WKCR’s BachFest 2011 is underway. They’ve begun with the St. Matthew Passion, and its exquisite minor chords couldn’t feel more appropriate. I’m looking out the window at my latest memento mori, the 50-foot stump of what until yesterday was my backyard catalpa, the tree that shaded my writing room and was the silent, palpably breathing companion of my days for over 18 years since I moved into this house. When the tree service showed up to do what I thought was going to be a routine pruning, taking off some weight and helping ensure stability, the climbing guy went up, came back down, and stood there staring up into the leafless branches. I went out to see what the problem was. “The tree is bad,” he pronounced glumly in his limited but serviceable English, summarizing the conversation he’d evidently been having in Spanish with his co-worker. (I sometimes wonder what men like him think about being transplanted thousands of miles to become so intimate with the flora of a cold foreign land.) He showed me: trunk hollowed out more than we’d thought behind the visible cleft in the bark; and one of two main stems or “leaders” was weaker than the other, exacerbating the imbalance from years ago when an insect infestation caused some die-off and amputation of limbs on the side facing the house. “When it goes,” he said, “it’s not going to fall this way. It will go over like that,” and he pointed to the neighbor’s. The row house yards on that side are maybe 40 feet deep, and there was no doubt that the tree, which hugged my back fence and was maybe 80 feet tall, could do considerable damage to the neighbor’s home. I didn’t want to think about the fate of any people who might be in the way.
So I gave the go-ahead, and the rest of the day was about me hiding out from the sound of the chain saw, while the brave workers took apart the leafless crown. Every so often I’d venture a look. This was a much less risky operation than the tree felling I once witnessed from my back window, involving a couple of amateurs engaged by a naive neighbor to chop down a sizable tree George Washington style. On that occasion, I watched with amusement and horror as the woodsmen swung their axes, with frequent pauses to debate the likely angle of impact. On this one, I cringed at the sight of huge lopped-off limbs, secured by rope slings, being swung groundwards.
Now my yard is full of deconstructed tree. They’re coming tomorrow morning to finish the job.
I knew this day would come, and in a way I’m relieved. No more listening with anxiety every time the wind picks up. No more wondering whether my tree is really fit to withstand some of the types of weather we’ve had a lot of recently–the tornado that did so much damage less than a mile from here, the tail end of Hurricane Irene. The combination of aging, weakened tree and increasingly wild weather adds up to a gamble I don’t need to take.
Still, I know I’ll never again be in custody of/partnership with such a mighty hunk of vegetation. A tree that grows that big wasn’t really meant to be planted in such close proximity to fragile houses in the first place–but isn’t it sweet to imagine an era when nobody worried much about the stress urban environments impose on plant life, or the interplay between global warming and local severe weather events? Presumably, that was almost 100 years ago, around the time this house and its neighbors were built.
If anybody is reading this, s/he is probably wondering how we got from poetry at Zuccotti Park to such gloomy back yard reflections. The answer (and it explains what this blog is actually about) goes back to the sign I displayed at Zuccotti: BECA– USE THEY’RE TRYING TO DRIVE OUR PLANET OFF A CLIFF. This blog is about what it’s like to live now while attempting to articulate one’s half-submerged consciousness of how very, very, very late it is. I think I’d like to re-name it “Memories of the Holocene.”
You know, the time back then when the death of a tree was sad, but you didn’t have to keep feeling like every tree was the last tree.