Shading most of my front lawn was an old oak tree. The trunk was so wide that it took time for a kid to walk around it. Thick bark, etched with countless seasons, looked wise and protective. I believed I could draw strength from running my small hands over its warm, inviting roughness. During the autumn, its deep green summer leaves became edged with russet, and then blazed with a mixture of copper and crimson. When breezes swept them to the ground, I collected them in bunches for use in bouquets and art projects.
Sitting against the bark of my tree, I spent three seasons a year reading under its full and whispering branches. The trunk served as “base” for wild games of tag, and often kept my friends and me well hidden while playing Hide and Seek. Together, we enjoyed lazy, summer lunches, sighing and gazing upward seeking a glimpse of cloudless sky between playful leaves. The tree was there before my house was built, and because I was the only one who regularly used it, I thought of it as mine.
Late one spring afternoon, a man came to examine my tree. I asked my parents what was going on, and they gave each other that parent look, that tells a kid something is about to change. My father, gently, nudged me to a kitchen chair and told me the tree was going to be removed. Outraged, I cried, “Trees never go away. Why is this one being taken?” “The tree is very sick”, my father answered, “It is, almost, completely hollow and can not continue to stand much longer. The tree is, actually, dying from the inside, out. It will, eventually, become so weak, it could fall on the house.” “Then call a tree doctor, or some kind of really smart plant man”, I begged. “The man who was just looking at it, is a tree surgeon”, my mother piped in, “He is the second one who has told us the tree must come down.” Feeling helpless and miserable, I ran to my room and slammed the door. There, I sat on my bed trying to imagine the front yard without my tree; without its abundant dancing leaves and cool comfort.
Later that week, on a hot afternoon, with my family watching from the living room window, my tree was removed. Lined up, at the curb in front of my house, were trucks with ropes, ladders and chain saws. Seven men circled my tree, calculating the safest way to take it down. First, the widest and heaviest limbs were sawed off. The screaming of the saw made me cringe as the blade sliced green shade from my life. Then two men climbed ladders to get at the highest branches and to shorten the trunk. The final crack split the air and my tree, guided to the ground by ropes, landed with an awful thud. All of its parts were piled on two trucks to be taken away; leaving nothing , but a shockingly, white, stump. There, in the space where my dependable friend had cooled all of my summers, glaring sunlight pounded heat into the grass. Stump grinders arrived a few days later, leaving flat ground, and little evidence that something glorious had once lived there.
Recently, I stopped to visit the old neighborhood. It seems smaller, now; the distance between houses, mere steps, not the wide expanse perceived in childhood. My front lawn is shaded, again, by a fully mature oak tree. It was just a stick the day my father and I planted it, more than fifty years ago.