Ever since I was a kid, I’ve developed bizarre emotional attachments to inanimate objects. When I was 8, we were going to trade in our rusty old van for something newer and smaller; a car. But, when we went down to the dealership to close the deal, I burst into tears. I just couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to Henry. (That was the van’s name.) I cried and cried all throughout the test drive, because I didn’t want to give up Henry. So, my parents caved. They bought the car (her name was Lucy), and we kept Henry for another 11 years. When I hit 19, I was old enough to say goodbye to Henry, and we bought a shiny blue pick-up (the little blue mule). I don’t know why. I know it’s just a car, and cars aren’t alive, but I grow attached to them.
I was reminded of this recently when we did some large-scale gardening in our front yard. In our front yard, we had this huge black poplar tree. It was just one large tree. But, age was getting to it. The top third was dead, and had all these large, barren branches sticking out. Whenever we had a large gust of wind, one of these branches would break off, and come crashing down into our front yard. I kept saying we should do something about it, perhaps climb up there and prune out all those dead branches. But, my parents, being the infinite guardians of wisdom that they are, decided that perhaps the whole tree should come down. “It’s dying,” they said. “Better we get rid of it before it blows down and crushes the car.” I had to admit, there was a certain logic to what they said. It was getting to look a little like that Tree of the Dead in the movie Sleepy Hollow. At least the top third. So, the tree was coming down.
The falling was originally scheduled for Sunday, July 9. But, we’ve been getting a lot of rain lately, and the event was rained out. Dad was up at the crack of dawn removing the fence for the front yard so it wouldn’t be in the way. We sat around all day waiting. But, the guy didn’t come, and the tree won a brief stay of execution.
The next day came. I jumped out of the shower to the sounds of chainsaws. I ran out to the kitchen, looked out the window, and there was the bucket truck. They were going to take down some of the larger branches first, and then the tree would come down. I ran downstairs and got dressed. I came back upstairs. I really wanted to see this. What is it about us that wants to witness acts of mass destruction. And so I watched. And waited. The bucket truck soon moved out of the way. Our lumberjack came up with his chainsaw, and placed it against the trunk of the tree. He then turned to his assistant and said “We’re gonna need the big one!” He went back to the truck and got the big chainsaw. He started up “the big one,” and placed it against the trunk of the tree. A few quick cuts, and down it came. I glanced at my watch. I was late for work.
As I drove off, I kept thinking about what I had just witnessed. I couldn’t help but feel saddened in a way. It was one big tree. I remembered the rotting old birdhouse that was in that tree, and how we eventually removed the old one and put up a new one. I remember when we first moved into this house, there was this big gash in the side of the tree. Over the next 11 years that I lived in the house, I watched that gash slowly get filled in and covered up. Was this some kind of inanimate object, or was it actually alive? I mean, on an inanimate object, the gash would not have filled. It would have just sat there. But here, the it healed itself. Like a living thing.
Did I just witness the deconstruction of an eyesore, or a murder? It weighed heavy on my heart. Who are we to define what life is and isn’t? I mean, trees grow, breath, and reproduce. Some varieties even eat. Just like us. But our definition of life seems to revolve around weather something can think, and I’ve never seen a tree show signs of intelligent thought. But should that be enough of a definition? Since we all grew up with the fad of environmentalism, we all know that trees are vital to our existence on this planet. They take our waste CO2, and turn it into the O2 which we all breath and love. So, did I just remove a tree, or did a kill an innocent life form which I needed to survive? Don’t you just love how the everyday can turn into a moral debate?
I returned home that night to be greeted by a stump, no higher than ground level. Such a mighty tree, reduced to this tiny speck. My Mom let me in on some of the facts about the tree that the lumberjack discovered. It was 90 years old, and still quite healthy. My heart sank. If we had just went up there and pruned out the dead stuff like I had originally proposed, it probably would have lived another 90 years. But, it’s gone now. Now we never again have to fear that it will fall in a windstorm and crush the car. The tree also no longer shades our deck, and it gets ungodly hot about mid-afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the front yard is completely barren now. It is still well shaded by four rather large trees of varying variety. And our back yard has five trees of various sizes. But something about that big black poplar I’ll miss. Maybe because it was so big. There aren’t a lot of big trees in people’s yards anymore.
After supper that night, I had to go for I walk. I needed to go next door and check on the future. We look after our neighbour’s yard ever since she went into the nursing home, and we recently tore down an old shack that was on her property. Her front yard is now this huge bare spot. A week earlier, my parents and I went into Edmonton for the Canada Day festivities (that, and we always wanted to see the High Level Bridge Waterfall). There, they were giving away free trees. Being the pig I am, I helped myself to two. I went home, and planted them in our neighbour’s yard. Hey, she’ll probably never be home again, and she’s got the room. But anyway, I looked down on those seedlings. They seem to be doing pretty good. They are still young, but as soon as this rain clears up and they get a shot of sunshine, they will grow like weeds.
And in this death, there is new life. I’ll miss that old tree, but I have replanted. I am ensuring for the future. And who knows? Perhaps, in 90 years or so, those trees will spark another philosophical debate in another young man. And that same young man will plead with his parents not to trade in their car. And everything old is new again….