Mourning the Fallen

The wind howled today.  In angry gusts of pent up spring temperament, it raged across the ground picking up anything and everything in its path.  Dust flew.  Sand & small rocks flew too.  Tumbleweeds shot across the sky as if propelled from within a jet engine.  I expected to see the fenceline due north of us transformed from open wire, into a virtual wall of crackly weeds, caught and pushed against each other, an abrupt end to their flights by way of a few strings of barbed wire.

As I drove home, the wind had calmed some, but its effects could be seen everywhere.  Random household objects littered the middle of our main thoroughfare.  Diapers, beer cans and shingles were strewn everywhere.  A pine tree, snapped at the base.  All that remained of its trunk were a few sharp shards sticking haphazardly out of the ground.  They pointed sharply upward as if in testimony to their glorious form that had only hours earlier reached its old branches skyward.  Now it had been quickly sawn into long sections, and laid out down the side street as if in a public viewing of its death.  There it lay. Sadly, broken and no longer intact.

I instantly mourned for that tree, its owner and the house that now had to stand alone, without its branched canopy or the gentle song of a breeze through its needles.

It took me back to a sadness I knew well.  On the verge of signing paperwork to buy my very first home out of college, I still felt myself teetering on the edge of whether to do it or not.  Then, the picture of the house in its full summer glory, shaded by a beautiful, silver maple tree in the front yard, would be plucked from the “Pros” side of my advantages v.s disadvantages mental list I had created in my mind.

I dreamed of birds nestled in its branches all summer, lightly cooing outside my window on sunny afternoons.  I dreamed of the beautiful dappled shade it would cast on my green lawn, the fluttering of leaves overhead with summer’s hot breeze.  I dreamed of its green leaves burning with autumn’s fading light, turning the tree into a bold, yellow burst of fall color.  I dreamed even of the joy of raking all autumn, amassing giant piles of crunchy leaves to fall backwards into.

And with those dreams framed in the front of my mind, I signed on the dotted line.

A few years into my new home ownership, I started to notice a change.  Actually one of my neighbors alerted me.  She, too, had a silver maple in her front yard.  With fewer and fewer leaves, and green leaves yellowing all summer, she had resorted to deep feeding schedules and expert advice.  She feared she was going to lose her tree and she was worried about mine as well.

Happily surrounded by fallen silver maple leaves

I tried to act unconcerned, but the fact was:  I had noticed it too.  It didn’t have as many green leaves, and lots of them would yellow and fall to the ground.  One day I even noticed an entire bare branch without a single leaf intact. I hoped for the best, but my heart secretly feared the worst.  I resorted to iron supplements, fertilizer stakes, deep root watering wands and resigned myself to trim the dead branches as soon as I saw them.  The quicker I could get rid of the symptom, I hoped, the quicker it would mend itself.  Maybe these dead branches were just a figment of my imagination or an unlucky summer budding timeline.

I scoured online looking for possible remedies, causes, cures, reasons, explanations and miracles.  Silver maples, it turns out in the area I lived, did often suffer from iron deficiencies, causing the leaves to yellow.  Drought was also a factor.  After enduring three winters of extreme drought, maybe my summer sprinkler system and the city-patrolled, two-day-a-week watering schedule just wasn’t making up enough ground for those other six months of the year.  I learned that silver maples are also fairly short-lived trees.  The negatives were racking up.  I found myself preparing, secretly, for what seemed to be the inevitable.

Apparently this photo was NOT taken during one of our drought winters!

A few years later, despite my valiant attempts at resuscitation, my beautiful silver maple had been reduced to all of two tall branches that still leafed out timidly.  I wonder if those branches missed their friends and the days of happy green leaves, they looked lonely and abandoned.  Betrayed and left to fight what remained of a losing battle.  It broke my heart to remember its green-leafed canopy, its cool summer shade and those piles of autumn leaves.  They were but a distant memory now.

I wasn’t there the day the tree cutters showed up.  The next time I saw my front yard, the only memory of my dear silver maple was a sawed off stump and the naked blankness of my beige and brick house.  The tree had somehow buffered it so gratuitously for all those years.   The character, the longstanding curb appeal, the aged perfection it had infused to my front yard had dematerialized instantly with that final carcass of wood that they dragged carelessly off to the side of my driveway.  What took nearly thirty years to grow had been butchered into saleable-sized pieces in less than an hour.

Like a friend, my silver maple tree had seen me through my first house, my first car purchase, an emergency appendectomy and a revolving line of friends and roommates.  It had watched me come home much too late on a few nights, but it had also seen me leaving the driveway early on Sunday mornings for church.  It saw me through promotions at work, and disappointments with friends.  It watched me celebrate the weddings of my brother and my sister.  Life was good, life was bad and my silver maple saw it all, standing stoically there in my yard.  No expression but the beautiful leafed tears it shed every fall and the proud buds of hope that welled up each spring.

My beloved silver maple, in all its beauty, is but a memory now, long burned in a fireplace for heat.  It is hard to say goodbye and to let a dream go.  To boldly embrace where it has taken you, but also to realize its end has come.  In a pile of firewood that day, I said goodbye to a tree . . . and a dream, but its beauty will live on forever in my heart.

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18 thoughts on “Mourning the Fallen

    • Thank you. They really become a part of our lives, don’t they? I’m glad I could give it a sort of tribute (maybe one day I can plant one in my new yard. That would be perfect!)

    • Thanks Jess! Oh, it’s so hard to see the end beginning 😦 Maples are just beautiful, aren’t they? Trees are such substantial parts of our homes and yards that it is almost shocking when one day they are just gone.

  1. Oh, Katie, this reflection is a poignant reminder that some things in life are fleeting and temporary and only what is “eternal” lasts. And we have our memories…always our memories.

    Love the snow and pumpkin pics!

  2. So beautifully written KT. Your relationship with your beloved silver maple tree has very deep roots indeed, and I believe your tribute here is honoring that relationship ins a special way.

    • Thank you so much Robyn! I’m glad I could honor it in some way. I can’t tell you how my heart dropped to see it as a pile of firewood at the end.

  3. Where I grew up outside of Yellowstone Park the pine beetles went through and killed off a huge percentage of our pines. Outside of our lodge we had a tree that had stood there since before the earliest pictures we had of our ranch dating back to the very early 1900’s. It was huge and had such character that when we noticed the beetles had gotten to it also, we cried. The day they had to cut her down was a very sad day. A very well written story that brings back a lot of memories, Thank you!!

    • It brings a tear to my eye. How heartbreaking. The pine beetles are running rampant in Colorado as well — it’s so very sad to see their widespread destruction. I can’t imagine losing a tree like that 😦 Thanks for your kind words!

  4. Your memories of that wonderful, giving tree brings to mind all of those who have gone before.
    The best part of people and things are the way they touch our hearts and stay there forever.
    Love it and love you!
    x0x0x0 Aunt Kathy

  5. Enjoyed this one very much! You are right, trees are especially important, I can remember so many from all of the different homes I have lived in. They are to be treasured and respected! I kind of sound like a “greenie”, not what I was going for really, your words conjured up so many great feelings and memories and as I write I am looking out at the beautiful Ponderosa pines in our back yard. A lucky view for me! Thanks again! ~ Patti

    • Well hello my friend!!!! They all have special places in our hearts, don’t they? I’ve gotta come visit and see your Ponderosas firsthand 😉 Glad you enjoyed this one! Hope you’re GREAT!

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