February 22, 2011


On my way to the park, a tall cottonwood tree stands, so tall it does damage to the clouds that pass overhead. I’m told it is almost 200 years old and I’ve been watching it cycle through the seasons for years. Yesterday I heard a buzzing in the neighborhood, louder than any bee, and when I investigated, I found the cottonwood was surrounded by trucks and heavy equipment that seemed almost Lilliputian in its shadow. Still the men had made deadly cuts and were chopping it apart, limb by limb. By the end of the day a tree that had existed for two centuries would be gone.

Naturally, I’d stopped to ask if the company had a permit to chop it down. The answer was brusque: “Yes.  Too old.  Too dangerous.” The man who’d answered slipped into his truck and shut the door making a show of his paperwork. As he did, I noted the words painted along the side of the truck bearing the company’s name and the words, “Tree preservation.”  

(photo / Photobucket)

I shall try not to harden my heart toward the men who brought down the cottonwood. Time was the real culprit. For 200 years, the tree had prevailed against lightning and storms and winds that could bend a man over. It had seen more than a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets, been a haven to the squirrels chased by dogs and watched children steer their scooters beneath its shadow. That’s all anyone can expect of life, to have lived well and endured the tempests. Still the suddenness of its demise fills me was sadness and wonder. Yesterday, it stood to greet the dawn. By sunset, it had vanished.

I wonder about my neighbors as they scurry along the street, staring at their shoes as if their memories were stored there. Will they notice the absence of a great shadow?  I hope so. Perhaps they’ll pause to remember:

                        “The trees along the city street

                        Save for the traffic and the trains,

                        Would make a sound as thin and sweet

                        As trees in country lanes.”  

(Edna St. Vincent Millay)