Once upon a time, we planted a small oak in our backyard from a gallon can. We had just moved from Southern California and loved the idea of beautiful red leaves each fall. It was the smallest tree we bought for our new home.
Our little tree loved its new home and grew taller and taller. Each fall the oak leaves would turn a deep mahogany red and soon tiny acorns, no bigger than a child's finger, appeared. A mourning dove built a nest on summer in the oak's branches and raised several broods before the winter wind's destroyed the nest. Scrub jays began to sample the acorns regularly, sitting on the fence to hammer them open with their beaks.
Our children set up a badminton net and played, and the tree seemed to enjoy the sport because soon it was sending out branches to grab the birdies. Before long the boys stopped playing badminton, but that was okay because they discovered the joys of soccer and the tree never seemed interested.
The sunny hot backyard grew shadier and shadier under the oak's canopy. We set up a hammock under the oak and enjoyed relaxing while gazing up at the shiny green leaves each summer. We shared the hammock and talked about fishing and sports and vacations. The boys liked to set up a tent under the tree and invite friends for a sleepover during the summer.
After many years we finally put in a sprinkler system and found that large oak roots were in the way so we threaded the pipe through holes between them. The lawn flourished with the new water and so did the oak tree.
The rose bush began to produce fewer flowers each year though. We moved the rose and began to plant shade-loving plants like bleeding heart, columbine, sweet woodruff, and Japanese anenome instead. The plants needed extra water, even though they were in the shade, because the oak leaves blocked rain from the soil below. They blocked the snow each winter, because we discovered that pin oaks do not drop their leaves in the fall. The brown leaves stay on the branches until the new leaves push the old leaves off!
The tree grew larger and larger. Neighbors had planted expensive trees from 15 gallon pots, but the oak tree gradually caught up and eventually was the tallest tree in the neighborhood. It produced so many acorns that more and more jays began appearing and fewer songbirds built nests in the yard. The acorns would sprout every spring and we would pull tiny oaklets out of the lawn and the garden both.
The branches reached out over the lawn and then began to dip lower and lower. Mowing the grass meant ducking away from low branches, so we trimmed them. Large anacondas were about the same size as the roots that began to appear on the soil surface. It was harder and harder to find a place for new plants to grow. Every time we dug, we struck a root. The railroad ties around the garden began to move upwards and we knew our pin oak was sending roots far and wide. The yard grew shadier and shadier. Then the fence began to buckle upwards. This was not good news. The zephyrs would blow and gradually the fence began to wave like a flag in the wind. We would lie in bed, feeling the eighty mile an hour gusts rock the house, and wonder if the fence was still standing. We began tying the fence to the tree for support. We knew that fence repair loomed in our future. We lopped off most of the large lower branches and enjoyed a park-like ambiance in the yard. As the fence grew more unstable, we knew...the tree would have to go.
A few weeks ago, the last dead leaves fell from the pin oak. The shade-loving plants underneath were still dormant. The time had come. We called a tree service to come out and give us an estimate. They never showed up and the tree (and our checkbook) had a reprieve. The shade loving plants began poking their new shoots from the soil--if we waited too long, they would be crushed by heavy boots wielding chain saws. Hardening our hearts, we called another tree removal company who immediately stopped by. They quoted us a very fair price that was quite a bit better than we expected for such a huge tree and we accepted their offer.
I watched the jays and sparrows flit through the bare branches yesterday evening and felt sad that our tree had to go. I knew the birds would miss the branches and acorn bounty. I knew we would miss the fresh green leaves each Spring and the cool shade. I took some last photos of our old friend. I had to stand on the other side of the yard to get the whole tree in the frame.
The tree crew came this afternoon at 2:30. They cut off all the branches, leaving a tall pole in our yard. Then the chainsaws revved and the tree was only half as tall. They roared again and only a large wooden circle close to the ground was left. In two hours, twenty years of growth was reduced to sawdust, mulch and a pile of logs.
We still have many roots to begin digging out--some so we can put in new fenceposts, some that are running under the railroad ties, some that are reaching out into the flower garden. We will still be uprooting oaklets for several months. This summer, though, we will welcome a lush crop of sun-loving flowers planted in fresh soil next to a solid fence. Next winter we will enjoy another part of oak's bounty as we warm ourselves next to the fireplace.
We thought we'd miss our tree, but our yard looks clean and fresh rather than bare. The birds were gallivanting in our peach tree rather than the oak tonight while Kharma gazed at them intently, begging them to drop into her mouth. We planned for future shade by planting an Autumn Blaze maple seedling last summer. It should grow fast now that a large tree no longer will block both light and water. Change can be hard, but a fresh start offers many potential benefits.