The day after the 2016 election, a crew from our city’s forestry department came to our house. We had requested that they prune dead branches on our Norway maple. But, to my dismay, they were actually planning to take the tree down. I ran outside and talked them out of it, and instead, they did the necessary pruning. I was far too upset about the election to lose a tree, too.
The Norway maple continued to bear new leaves each spring. A few limbs died off, but because it’s a city tree, our arborist is not supposed to prune it. Nonetheless, it seemed to be doing okay.
That is, until this past Saturday. Around 3 o’clock, I was relaxing and reading in our living room when I heard a strange crash. A large limb of the Norway maple had just fallen across the street. No warning. Thank God, no one was walking or driving by at that moment.
What do you do when a tree falls across the street on the weekend? I called 911, and the police said they’d contact the public works department. Our neighbors gathered round and exchanged surprise over our tree’s sudden demise. Cars turned back as they came upon the limb, which had made the street impassible. About an hour later, a guy from DPW arrived and put traffic cones on either side. He said it would be a while before a crew could come and deal with it. Another tree had also fallen elsewhere in the city, and the forestry department is short-staffed.
I went back inside to read. A few hours later, several of our neighbors kindly took it upon themselves to move the limb to the side of the street, so cars could drive by, and I thanked them. When the DPW finally came back, they said they would return on Monday. The entire tree would have to go, because it was clearly unsafe.
And so, yesterday morning, a crew arrived. They put the fallen limb and broken branches in a chipper and then proceeded to take down the tree. I counted its rings later—at least 35 years, and probably older. Decades to grow, an hour to fell. The house looks bare in front.
I plan to request a new tree be planted in its place, once the stump is ground down. I know it was necessary, this time, to remove it. At least I was able to give it nearly six more years to live, and no one was injured when its time came.
Years ago, I wrote a book about the history of our city’s urban forest and how it was suffering from neglect. That book struck a chord and helped to inspire a massive replanting program after a major infestation of Asian Longhorn Beetles about 15 years ago. Over the past year, I have worked with a small group of concerned citizens to create a long overdue Urban Forestry Tree Commission, to deal with issues like funding the forestry department, developing an effective citywide pruning program, and doing a better job of planting and stewarding our public trees. A week ago, our City Council finally approved members of the Commission, and it will begin meeting this fall. I was also appointed by the City Manager this past winter to serve on an advisory committee to help implement a comprehensive plan for our city to meet the challenges of climate change. So, it’s all the harder for me to lose a tree. But health and safety take precedence.
It’s trite but true: Life brings many surprises. All we can do is our best to meet the moment.