We live in a wooded area, halfway up a ridge in central Pennsylvania. It’s a cool place to live, for sure…second-growth forest, mostly oaks and maples with a variety of other species thrown in. Classic Eastern Woodlands.
Last December our neighbor decided to have some trees cleared, both to make little money and to open up the area. Too much shade is nice in the summer, but can cause problems for houses. Rot and mildew are not friendly to man-made structures.
The logger, Richard, was marking the property line beforehand and I got to talking with him. (Interesting guy – probably 50 years old and has been doing this work since he was 12. I mean, this guy can fell a tree on a dime where some of us would end up crushing something important…and have the video show up on Tosh.O). He’s always careful to stay on the property he’s supposed to be clearing, of course. But as we spoke, a thought occurred to me.
We had a white pine out at the end of our drive…it was at least 85 foot tall, and three feet across at the base, if it was an inch. Grandpa Pine, I called him. I should have taken him down before I built the house, but we sort of took a shine to the old gentleman and let him stand. Pines don’t have a lot in the way of root depth, so every time there was a bad wind storm I held my breath. But Grandpa Pine stood tall there for us, for the 23 years we’ve lived here.
But when the logger showed up, I decided to take the opportunity. I knew that a tree surgeon would charge at least $1,500.00 to take him down and haul him away, so I asked the logger what he’d charge.
I was pleased when he said that he’d just take it down for the lumber. In construction circles, white pine is almost a trash tree…but there were enough board feet in Grandpa to make it worthwhile at the sawmill.
But, we did have some mixed emotions. The tree had been a sort of totem that meant “home”. Grandpa was always there, his limbs gently waving goodbye high in the air when we went away; and when we came home he was always right where we’d left him, holding down the fort, making sure we had a stable place to be. He never said a word. But he spoke quietly to us of what he’d seen over his many years and whispered of people come and gone and all the world he could see from his perch on the ancient ridge, his head held high above the oaks. He sighed at night when the wind blew, and showered the ground with fragrant brown needles… content to stand silent sentry and witness to our lives as our family grew up, moved away, returned, cried, laughed, died, and lived.
But as he aged, the risk that he might cause some serious damage increased. And so, when the logger was sent to us in the way he was, it was apparent that it was time for Grandpa Pine to leave us.
I didn’t get to see the actual felling, but I did hear the crash. It was the most noise the old fellow had made in his long life. I came out of my office and there he was lying like Gulliver, with Lilliputian men scrambling over him to prepare his gargantuan corpse. He was gone by the end of the day, his branches ground into mulch. He will live on in someone’s barn or shed, or perhaps even a nice piece of woodworker’s art. I wish I’d asked to keep a slab, but forgot.
I miss Grandpa. The stump he left behind there next to the driveway was like a monument. At first I thought it was a little unsightly and considered renting a stump grinder. But then again…it was hard to think that Grandpa Pine had served his purpose and it was the end of an era. It occurred to me that there was a way to honor him.
So I hollowed out the stump with my chainsaw. Took me two days…it wasn’t as easy as you might think. I know it certainly was not as easy as I thought. But I got it done, sweat and cussing and all.
We’re going to plant impatiens in Grandpa’s stump (by the way, don’t try this with your real Grandpa…he might object), probably some bright red ones. And the area around him will get some azaleas, more impatiens and tan bark. Maybe a bird bath or a concrete bench.
It’ll be a memorial park…sort of a tribute to the old guy who was always there until we didn’t need him any more. What’s left of him will proudly carry his gift of flowers, and as he slowly rots away to humus he’ll help feed his new children. Eventually he’ll be reduced to a mound of rich material and go on feeding his life, accumulated over 120 years, back into the Earth from whence he sprung.
We humans should wish for such a fate. Whether we’re cut down long before we’re 120 years old, or get a chance to grow very old and put down roots in a place that connects us firmly to our planet…we should hope that what we’ve seen and felt and learned and done will be passed on somehow, fed back into the planet. We may not be lucky enough to become a beautiful piece of furniture or or even fertilizer for springtime flowers. But if we can leave even so much as a single good memory for one person to carry forward, it’ll be worthwhile.
May your descendants hear your voice whisper in the wind, and may your roots feed the life that’s still to be born.