Many years ago, my husband and I toured a house we hoped to buy in our local historic district. Our first concern was not the amount of restoration the house required but the massive tree out front, a towering maple with limbs resembling a sumo wrestler. The tree had grown so close to the end of the driveway, I was certain I’d hit it whenever I pulled out with our car.
“You’ll never hit that tree,” my friend Sandy said. “It’s so huge you’ll always be worried when you back out, and therefore you’ll never hit it.”
She was right. Though trepidation guided the first times Duane and I eased out of the driveway, the old house charmed us. We became its proud new owners and grew accustomed to maneuvering our driveway, though visitors avoided anxiety by parking on the street.
Years passed with substantive house restoration. Our house became a home. In pleasant weather, we enjoyed lunches and suppers on the front porch, greeting neighbors as they passed by. I adored our maple tree for its wide arms that shaded our front lawn each summer, for its glorious shades of yellow leaves in autumn, sunlit against the sky before they cascaded down, and for the artistry of its dark branches that laced the winter clouds.
Then one summer, a storm blew through town and tore one of the muscled limbs from our tree. The giant limb fell along the curb strip, its long branches extending into the street. Traffic stopped to survey the wreckage. Neighbors and passersby helped my husband and father-in-law clean up the damage. Though our front curb was no longer shaded, the tree survived and managed to shade the rest of our lawn. Years passed. More branches and limbs fell during storms, but the tree persevered. Because it grew along the curb, the city was responsible for trimming its broken branches. One year, the clean-up crew told me they should take down the tree.
“Do you have to?” I pleaded.
“Well, maybe not yet,” they relented.
More years passed. More limbs and branches fell, and more pleading and relenting reprieved the tree. Finally one spring, only a few leaves grew in, long after the other trees on our block had turned green. Duane and I surveyed the bare branches in mid-summer and knew we had to let our tree go. The crew came and cut down the remaining branches until only the trunk remained and two limbs sticking up in the air as if the tree had surrendered. I thought my heart would break.
I couldn’t watch the final removal of the trunk and roots, but in later weeks as I mourned the empty hole on our front curb and gaping space in the sky, I knew we should plant another tree as soon as possible. I called our city parks manager.
“I’m getting a shipment of red maples,” he said. “Would you like one?”
The crew came to plant our new tree one bright autumn day. I ran outside with a plate of cookies, bubbling with questions about care and maintenance as they planted the six-foot tree a few feet from the end of our driveway. I touched its slim silvery trunk and realized how many years it’d take before the tree would grow tall enough to shade our lawn. But its spritely branches claimed my heart, simply with its promise that it would grow.
Our beautiful new maple grew several inches those first few months, and that spring, I found myself looking not at the wide space in the sky once filled with leaves and limbs but straight ahead at the branches blossoming in front of me. May the wind blow gently upon them.
Suggested reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith