Friday, September 5, 2014

The Bean Tree and Me

The street we live on here is getting repaved and widened and, at the same time, they are laying a new water line to the water tower they recently constructed down towards the cemetery.  The tower... it's down towards the cemetery - not the water line.

Best intro ever.

Unfortunately, they must take down a  number of trees, some old and well-established, and, well, that is sad.  One is an old gnarly oak that grew in a great "Y" under the many low-hanging phone and electric and cable and who-knows-what-else wires out to the west of my neighbors driveway.  It was the kind of oak that lost it's leaves mid-winter instead of with all the other deciduous dudes in the fall.  I'll miss its tenacity and stubborn non-conformism.  And, for some reason, I'll miss those tired brown oak leaves skittering along the sleet-crusted snow, it's an Ohio thing.

Another is a grand old Catalpa tree that sits, sat, in the front western corner of the yard.  It is/was my neighbors tree, actually, but I loved it more.  Catalpa trees are funny old things, the leaves are wide and shady and particularly crunchy in October.  Their garish, Dr. Seuss blooms slowly turn to long seed pods that make it seem to hang even lower in the late fall, sighing under the burden.  We called them "Bean Trees" when I was a kid, but I am beginning to see that many of the names folks called stuff in my rural corner of the Midwest were, what... shall we say, inaccurate.  Of course, in my heart I called it "The Bean Tree" and she was, well, a she...

I dig trees.  I have on numerous times mentioned the twin maples that dominate our back yard, shading the baseball and spear-throwing, yellowing up in the fall to the color of ripe pears and dancing flames.  I'd hate to lose them and I hated to see "The Bean Tree" go as well.

I watched them take her down.  A helmeted dude on a lift limbed it all out around the wires and, in no time, just a monolith stood, totem-like, straight up, fifteen or so feet.  The lift guy swung to the old oak down a bit and then another worker with the same yellow helmet and a larger chain saw came in for the final cut, the death blow.  I had detached myself from the story of that old tree, perhaps because the process was interesting or, more likely, I didn't want to feel the pain of her long memory hitting me as she sighed back into the flow.

The long chain saw roars as it hits the flesh of that old gal and I sense that initial resistance and then it gains its bite.  The sawdust flies towards the four or five guys waiting for it to fall.  Suddenly the giant stump lurches funny, sort of jerks toward the street - where they don't want it to go.  The guy jerks the saw out of the way and with a giant crack that old beauty falls with a hollow, haunting thud, not feet from the men watching in surprise and, I think, awe.

You see, that grand dame was hollow, dying from the inside out.  Perhaps, I sensed that, perhaps I needed to watch her go, a silent, vested witness to her last quiet day.  I am glad I did.

The metaphor of the hollow tree is perhaps a tired one, like the foundation-on-sand one it has worn out its welcome from us.   But, you know what, not to a nine-year-old boy, it hasn't.  In an instant a boy can understand that that hollowness foreshadows the end.  That things are different on the inside than the outside, always.  That life goes on and trees have to go and water lines have to come.

It is all new to them and, forgive me, I keep forgetting that.  We must come upon these stories for the first time, well... some time.  It is not a cliche or a worn aphorism the first time we see something, and on the other hand, it is a well-worn metaphor because it is a good and useful one.

You can see how hollow she was.  You can also see the long piece that sticks up there, right by the mailbox - that is what cracked and sent her early to the pavement.  In the distance was the old oak I mentioned earlier.

Here is the hollow with Mr. Redlegs for scale.

In lieu of a backseat thingee, the other day Marci posted this picture with this caption:

Mom: "Why are there only 3 places set?"
Dad: "I don't know ... Nick, did you only set 3 places?"
Nick: "Yup."
Dad: "Who's not eating?"
Nick: "You."
Mom: "Why isn't Dad eating?"
Nick: "Because he made me set the table."

The respect is palpable, don't you think?  It really was funny, once...

Thanks for thinking about an old tree with me, I appreciate it.


  1. I love trees; big, wise, old deciduous trees. When I left my home in Southern Ontario for the prairies of Western Canada there was little I missed more than the grand Sugar Maples of home.

    1. Kind of you to stop by, Mr., uh, Crock, so few do anymore. Anyone who recognizes the wisdom of trees is welcome on my small porch of the internet. I like your blog as well, writing from the heart is rare and underrated these days.

    2. Well we had a freak snow storm this past week and grand ole crab apple tree in our backyard took a beating. As did a neighbouring shade tree. Spent the day cutting up fallen branches and pruning broken ones caught in the tree. We have a lot more sun getting into our yard now. So sad.