I deeply appreciated the opportunity to spend the first day of spring outdoors. With summer-like temperatures and clear blue skies, it was the perfect day to work in the yard and soak in the sun. I stayed open to receiving the gifts that the day offered. Trimming back plants, clearing away last winter’s dead vegetation, intentions for a late afternoon outdoor tea with tender lemon balm just sprouting in the garden…I knew one of these experiences would become the focus of this evening’s blog post.
And then an unexpected event shifted the day. It would be insignificant to many people, but it wasn’t to me. Greg had a man stop by to look at the huge old maple tree in the backyard. In two hours Brian the tree guy was back, in his bucket truck, chainsaws ready. Maple tree was coming down.
This tree has had a long life, and it has a story. At least 30 years ago it began as a volunteer seedling, snuggled against the fence on the north side of my backyard. Technically on the neighbor’s side of the fence, no one could ever determine exactly whose property it was growing on, and the tiny tree was left alone.
Seemingly overnight, that little maple became a massive tree. Whatever thoughts there might have been about cutting it down, it was now too late.
I didn’t mind. My children didn’t mind. They climbed the tree and sat on its leafy boughs. Their sandbox rested in its shade, as did a swingset. My younger daughter Adriel especially loved the maple tree. She would climb the fence and scamper up with her best friend Tresha, each of them claiming the tree for her own.
Due to its tremendous size, and branches that overhung the house, the maple tree became a concern over the years. During a winter ice storm nine years ago, I lay awake all night, listening to the sharp crack of tree branches breaking all over my neighborhood. The weight of accumulated ice shattered limbs and pulled trees down. Not my maple tree though. I knew if one of the heavy branches fell, it could easily go through the roof, causing great damage. But it withstood the weight, the branches drooping low but never breaking.
When the EF5 tornado churned through Joplin in 2011, my house was in the storm’s path. Again, the maple tree could have destroyed my house, or the neighbor’s, if its branches had become projectiles or if the tornado had pried it from the ground. Most of the trees in my neighborhood were destroyed that day and I lost a redbud in the front yard.
Once more, this steadfast tree withstood the forces of nature. This time, however, maple tree was hurt. The roots gripped the earth, and held, but assaulted by winds that exceeded 200 MPH, the tree twisted, the grand truck spiraling, splitting bark and fracturing branches.
Greg had the tree trimmed back after the storm. I wasn’t sure if it would survive, in its new corkscrew condition. New growth appeared eventually, small branches stretching out toward the roof of the house again. Yet, the tree was scarred, and great patches of rough bark fell off, exposing wounds that never quite seemed to heal. The big old tree became a greater and greater risk, especially during the spring storm season, threatening my house and the neighbor’s house.
I understood maple tree needed to come down. I was sad about it, nonetheless.
Brian was efficient as he took the maple tree down in sections. He worked carefully, explaining what he was doing as the chainsaw bit into the tree. I was surprised to see that much of the tree was hollow inside. Brian was right. The tree was dying.
I watched the process as a witness. Living, this tree had offered a place to hide and play. It sheltered birds and squirrels, covered us with its shade, stayed strong in the most challenging of circumstances. Now as maple tree fell, I silently honored its life and felt gratitude for its many gifts.
In the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, there is a sentient tree creature named Groot. He is noble and wise, and he sacrifices himself to save his companions. He is not entirely lost however. Groot reappears as a tiny sprig, an offshoot of the original being.
I thought about Groot as maple tree lay scattered in pieces on the ground. Who is to say whether this tree sacrificed itself, twisting fiercely as it clung to the ground, rather than crashing through the house where Greg and I crouched in a tiny closet? That was a noble act.
The severed branches held bunches of bright green seeds. As the seeds dry mid-spring, they break free of the parent tree and spiral like miniature helicopters to the ground. Maple tree’s life is gone on this first day of spring….a season of rebirth and new growth. However, the promise of life trembled there on the tips of its branches.
I gathered seeds, collecting them in a mason jar. I’ll spread the seeds out and allow them to dry thoroughly and then return them to the jar. I don’t have room in my yard for another massive tree. But my children may want a baby maple, to create fresh stories and their own memories with. I’ll keep some of the seeds as a reminder of my maple tree and its beautiful story, which lives on.