Good-bye Trees

Yesterday the City cut down three trees on my block. I know they were sick or dead but I am always sad when I see a tree is cut down. It will take decades for a new tree to grow that big. When you are 62 decades are not guaranteed like they used to be.

Many years ago I wrote a column about losing a tree outside my apartment. I have published it here as a salute to those three trees that have been lost.


Last week the City of Minneapolis cut down my tree. Well technically, it belonged to the rest of the city because it was on the boulevard, but because I had watched it for more than eight years from my window, I feel the rest of the city can relinquish their ownership and let me refer to it as my tree.

After all, I saw it without its leaves, it saw me without my leaves and that is just about as intimate as two living objects can get without becoming co-dependent, sharing bodily fluids, or ending up on Jerry Springer.

For the past year I had a feeling my tree was dying, but I was in denial. Considering that in high school biology I put on my test that there are two types of trees – deciduous and carnivorous – I hoped that my lack of tree knowledge would prove me wrong about my tree’s health. But, much to my amazement (and probably the amazement of the entire faculty of Southwest High), this time I was right. My tree was dying. But the reality of it didn’t hit until I arrived home one day to find my tree had the dreaded orange circle painted around it. In Minneapolis when a tree is dead, and has to be cut down, an orange circle is painted around it.

In all the years that Minneapolis has been applying the orange ring of death on local trees, I have never seen the person who does the dirty work. It’s as if there is a Grim Limb Reaper who stalks the streets when no one is around and quickly applies an orange stripe to unfortunate trees to mark his timber territory – much to the envy of every dog in the neighborhood.

I have this horrible feeling that someday my health insurance provider will show up at the door with his actuarial tables in one hand and a can of orange paint in the other, and I will be marked as a high risk. Of course if some incredibly well-built lumberjack came along later it might be worth it- but I digress.

It wasn’t long after the orange line appeared that I arrived home to find my tree had been given a flat-top. All the small branches were gone, and the limbs had been cut away leaving an object that looked more like a coat rack than a tree. I knew it was only a matter of time before my whole tree would be gone. It was cut down on a Tuesday while I was at home. I started to watch from my window but found myself walking away. The kids at the pre-school across the street turned away too. What I thought would take hours took about 15 minutes. It was there … it was gone … and all that was left was a stump. Kind of reminded me of my marriage (but once again I digress).

A few days after the removal I called Ben, one of the city’s foresters, and asked what happens now that my tree is gone. Will there be a memorial service? Will the sawdust and chips be placed in an urn on some ecologist’s mantle? Would the stump be removed or would it remain so my local politicians could stand on it and give speeches?

Ben told me that the stump would be removed and said I could request that a new tree be scheduled for planting next spring. The other day I attempted to count the rings on the stump before it was removed to try to discover just how old my tree had been. Something in me wanted to be able to write one of those “Hard Copy” quips saying that my tree had been here for hundreds of years yet

Now if I were a poet, or philosopher, or Leo Buscaglia, I might write about how the loss of my tree reflects the circle of life or how we don’t appreciate things until they are gone or something else incredibly deep and provocative, but I’m not. And I know losing my little tree is a flea on the rump of an elephant compared to the destruction of millions of trees in the rain forests. But I miss my tree, and tomorrow if I drive by your house and see there is an orange ring on your tree, I want you to know I’m sorry.