I have done a bad thing.
Last week, I hired a local service to remove a sycamore tree from my yard. We, the arborist and I, contracted so that several of his men would appear on a Tuesday morning and obliterate every trace of this large tree, perhaps the tallest in my neighborhood, from the face of the earth. It’s a done deal now, and it is possible that I should not be thinking about this tree and its fate in such a way that compels me to write about it. But, trees sometimes fail to fall as neatly as we would have them do, and I am left here to think and write about it.
You see, the thing about the tree was that it scared me. Its height – what majesty – sprawled up late in the afternoon and feathered over, it seemed, the entire yard behind my house. This most distinguishing feature, and its resultant shade gifting abundance is, of course, what I loved and is yet what brought the tree to ground. I was afraid that it could topple in a storm and crush the roof of my neighbor’s home. The tree had lost some largish branches of late, tired of holding them steady, I suppose. Or, possibly infected with a sycamore ailment (the arborist confidently mentioned one by its scientific name), the tree needed attention and pruning. Any of this – a bit of a trim to growth, a serious look – I failed to provide because of my nervousness about an imagined scene of total collapse which would be messy and inconvenient. The tree definitely needed me to face up to it.
But it didn’t need or deserve what it got.
On the afternoon of the felling, I returned home just as the workmen began the final notching to summon the carefully planned trajectory for my tree’s death. I stood with my son, way back, and watched for over an hour as the chain saw operator tore notch upon notch into the base of the tree, trying to induce the fall. The supervisor became impatient; man hours were costing him more than he could recover from selling any logs. Finally, one of the men used a small bulldozer to push against the tree for it to come down. It did not go easily, and the hard thud of the end is something I did not want to know, or feel.
Immediately after, I walked towards the tree. Before I even reached the stump, I knew that the tree was not diseased, was in fact healthy, and that I would mourn the loss of its green luxury for a long time.
A few nights later, as I lay falling asleep, I thought about how easy it is to remove people from the landscape when we fear the complexity of them and how they make us feel. How honest it is to view them as nuisance, as object, as expendable. How real the aversion to mess and inconvenience. I know that monstrous, careless waste and cruelty both spring from the irrational instinct to remain safe and in control, as I had. As we all want to.
On the sycamore’s last morning, I walked outside early to snap a few pictures. Something in me knew that I was taking the wrong tack, maneuvering to the side with speed and economy when I should have tried to preserve what I treasured. We both would have thrived then. And there would be shade and some cool in a place where now there is none.