Apparently I must.
Yesterday came The Cutting of the Trees, an epic set into motion decades ago. We moved into Victoria Turtleshell in 1973. The old three-story house had stately elms along the street, homes to birds and squirrels. This was shortly before Dutch Elm Disease cut through Denver like a scythe. We lost them all.
Sad but determined, we planted new trees: one each silver maple and Norway maple, a honey locust in front, a dwarf cherry in the west yard, and along the alley what we thought was a bing cherry tree. Have I mentioned I was in my earth-mother stage, planning to can cherries, bake cherry pies, cherry Danish, cook cherry dumplings, crochet cherry antimacassars…well, you get the idea.
We bought the biggest trees we could afford and chipped in several more for the old lady next door. Our block was forested once more, offering homes for the birds and squirrels. After a few years the honey locust died (recalled fondly for the shelter it provided during a wild afternoon when a mother robin spread her wings over her eggs as she rode out the storm.) We replaced it with a Russian Olive named Zoya.
Over the years we trimmed branches here and there and the trees grew bigger. My vegetable garden gave way to shade-loving plants, and until recently (global warming!) we didn’t need any air conditioning downstairs because of that shade. But the idiosyncratic growth of the so-called bing cherry tree began to concern us. (Though it bloomed each year, it never bore fruit.) By then we were calling it the Octopus Tree, though it had far more than eight branches spreading up to the roof and looming over the alley. I often listened to birds gossiping outside my study window, and when I peeked between the slats of the blinds, I knew I worked in a tree house.
We trimmed some of the dead wood under the tree canopy several weeks ago, smug at how we’d been able to handle the problem. While we were out to breakfast that Sunday, wind gusted through the neighborhood and half the tree fell beside the house. No damage to anything else, no one hurt. We’d unbalanced it enough to allow the big diseased branch–the tree house branch–to shift in that wind. Then we could clearly see how other branches were draped over the cable and telephone wires. We had to call the professionals.
And so they came and they cut. They thinned out the two maples, enhancing the shapes of the trees. They spruced up the cherry and the Russian Olive. And they set about trimming the Octopus Tree. The arborist gave us updates as he worked, lowering the cherry-picker to get our opinions as it became clear how much had to be cut. It was a lot. By the time he’d removed the branches from the cables, half the remaining tree was gone, but he left boughs to cup around the deck by the porch and a few more branches to reach toward the silver maple, meeting to form a smaller canopy over the sidewalk. It’s rather like trees in Japanese prints, spare but beautiful–or spare and beautiful, take your pick.
By the way, when I asked the man who came to estimate the job if the Octopus Tree was actually a bing cherry, he examined it silently, then shook his head. “I haven’t seen one in Denver for a long time, but I’m almost sure that’s an apricot tree.” Our Bonsai Octopus.
The metaphor? I’ve lived long enough to discern a pattern or two when I look back over the years. For a long time we were accumulators, buying the house, filling it with children and pets and things. We planted trees and flowers and bought computers and appliances and clothes and stuff. Now the wind has shifted. Our kids are grown and our grandchildren thunder through Victoria Turtleshell. We’re clearing out stuff, giving away things other people can use. We’re pruning the dead wood, letting sunshine in.
When I went outside this morning, I saw how much light shone on the corner rock garden, how different everything looks. The birds were swooping around the newly open branches as they waited their turns at the feeder.
I think I’ll be able to grow more flowers come spring.