26 January 2008

goodbye to an ancient maple

When we bought our house in 2004, one of the many things that we loved about the place was the two ancient maple trees at the bottom of the driveway. Ringed by a very primitive stone wall, they were the guardians and greeters of Pleasant Hill. We didn’t worry too much about them, because, well, they had stood for a hundred years, probably, and would probably stand a while longer . . . even though the one on the right had some dead branches on it and dropped its leaves a little earlier than the one on the left.

So we were a little surprised one Saturday morning in October 2006, while B was settling in to his new job in the city and we were living temporarily at my aunt’s and uncle’s apartment in Brooklyn, when we had a phone call from our friend Betty upstate, who said, “What a storm we had last night! Say, has anyone told you that one of your trees has fallen down?”

Well, no one had. This sounded like big news. Betty told us that there had been a tremendous amount of wind the night before, that power had gone out for some of our neighbors, and that our tree had fallen about as perfectly as it could have: right across the lawn; not on the house, not on the electric wires, not on the telephone wires, not on the driveway, and, finally, not on the road. Even though she reassured us that everything was fine, we rushed to the car and drove north to the house as quickly as we could to inspect the damage.

The tree lay across the lawn, looking as if a giant had snapped it in half and thrown it down. The force with which it landed drove some of the branches a foot into the ground. Pretty impressive, I must say.

Also impressive was the fact that the core of the tree was almost completely rotten. This tree should have come down a long time ago. Our house’s previous owners hated to cut down such an old tree, and we did, too. So we let nature do the dirty work.

There wasn’t a whole lot we could do with the debris. Our chainsaw is small; it handles branches maybe six inches in diameter. Some of the ancient maple’s branches were a foot thick, and the trunk was considerably thicker. Betty arranged for her handyman to come and cut up the wood and cart it away to be used by friends who burn wood instead of oil. We asked if he would take down the rest of the tree for us, too, but he said no because one very large, tree-sized branch extended over the road. Better, he thought, for a professional to take that part down.

So for the past year we looked at the sad, broken tree, and finally this fall I called the Washington County Department of Public Works and talked with the man who makes the tree-cutting arrangements. I asked him whether the county might cut down the rest of the tree. Sure enough, it was close enough to the road that Washington County would take care of everything. Did we want the wood, or would we let the department take it to heat their shed? Take it away, B and I said.

Last night I drove up to the house (B stayed in the city this weekend) and, lo and behold, the tree was gone. Whoever the Department of Public Works hired to cut it down did a remarkably clean job. All that’s left is the stump, a little sawdust, and some tire tracks across the snow.

The other ancient maple endures, though she looks a little lonely without her brother. I think she’s a pretty healthy old gal, but we need to have a tree specialist take a look at her to confirm that.

This spring we’ll have the stump removed (but not before I try to count the rings), and then we’ll plant a sugar maple. Maybe it will last for the next hundred years.

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