves. That side never recovered. The Missus Herself started saying that she would have to come down, before she fell.

It was one of those things that was on the "to do" list for this summer. As she straddled the property line I realized that I needed to talk with the neighbors. It's not something I could decide to do unilaterally. I always thought of that tree as shared. Not mine, not anybody's property but she lived on two properties, it had to be a joint decision.

So I knew this summer would be her last. I would often just sit quietly of an evening and listen to her whispering in the wind. Wondering how it would be, how I would feel once she was gone. I was loathe to have that time arrive.

But arrive it did, through no decision of man, but Nature decided as she often will. A large, powerful storm moved through on Friday. I was at work, The Missus Herself out in California, so no one saw it happen. But the neighbor and I could see what had possibly transpired.

So I came home Friday to this -

From the looks of it a powerful micro-burst had hit her, knocking her over without even a by-your-leave. From there the wind had hit the side of the neighbor's house and then moved to the north, destroying his small corn crop and his potato plants.

The damage, though pricey, was minor. All of it to the neighbor's house, the tree had pulled the power and phone lines down, though they were still connected.

Saturday morning they came for her. Sleep was impossible as the sound of chain saws and a wood chipper echoed through the neighborhood. Oddly enough, it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. It was her time. I knew it was coming but in a way I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision. God took care of it for me, taking her home to be with Him.

What? You don't think there are trees in Heaven? Of course there are.

Still and all I shall miss that lovely tree with the whispering, rustling leaves. Filling the silence of an evening with their ancient tales of who knows what. Only another tree would understand.

She's gone...

But never forgotten.

Again I ask...

Who weeps for a tree?

I do...

Populus grandidentata, commonly called large-tooth, big-tooth, American aspen, white poplar, or several other names (saw-tooth being another), is a deciduous tree native to eastern North America. And, once upon a time, my yard.


  1. "When's the best time to plant a tree?"

    "Twenty years ago"

    "Second best is today."

    Better get started, Sarge.

    1. The Missus Herself has already decreed that no more trees will be planted near the house.

      While we have lots of trees, that one was special. There is no replacing it. Both by sentiment and by decree. So to speak.

      (I get that though, with the winds we get around here having a tree close to the house can be a bit dicey. Not to mention pricey.)

  2. After my Dad had stroke, I wound up moving home, as it was easier on Mom, with the 24 hour care. There were mulberry trees in the front yard, and mulberries are sexed. The female ones were so prolific in berries, that the entire neighborhood was coated with blue bird byproduct in the spring, so I removed them. There was a male mulberry tree along the driveway, which I was always grateful to, as one summer day, a hailstorm came through, and dented every car on Martin street, except my brand new Chevy 4X4 pickup, which was parked under the male mulberry, who sacrificed his leaves for my truck. He grew right outside MY computer room, and I enjoyed watching him through the year.

    There was an enormously fat tailless squirrel in the neighborhood, and the first time I saw it, it was up in the mulberry. I looked out the window, and was astonished to see was seemed to be a woodchuck up in the tree. I miss MY tree.

    1. Yeah, I get that.

      (Wasn't he mad that you'd cut down all of his girlfriends? Maybe he took it out on the squirrel.)

  3. This seems appropriate.

    Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918


    I THINK that I shall never see
    A poem lovely as a tree.

    A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

    A tree that looks at God all day
    And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

    A tree that may in summer wear
    A nest of robins in her hair;

    Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
    Who intimately lives with rain.

    Poems are made by fools like me,
    But only God can make a tree.

    1. Very appropriate.

      Thanks John, I needed that.

    2. Interesting man Kilmer, and a New Jersey boy.
      At the time of his deployment to Europe during World War I, Kilmer was considered the leading American Roman Catholic poet and lecturer of his generation, whom critics often compared to British contemporaries G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) and Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953).[2]:p.27[3][4] He enlisted in the New York National Guard and was deployed to France with the 69th Infantry Regiment (the famous "Fighting 69th") in 1917. He was killed by a sniper's bullet at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 at the age of 31. He was married to Aline Murray, also an accomplished poet and author, with whom he had five children.

      Sorry about your tree.

    3. Kilmer was an interesting man.

      Thanks Joe.

  4. It's amazing how attached we can become to something without realizing it.
    The old oak in my front yard is a fine example.
    Most of the other houses have trees in the front.
    But my tree is the only one nature has planted.

    1. Indeed. I was very attached to that old tree.

  5. Wonderful montage of pictures. One benefit of living up North is the stark, and often abrupt, change from one season to the next. In some cases it is like living in a physically different world. Trees do sing their songs -one of the many reasons I love being in the deep woods, it is like being in a musical.

    You will miss your old friend, but she has given you many memories to cherish.

    Noticed that you kept the stump up high enough so that you would not accidently run a mower over it. They pose a tripping hazard to me now so I have them ground down when I do have a tree removed.

    Nice Sunday post Sarge.

  6. A house we owned in Federal Way WA had a wonderful tree in the front yard my two youngest and their friends loved playing in. Leaves the size of a serving platter which made fall raking a chore. We sold the house and the new owners promptly cut down the tree. I still feel a twinge of guilt when I think of it.

  7. I had to have two old, giant sugar maples taken down this past spring. They stood right next to the house. Their interiors were gone . . . eaten away by some sort of tree disease. They were both over 60 feet tall, both sported a diameter of around 3 feet. Both posed a threat to the house on wild windy days. As they were taken down, in chunks and in pieces, my wife shed tears. Those two old friends had shaded her world long before I came into it. She mourned their passing. I miss them too. They had character . . . and character defines the worth of everything in this world. Yes, I do believe that there is, somewhere, a "Tree Heaven" too.

  8. Aspens are the James Dean of treedom, they live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse.

    Nature is wonderful in so many ways, including the way in which she allows us to mourn.

    Amusingly, here in Kimball it became very poplar (sorry, couldn't he'p m'sef) to plant Colorado Blue Spruce back in the 1950's. The trees thrived (throve?) because they were planted in lawns and got a LOT of irrigation. But... All that irrigation mean't that they grew with shallow root systems, not needing to reach deep for sustenance. And shallow root systems make not the best tree anchors. So a lot of Kimballites have had their homes smushed by 70-80-90-foot trees. And a lot more will have their homes smushed, because they love their trees.

    Ah, Nature!

    1. Shallow root systems are a pain. Sometimes literally!

  9. It was her time. How can you get trees in heaven if they are all here? Healthy or not?

    1. It was her time. Maybe wherever there are trees there is a little bit of Heaven?

  10. My sympathies for your loss.

    Paul L. Quandt

  11. I have a Native American friend who told me many years ago that trees have a spirit and they like it when you talk to
    them and keep them company. When my youngest son was old enough to walk and play in the yard Mike would take him out
    and have him hug the trees in our yard. So Matt grew up with a special appreciation for trees.

    Since Matt left home for the wide world, the power company came through and cut down our ash trees along the road and dutch elm disease took out the elms in our back yard. Three summers ago the drought killed the ancient old maple in our front yard. I don't know how old the Maple was but the main trunk is about 4 feet thick. We've had picnic's and family gatherings under this old tree, husked corn, snapped green beans and just enjoyed many an evening sitting under the maple watching the sun go down and listening to the birds settling in for the night. I'm glad Matt never had to see his old
    friends go away.

    I never thought about it but I agree, there are definitely trees in Heaven!!

    1. I have always felt that trees have a spirit. Growing up in Vermont, I knew a lot of trees.

  12. I've always lived around lots of trees. My childhood home was on a double lot with six giant Sugar Maples, three in the front and three in the back. There was a good-sized shag-bark hickory in the left front part of the lot and a giant Persimmon hard by our driveway on the back left of the lot. Another smaller sycamore was in located in the right front corner of the lot. We also had a giant black walnut in the right rear and also a fairly large crab-apple tree along the rear of the lot-line as well. When two of the Sugar Maples died Dad replaced them with Tulip trees which grew extremely rapidly (I hadn't known that about tulips) and both grew to gigantic size within a few years (Dad had a green thumb. lol, the second one he planted with a sprout from the first and it took right off)

    Our first home in New Orleans in Mid-City had a pool in the back with two giant palms in one corner with one bent out over the pool and then up skyward in an "s" configuration. Our front yard had but a single Japanese Maple as we had a small front yard. In Louisville our first home in "Old Louisville" was a pre-Civil War Italianate three-story 6000 sq ft monster which had a couple of live oaks in the front, two Magnolia trees along the right side of the house and several oaks in the back along the rear of the lot-line and others close by the left rear of the house and along the left side of the house. At our home in the 'burbs we had a huge beautiful Japanese Maple in the left front and one that overhung our rear patio just brushing our rear windows. (We had a walk-out ranch built into a small hill-side so our living room and master bedroom overlooked the rear from a second-story perspective. The view was great as we had a 400' deep lot in a park-like setting as no-one in the subdivision had erected fencing. We had several magnolias and pines along one lot-line and then a tangle of various trees at the rear of the property where it sloped down to the creek. Veeerrry rustic--was like one giant park. And speaking of parks, our home in Louisville previous to that after our Old Louisville home was on the perimeter road of Cherokee Park (facing Valetta road) sited on yet another 400'deep lot which sloped uphill with the house setting about 2/3 of the way up. We had one giant 60' pine sitting directly in front of our front door with the walk-way splitting and circling the tree on both sides. Had beaucoup pines, oaks and maples both in the front and on the upper hill-side in back as we were in basically an extension of the park topography-wise. Being on a steep slope the yard/lot was a bear to maintain, however..

    Only places we didn't/don't have lots of trees is our apt in Marina del Rey and our current place in N.O where only tree was a giant Cotton-wood tree in our right rear which had rotted out and we fortunately caught it in time and took it down pre-Katrina or God only knows..

    1. PS: A few years after we left Louisville a tornado came thru Cherokee Park and took out almost every tree on our old Valetta place to inclu the Giant Pine that was in front of our front door--totally denuded the place, sigh..

    2. You know your trees Virgil. It's also pretty obvious that you cared about them too!

    3. Tornadoes and hurricanes. Not good for trees and other living things.

      The place we lived in Long Beach, MS was completely destroyed by Katrina. Can't even find a trace of it on Google Earth.

      Sad, it was a nice place, right on the beach road, lots of old trees around.

      Not anymore...


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)