A Different Kind of Loss

We had a pine tree growing near our house for nearly twenty years. I was used to seeing it through the bedroom window bathed in the light of new morning, and now and then, at the cusp of night, with a pale moon hanging over it. I liked watching birds fly toward it to take shelter in its branches, and I liked the way the wind trembled its needles. I liked the cooling shadows it cast, and I liked its piney fragrance. It was very much there. In a good way.

The pine tree had been planted in the sandy dirt of a steep hillside, and it grew first at an angle and then straight up, taller and faster than we expected, and the rock beneath the surface of the hillside prevented its roots from gripping deeply. Occasionally we wondered what would happen if it fell; it was very close to the house. But mostly we didn’t think about it. It was just there. In a good way.

Then came the fire, and all our vulnerabilities were exacerbated. Everyone has been clearing dry brush, cutting away dead tree limbs, removing trees that might easily catch fire, opening pathways, creating fire breaks. We looked up at the pine tree one morning when the sky was filled with ash and smoke, and it began to make us feel uneasy, an old friend perhaps turned dangerous.

And maybe not. Maybe fire will never reach these hills, although the commonly held  theory is not if but when, an ominous perspective that’s hard to ignore in these times of epic droughts and storms and conflagrations.

And maybe the tree would have never snapped or fallen, staying strong and stable, continuing to grow long after we were gone.

This was not a decision made lightly. We called in an expert. “It’s a healthy tree,” he concluded. “But there are good reasons to remove it.”

This seems to be a season for removing things. He returned this morning with his tree-cutting equipment, and set about doing so. I watched him as he began his work.

“Do you feel the emotional component of this?” I asked him, because I had suddenly realized I very much did.

“Absolutely,” was his reply. “It’s never easy to take down a tree. Each one is an individual living being. I get it.”

To my surprise, I felt tearful.

“Good-bye, old friend,” I said to the pine tree. “Thank you for your steadfast presence all these years.”

“Yeah. It’s never easy,” said the tree guy. I could tell he understood.

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