A dying tree that’s still rich in memories

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The death of a tree. Its dry withering naked branches, once covered with prickly green pine needles, droop like lifeless arms on this towering Colorado blue spruce.

For countless summers, it has glistened faithfully in the sun — the centerpiece for a front manicured lawn in emerald glory. Twinkling with white Christmas lights upon snow-laden evenings, it has shone.

OPINION

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Once upon a time, a little boy lay next to it, molding a snow angel beneath the stars as his father documented the moment on videotape, while his prepubescent daughter trampled across the yard, leaving a trail of shoeprints.

That daughter is 21 now. The boy 15. The memories frozen in time.

Cold. It is still cold, despite the arrival of spring.

The tree’s green complexion fades inauspiciously, like aging paint — its once thick pyramidal beauty a shallow shell of itself. It is translucent from its base, up to past halfway. Thin is the circumference of her branches. Like cowlicks and thinning hair that reveal a balding man’s scalp, they show to the bark.

The top still shimmers. It shows no signs of the disease slowly — steadily — creeping up from below.

She is stricken with Cytospora canker, according to the “tree doctor” who diagnosed it late last fall. The owners could spend money to treat it. But “it’s never going to come back to its full integrity,” the doctor explained.

Prognosis: Death.

Recommendation: Cut it down. By axe or chainsaw presumably — laid at its trunk.

Dissected and tossed into the back of a truck then hauled away. Her stump ground down to invisibility. This will be her final ceremony.

For her time has passed. Like seasons of yesterday.

Like first loves and misty memories. Like a wedding ceremony on a late summer Saturday afternoon as a cool breeze whispers across a glistening Kankakee River.

Like precious moments imprinted upon the sands of time that get emblazoned on photo paper; then preserved behind thin plastic inside photo books; then stored on bookshelves or in boxes for safekeeping to gaze upon someday and remember.

A tree stands in the seasons of time. Between generations. Basks in the reverberations of life and death. Withstands the storms from which we shelter. This tree did not bend. Or break.

Or sway.

Trees touch the sky while simultaneously rooted in earth. Remind us by their mere presence of their worth. Kiss our eyes with breathless simplicity. Become rooted in our lives as they silently inch taller and we grow older.

Encircling this tree — for as long as it stands — is a girl, forever 9, learning to ride a two-wheeler in the driveway as her father runs beside her. There is the little boy, catching a football and rolling in the grass. There is the crackle, pop and hiss of the Fourth of July. There is a lawn mower’s buzz and the flutter of birds. The sweet sweet scent of pine.

There is the younger couple late one fall day nearly 20 years ago, dreaming of closing on the house behind this old tree, where an apple tree, a River birch, and a crabapple were also planted.

A few years back, they lost their apple tree. But this one hurts, the man confesses to the tree doctor.

“Geez, do people get sentimental about losing trees?”

“Yep,” she reassures. “The death of a tree is not a happy thing. Trust me. You love your shade, you love the beauty …”

You love the memories it holds in its once emerald but now dying arms. And you come to accept the death of a tree, even as you make plans to plant a new one.

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