Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Mighty Have Fallen

I contributed to global warming more than usual recently, so: World, I’m sorry. But that tree had it coming.

A 2019 study published in the journal Science concluded the Earth has enough open space to plant more than a trillion trees. This, it noted, is enough to capture some 800 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or roughly the equivalent of a cable news pundit’s daily output of hot air. Actual experts said this could bring greenhouse gas levels down to a number not seen since the days before American women were allowed to vote. 

Yet I, avowed advocate of suffrage and not suffering death by polar ice cap sweat, gave the order to take out a four-story black oak that had shaded our back porch for decades. It was not an easy decision. Initially.

Our family had considered the tree’s removal since 2012 when a similar-sized black oak a few dozen yards away snapped during Superstorm Sandy. Only months earlier that tree, which leaned heavily away from our home, had been pronounced completely healthy and solid by a formerly reputable tree company. But Sandy didn’t care. Her winds split it horizontally at a hollow point below the trunk’s junction, sending its top half toward our house. It demolished our porch, and the tips of its branches grazed the sliding glass door my daughter, then 12, stood in front of while she watched two other trees on our yard’s edge fall over in a completely different direction. So much for physics.

The black oak that remained loomed fairly close to my daughter’s top floor bedroom, such a threat that nighttime storms often sent her scurrying to the couch in our basement. But that was untapped potential. Its real harm came from falling acorns.

Hundreds, if not thousands of acorns. All the size of tiny Lego bricks and 10 times as painful under your bare feet. They starting to drop earlier, for longer periods of time and in greater abundance with each passing year. This I found amazing given the increasing number of dead, bare branches throughout this mammoth figure that kept summer temperatures bearable on our deck so I could be kept away from the dreaded fourth hour of the Today show.

A call to our tree guy, notably not the same one who told us that other oak was as solid as U.S. Steel, brought the news. The tree appeared to have a root issue, and pruning now wouldn’t prevent him from soon coming back for a bigger job.

I had been expecting this, so I gave him the OK. Still, as the tree’s last day approached, my wife and I questioned whether this was the right decision. The large trees and the shade they provided were among the features that attracted us to this place initially. But, over 15 years there, a dozen major ones had fallen or died on their own in addition others we had cleared to create more yard for the kids, the dog and ourselves.

Maybe this tree guy was as wrong as the previous one? The entry to our neighborhood featured several trees with their rotted, hollowed insides practically spilling onto the roadway yet they managed to stay upright. Maybe we also had an exception to the obvious?

Early that morning of the cutting, after fetching the day’s newspapers and using their bags to fetch our dog’s comments on the previous day’s events, I walked up to the mighty black oak’s trunk. I gazed up through its lichen stained boughs and tapered dark green leaves one last time, and sighed.

And I hugged it. I literally became a tree hugger. I thanked the oak for all its service, patted the bark and turned to head back into the house.

Sitcom convention holds that a cluster of acorns should have immediately smacked me atop the head. Instead, as usual, I stepped barefoot onto some fallen ones, in my pain, ended up hopping upon a few dozen more.

Later that day, I stepped outside to check on the chainsaw’s progress, which is an odd way to describe the ending of a life. There were some holes in a few upper boughs and a four-foot section of the trunk, just above the main junction, that proved hollower than my heart.


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