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The Humble Gardener

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Dismantling a Majestic Oak


The tree had to come down. Chip remembers when his father planted the tree in the backyard of our house, Chip's childhood home, forty years ago. The oak had stood as a sentinel watching over generations of dogs who have shared the backyard with it. Its shade had sheltered small children running through a sprinkler on a sweltering summer day. Its sturdy trunk had served as a backrest for weary gardeners and its shade a perfect place for an impromptu picnic. Generations of squirrels had built nests and raised furry children who grew to chitter at optimistic canines for hours from its protective boughs. The tree had to come down. The trunk had split; the chance of the 100 foot tree crashing onto our house or neighbors' buildings did not bear thinking about.

I thought making the decision to take the tree down was the hardest part. I was raised during a time when teachers required students to memorize and recite poems in front of the class. I had "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer. I chose the poem because I never knew a man could be named "Joyce"; also, it was short so I figured I could get up there, spit out my recitation, and hastily resume anonymity amongst my thirty five smirking classmates. "I think I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree" is the first line. It's funny that I can't remember to buy milk but I can remember a poem from (ahem) fifty years ago.

Reciting poetry wasn't getting the tree down so I hit the phones. The first tree guy looked at the tree, shook his head, and commented, "My bucket won't reach that high." He recommended another service, whose voice mail box was full for two days. Recent storms had provided lots of work. In the meantime, Chip had called a service that had done some work for us; their bid was $3,800. I studied our savings account and asked Chip, "Do you want to pay the real estate taxes AND eat this month?" We kept calling.

Finally, in a situation that I have witnessed only in Galesburg, an acquaintance knew a guy who knew a guy…do you see where this is going? The acquaintance unexpectedly showed up at our front door with his arborist friend and a bid was offered and accepted. We would be able to take the tree down, pay the taxes, and eat. Life was good (except for the tree).

The crew arrived as promised with a bucket with a boom, a chipping machine, and a huge truck that received the chips. We have spent countless hours getting chips for mulch from Pickard Road, the brush drop off site for the city of Galesburg and its residents. Mounds of chips have made their way to our compost heap and gardens. While the price is right (free) and the chips serve as wonderful amendments to our garden soil, loading the mulch and then unloading it is starting to task our older backs. The crew agreed to leave the chips for us. I loved this. For sure, our backs would be happier, but there was something about reusing the tree in our gardens that somewhat mitigated the sadness that I felt over losing the tree.

It took a crew of six all day to take the tree down. The arborist in the bucket performed a balladic dance as he moved amongst the upper branches, cutting and placing branches precisely on the ground. Then the big trunk came down, tied with ropes and manhandled from the ground as the chain saw buzzed above. Pieces of the trunk hitting the ground at times literally shook the entire house. The dogs, puzzled that their yard had been denied them, looked questioningly at me and then resumed their eight hour nap until the next thud. Neighbors and passersby stopped to watch the process. Seeing the tractor with its grappling hook piled high with limbs as they were fed into the chipping machine mesmerized all of us. The pile of chips grew.

Finally, the tree was down, the crew took a break, and the bucket guy returned to terra firma. I wrote the check, grateful that the job was safely finished, and planned cheap meals for the rest of the month. The crew left, the dogs returned to their backyard kingdom suspiciously checking out the changes, and I recalled Joyce Kilmer's poem. No more robins or squirrels would make a nest in its boughs. Never again would snow lie on its boughs, nor would the tree lift its limbs as if in prayer. I took solace that the tree would help us to grow other plants and perhaps a replacement tree. That thought provided small consolation, but some consolation nonetheless for the loss of the majestic oak.

Sandra DePalma-Odell

Master Gardener


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