Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's In A Name?

We had two trees taken down on our property over this past winter.

One was a Spruce that I misidentified to the arborist as a Hemlock. He told me what it really was when he dropped by to estimate the job - and I promptly forgot. Fortunately he also wrote it out on the proposal so I was able to get it right for this essay. In general I try not to know too much about my perennial shrubs for the same reason that cattle ranchers don't name their livestock - too much familiarity makes it more difficult to part with them when the time comes to do so.

I didn't have enough of a clue about the other tree's lineage to even hazard a guess - so I just pointed. He didn't know either. On the proposal it is identified as an "ornamental" so when the hired hands came to actually cut it down I asked them. "Idunno" I was told.

The Spruce had reached a point where all of the living branches were at a height greater than what I could reach even with my telescoping "extended reach" pruning saw. When I cut off last year's crop of dead limbs the fully-extended pole oscillated like a sine wave as I stood on my toes trying not to look up at the shower of wood sawdust cascading down into my eyes and mouth.

The 2008 version of trimming this tree would have involved a stepladder on uneven earth - an unacceptable risk to preserve the appearance of something that: (a) no longer provided border privacy below the height of twenty feet, (b) looked pretty scrawny from twenty feet one inch upwards and (c) still shaded a good portion of the woodland garden bed at its base. We decided that more sunlight might perk up the assortment of groundcovers that grow, but do not flourish, in that part of our yard. Once again I elected not to memorize the names of these plants knowing the life span of transplants around here.

The "ornamental Idunno" began as a privacy barrier for part of our living room then performed the same function for our upstairs den. Now it was well on its way to offering complete seclusion to a portion of our roof and total visibility into the aforementioned living areas, while at the same time filling our gutters with an annoying large supply of unidentifiable foliage.

This tree's removal would also offer a glimmer of hope for the revival of a lonely Laurel bush that was planted next to it at least thirty years ago. At that time, it probably was the primary shade provider in that corner of our yard.

So, with some degree of reluctance, because I truly do enjoy playing with my pole saw, I agreed to have them both removed.

They would be the fourth and fifth trees that we have taken off of our property.

The first one I actually felled by myself. It also was a fir, possibly a Spruce, and was located pretty close to the location of this year's victim. I came upon it serendipitously one day about twenty years ago when I was clearing deadwood in that section of my land. It certainly wasn't the first time I had worked or walked in that area. But it probably was my initial trip back there with time on my hands and a brand new Japanese pruning saw on my hip - motive plus opportunity plus weapon.

The tree was probably ten feet tall but because of its tightly confined growing area and lack of sunlight it was basically limbless. I remember having my then teenage son hold tight to a rope I had attached to the trunk and pull on it as I cut away at the base with my trusty new blade. It took much longer than I expected and my right arm was pretty much quivering for the remainder of the day but I did get the thrill of yelling "timber!" And no one was injured - so it was worth it.

The second and third shrubs were a (sort of) matched pair of Flowering Crabs that grew along one side of my house. Every few autumns each one would become hopelessly self-entangled, and I would cut them both down pretty much to the ground. The next year they would grow back to their former size, the following spring they would flower, and the third one the would re-entwine. And the cycle would continue - but with a continually diminishing display of blossoms every third year.

Truthfully I enjoyed these triannual tree razings - particularly the stunned looks on my neighbor's faces and my opportunity to smugly assure them that, come spring, all would be well again. Except it was becoming less and less well each time that I did it.

So a couple of years ago as a part of having some new perennial beds landscaped into our yard we had the two flowering crabs removed.

It took quite a while to get used to the new open spaces look. Like Scylla (the rock) and Charybdis (the whirlpool) protecting Italy's Strait of Messina, the twin trees had stood sentry on our yard for as long as we had been here - and for many years before.

Of course we didn't give them those, or any other names. It was hard enough getting rid of them just knowing what they were. Knowing who would have made it impossible.

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