I look over at my neighbor’s backyard, knowing what will be lost in a matter of minutes. A harvester sits in the middle of the yard, its crane reaching into the cloudless blue sky. It seems ironic its job is to destroy the very thing that also reaches skyward.
Our neighbors are putting in a pool – and in the spot close to where the pool will be dug, stands a majestic elm. Although the Dutch Elm Disease has decimated elms throughout this country, they are popular in our neighborhood and we have one as well. Ours stands guard over our property, its roots anchored firmly to the earth – and to our family for the last 30 years.
The harvester with its huge crane is quiet as the crew discusses the next step. The yard seems oddly sunny, the result of the elm’s dismemberment, slowly losing its limbs and its green lush foliage.
A feeling of melancholy creeps over me as I’ve always loved trees. I have fond memories of climbing them as a child and picking the apples that hung low on our tree in our small backyard. I especially loved our maple tree that sat on our front lawn, faithfully yielding a bucket of sap in the spring. My parents would spend an afternoon “maple-sugaring” in our kitchen, transforming the sap into about a cup of maple syrup. That night mom would make pancakes. That prized syrup would be poured over each cake and savored. I’ve had wonderful maple syrup just as good in my life, but to me, at that moment, it was the most wonderful maple syrup in the world. It came from our tree.
Later, as an adult, traveling around the country, I noticed different locations produced different trees, all unique. The aspens in the West are resplendent in the fall when their leaves turn a pale yellow, and when the wind causes them to “quake,” they give off a distinct crackling sound. The Southern live oaks dripping with Spanish moss never fail to fascinate me. Garbed in ghost-like strands, they evoke thoughts of mysticism, magic and forbidden romance. These oaks often line country roads in George, and when passing under them, one is reminded of the story of the raven-haired woman who dies tragically. Her grief-stricken lover cuts her long hair and tosses it into the branches of the oak tree, where it eventually turns grey.
While wintering in Florida, I can gaze at banyan trees for hours. They mellow my nerves and I am content to sit, tracing the aerial roots up to the host tree, not unlike deciphering a maze. These aerial roots grow down from the tree, some latching on at various places around the trunk, while others grow directly down until they hit the ground. These eventually create their own little brown forest of roots, anchoring the host tree.
When I mention my love of trees, people often look at me blankly. If I talk too long, eyes begin to glaze over. We admire creatively designed architectural wonders, gawk at hundred-storied skyscrapers, but often ignore a massive work of nature. One of the few things in this world that even the most brilliant scientific minds or the Nano geniuses cannot make, a work of nature designed millions of years ago. The tree.
The harvester is now gone. As is the elm. I’m sure the pool will be enjoyed by this family but if they ever move, the next owners may not desire a pool. It might not be used until another pool loving family comes along. Then it will be cleaned, repaired, if necessary, and used once again, but that tree will be gone forever.