A Tree In Brooklyn
I’ve always had a love affair with trees. When I was a kid I read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn just because I liked the title. We have a beautiful garden area behind our home filled with evergreens, a small aspen grove, rosebushes, dwarf blue spruce, sundry Colorado plants and shrubs, and a waterfall that runs year-round. The first warm Saturday in March I cut them all back and clean out the detritus that accumulates over the winter, just like I did for 25 years in New York.
We purchased our first home in August of 1982. While we pulled up carpet revealing beautiful oak floors and painted walls that hadn’t been touched in decades, our son played in the backyard on the Japanese maple. He was five. He could barely pull himself onto the first branch. From there the world beckoned. With each passing year he climbed higher and higher until the tree could no longer carry his weight. The tree made the transition from jungle gym to provider of shade, and on many a summer evening we relaxed beneath its branches and those of our three bigger shade trees, two oaks and a sugar maple.
The Japanese maple died a couple years after Jonathan left for college. No obvious signs of disease. It just lost its leaves, then its bark. When they came to cut it down I also had them take the too tall evergreen beauty passed by, the white birch that planted itself too close to the foundation of the house, one of the two oak trees, and the biggest shade producer of all, our giant sugar maple. Hurricanes arrived every now and then on our curve of the island and I kept envisioning the sugar maple draped across our bedspread.
The men who removed the trees were masters of their craft. They kept gauging the wind so wood chips wouldn’t fly into the neighbor’s yard as they moved deftly to avoid the power lines. With everything down but the thick trunk of the sugar maple, I headed to my study to write their check. With a resounding thud I heard the trunk fall. They put all the tree trunks in the front yard until they could bring the log loader to cart them away.
The trees in Colorado, while few and far between on the plains, have a high desert charm, especially the grand old cottonwoods. My favorite are the lodgepole pines of the high country, so close to God they can’t help but stretch a little higher. Whether I’m east or west, I love the lessons of the trees. The evergreen of my childhood, with each branch marked by the limits of my climbing courage in those early days of discovery. The dogwoods blossoming white against the gray bank of an early Kentucky spring, reminding me of new beginnings. The gnarled limber pine that sits atop a rocky outcropping a few hundred feet above Fall River in Rocky Mountain National park. The tree has no visible means of sustenance or support. That is until you carefully follow its roots around a granite ledge and far down through thin air to the rocky soil. That’s determination.
I hated cutting the trees down at our New York home. The children were mad. They didn’t care about rogue storms, but then they didn’t feel the hard concussion when that trunk fell to the ground. The kids just loved the shade. It’s not the first time I’ve had to cut down something I love to keep safe something I love more. But then that does seem to be a parent’s duty. It’s the paradoxical nature of things.
It’s been almost twenty years since I had the tree wizards cut down all those shade trees. Since water is hard to come by in the west, our only shade comes from that small aspen grove behind the house. The shade doesn’t hold a candle to the shade of that old sugar maple, but the aspens will do. I was watching my granddaughters in Brooklyn last June. One day after school I watched them climb the little crabapple tree in front of their apartment building. They could barely pull themselves up onto the first branch.
And life goes on.