Friday, September 30, 2011

More to Be Prized

There is a large maple tree in my front yard. It has been there since I moved to this house 35 years ago. Its bark has always reminded me of an elephant's wrinkled skin. Its leaves in the fall have held the colors of burnished gold and apple reds. It has drawn neighbors and morning walkers and strangers with fancy cameras to marvel at its height and strength and beauty.

But, over the last year, it has also had problems. June, a year ago, a violent wind shear that tore through Chester and Delaware Counties, snapped a mighty branch and hurled it atop one of my cars in the driveway. It only kissed the roof of the car, but it took powerful men with powerful chain saws to free the car from the embrace of the huge branch. Several months later, during a storm of lashing rain, another branch snapped off 40 foot or so above my other car, and fell like a javelin. Fortunately, nobody was beneath it or they could have been seriously hurt. Unfortunately, the branch struck the roof near the back with such force that it shattered the rear window. I had to quickly throw a tarp over the gaping empty space or the inside of the car would have been flooded.

Worried I could on longer trust the tree, I asked arborists to come and evaluate it. The first said, "Cut it down. It's old and worn out. More limbs will fall. It's now a nuisance and a danger. Cut it down." The second arborist came and said, "This is a beautiful maple, one of the finest I've seen. It's probably around 75 years old or so. It gives you shade and moist coolness in the summer. It has been the home of generations of wildlife. It does need some assistance now. You need to seriously thin and top the branches and have several cables strung from the trunk of the tree to the heavier outer limbs for support. You also need to have two iron rods driven through the base of the tree so that it will have better structural integrity. It's an older tree, but it's a tree worth saving." Ironically, the cost to cut down the tree was almost identical to the cost of rehabing the tree.

My wife and I had to make a decision. If we removed the tree, the problem was gone. No more worries during a storm. No further maintenance down the road. This was the most logical and rational cloice.

But, logic isn't everything. And reason doesn't account for the heart. My daughter, Jennifer, and son, Jim, grew up playing in the shade of the maple tree. My grandgirls, Wynnie and Maeve, run around and around the tree chasing each other when they visit from the concrete landscape of D.C. Sure no grass will grow beneath the summer shade, but delicate moss, not unlike the ground cover of the Irish countryside, has claimed my front lawn for its own. And, perhaps most importantly, I realized that I had a deep kinship with the tree. Both of us had weathered many storms over the years. And, it reminded me of my father, who, when he was 89, was brought by my brother, John, and I from Florida to PA so we could care for his aged body and mind. He died when he was 92.5, a once tall, 6'6" tree of a man with his three sons at his side.

The maple still has a lot of spunk to it. It took three tries and many hours for burly, seasoned workers to drill and drive iron rods through its trunk. Tiny, new branches are lifting up to the sky where thicker branches were shorn. Morning walkers are staring up at the marvel of the strung cables, like circus high wires. And the leaves, as they fall now onto the moss with the coming of Halloween, will grow again in the spring, shading the lives of my family.

The maple tree, with its wrinkled skin and proud stance, has been our companion and friend for the last 35 years. It has watched over us during happy times and times of grief. Although some may not understand, or may even scoff at my sentiment for something aboreal, I am in agreement with Thomas Aquinas: "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship."

Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey

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