His Favorite Tree

 

There once was a man who had several trees in his yard and he enjoyed them all, but one in particular. It was a handsome maple located just off the corner of his house. He loved viewing it during all seasons, even in the wintertime when it looked like nothing more than a large ball of twigs suspended on a trunk. He loved to watch it burst with thick buds in the spring and to see it fully clothed in foliage during the summer, but he cherished it most during the few precious weeks each fall when it turned from verdant green to brilliant orange. He never minded the chore of raking the thick blanket of leaves that fell to the lawn beneath it because each leaf reminded him of the tree’s autumnal splendor.

The tree was already mature when he purchased the home and its roots fingered out in many directions. Nonetheless, it grew taller and fuller with each passing year and its branches continued to stretch toward the sky. While viewing it one spring day, the man could see that some of its branches were encroaching ever closer to his home. His mind searched the future until he envisioned a large branch stretching out over his rooftop. He saw dark storm clouds, driving rain and a flash of lighting, and he watched in horror as a large branch crashed through his roof, letting rain stream in and soak his furniture and flooring.

He went to his garage and retrieved a pruning saw and ladder and quickly severed that limb from the tree. It was larger than he originally thought—about eight inches in diameter—and its absence made a noticeable gap in the tree’s canopy. He winced when he realized how its absence affected the appearance of the tree.

Oh well, it had to be done, he assured himself while viewing it from a distance. It’s still a very beautiful tree.

The years went by and the tree continued to flourish. Birds nested in its high branches and children swung on its low limbs. The man continued to prune the side of the tree near his house until eventually that side of the tree’s globe was flat. Dark, thick scars formed where each limb was amputated, yet the tree remained strong and provided cool shade from the hot summer sun.

One summer evening the man was lying in bed listening to a storm rage around him. He heard the wind whip sheets of rain against his window. Thunder growled as it rumbled in from the west and strobes of lightning illuminated his room. Suddenly, he saw a bright flash and heard a loud crack. He jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to his living room, where he peered out the window into the darkness. Through intermittent flashes he could see his prized tree had taken a direct hit. A very large branch hung limp from the treetop but he could not ascertain how much damage the strike had caused. He returned to bed, saddened that the tree was injured.

The next morning he was shocked at the extent of the damage. Two of the largest branches were peeled away from the trunk, exposing the white, moist flesh of the tree. One limb dangled by its tough, stringy bark, and the other lay on the ground. Still full of foliage, it looked very much alive but most assuredly was not. Pangs of sadness returned to the man as he viewed his tree, now badly misshapen.

What a shame, he thought. It looks terrible. It’s got to come down.

He knew it would take a considerable amount of effort to fell the tree—and a large amount of money if he hired out the job—so he resolved to tackle it himself. He purchased a chainsaw and got to work the next day. First he cut up the two damaged limbs. He sawed them into manageable lengths and loaded the debris into his truck and drove away to deposit it at a compost site.

That weekend he tackled the rest of the canopy. He leaned his extension ladder against the trunk, extended it fully and carefully climbed up with his chainsaw and sawed off the remaining limbs. That resulted in many more piles of brush and several more trips to the compost site.

The following weekend he devoted an entire Saturday afternoon to finishing the job. By now the tree was nothing more than a thick, naked pole rising from the ground. He pulled the cord of his chainsaw and heard it sputter to life. He squeezed the trigger and listened to the high-pitched whine as the chain spun rapidly around the bar. He put the blade to the trunk and could feel its vibration as the sharp, jagged teeth chewed away at the tree. It wasn’t long until the trunk toppled over and all that remained of his favorite tree was a stump surrounded by piles of sawdust and bark.

He put the saw down, took off his safety glasses and examined the stump. He ran his hand over its smooth surface and noticed the dark grainy rings that marked each year of its life. He counted the rings from inside out and thought about what each one held. He retraced the task and counted inward, stopping at the year that he moved in. It was a sizable distance, but small in relation to what remained from that ring to the center of the trunk. It filled him with a greater appreciation for the tree and a deeper sense of loss. Regret consumed him. He wished he had left the tree standing and learned to appreciate it for what it was, no matter how it looked.