I recently said goodbye to a grand old maple tree. For twenty-one years she stood guard in our front yard shielding us from the hot Virginia summer and wild snows of winter. As our children grew, she graciously allowed us to picnic under her branches and offered her roots to teething foster puppies too numerous to count. She provided us with privacy from the curiosity of nosy neighbors and the pesky HOA. She was my steady and faithful friend-the first thing I saw in the morning and the last I saw at night.. She was also messy, intrusive, and unpredictable.. Her plentiful leaves blocked the rain, leaving us with very little grass, and her strong roots tore at our walkway and killed our carefully tended plants. Her heavy branches swayed violently in the wind and drew dangerously close to our bedroom window during thunderstorms. The fear of her crashing into us at night proved too much for me, and we made the hard choice to have her removed.
That is life, right? The things that give us the greatest pleasure can also cause us significant stress. Knowing when to say goodbye is one of life’s greatest challenges. It took my husband and I three years to reach the decision to cut down our tree. Or to be honest, it took me that long. His mind was made up long ago as he once again dug “helicopters” from the highest gutters and bemoaned the mud that pooled in the front yard. But I fought hard for her. I felt she had earned our patience and mercy. It felt cruel to remove her just because she had outstayed her welcome. And didn’t her good outweigh her bad? Then one night, during a wild thunderstorm, I found myself sleeping in the guest room- horribly frightened she would come crashing into our bedroom. That was the breaking point. The next morning, I made a deal with my husband. The tree could go, but only if we replaced the walkway and planted a new tree. If she was leaving, something beautiful had to come of it. I went outside, wrapped my arms around her trunk and whispered a tearful goodbye and a giant thank you. It was time.
The day she came down, I hid in my studio and my heart sank when I heard the loud crack that brought her to the ground. It was only after, that I dared look out the window, expecting great sadness and regret. Instead, glorious light filled the house, my world seemed suddenly brighter- I even felt like I was breathing better. A weight momentarily lifted. That night I slept soundly. No regret. Once the hard decision was made, the letting go was surprisingly easy…. until it wasn’t.
In order to properly replace the walkway, we had to re-grade the front yard, remove a massive stump and dig up the old stone….in early Spring….in the rain and snow. My front yard looked a bit like a warzone. Mud, equipment, pavers, trash, dirt….so much dirt. It felt a bit as if we had hired a swat team to kill a fly. So much chaos for one walkway and tree. Suddenly the extra light made me feel vulnerable. Without the tree, my house was wide open for the world to see, the mess obvious to all. Curious neighbors began to walk by to see what we were up to. Rumors began to spread- perhaps we we had a sewer leak or maybe a broken pipe. I felt exposed. Regret seeped in. I felt a little ( a lot) grumpy. Change is hard, even when it is for the best. Rebuilding takes patience amidst the chaos and a willingness to be exposed and vulnerable.
Flash forward. The dust has settled. we have a beautiful new walkway and new landscaping that is filling in perfectly. We, once again, have a front yard full of bright green grass and fewer muddy pawprints in our hallway. I sleep soundly through storms- anxiety eased. Best of all, we have a beautiful, little magnolia tree in the front yard. She has a long way to go before she becomes a grand-old-tree-friend, but her blossoms release a sweet promise of things to come that make me smile and her shiny green leaves catch the light perfectly. We are getting to know one another bit by bit and have years to make memories- I predict we will be great friends, one day. No regrets.
Side Note: If you have ever truly loved a tree, you will understand my use of feminine pronouns to describe my sweet tree . If this seems odd to you, I gently suggest you spend more time with a wise old tree.
Please visit my gallery to see lovely tree paintings and other heartfelt artwork