This is a rather longish post concerning the frustration of municipal red tape and the loss of a friend, of sorts. It is one of those “shaking my head” type posts. It is also about quality of life, trying to do the right thing, change, loss, adapting.
This small city has rather republican rules about trees. The strip between the sidewalk and the road belongs to the city, and the trees planted on that narrow strip (along with the water lines below it) also belong to the city…… but the homeowner is responsible for maintaining them. You must prune and trim the tree if necessary. You must repair the sidewalk if the roots start to damage or lift it. If parts of the tree fall down, you must clear it and clean up around it. (If the water pipes burst anywhere from the center of the street onward in the direction of your house, even if it is under the city street, you must also make those very costly repairs). All of this burden falls on you – it is yours, yet it is not yours.
If the city decides they want to remove the tree in front of your house, you have no say in that decision, they can do whatever they want. However, if you are the one who wants to remove it, you need their permission to do so – and you have to pay for the removal. The cost of removing a tree can be considerable.
The Linden tree in that narrow strip in front of our house is a gorgeous tree, a beautifully shaped tree, reaching up past the roof of this Victorian house, three stories high. Within the second floor windows, the boughs create a verdant glow which feels almost as if you are in a tree house.
The Linden provides privacy. For years this tree has shielded us from the view of the old, unregistered RV’s parked in the neighbor’s drive across the street, from the lawn ornaments, refuse containers and the excessive collection of faded patriotic flags. It has blocked our view of a building that houses an office, and their view of us. It has filtered out the sounds from the road and the fumes from the air. As the sun arcs towards the west and begins to roast the front porch on summer afternoons, the Linden provides shade and helps to keep the house cooler.
The scent of the blossoms is a combination of honey and heaven, something sweet and intoxicating. In June or July you will suddenly open the front door in the morning and there it will be in full flower, with an aroma that lures you onto the sidewalk to just stand beneath it and inhale, which you will do for the next few days, until it slowly fades.
Everybody who sees it loves the Linden. One summer a young woman and her fiance stopped and asked if they could take some of the lower branches to display at their wedding, in fond memory of the bride’s grandmother, who used to have a Linden in her yard. They had driven all over the city looking for one until they finally found ours. A lovely tribute.
For a few years the phoebes occupied it. Last year it was the robins. The house sparrows fly back and forth from the tree to the top of our porch where they have their nest each year. Squirrels play up and down the trunk. Every dog in the neighborhood pees on it too.
In the fall, there are a lot of leaves to rake up. It does not drop them all at once, but over a period of a few weeks. It also drops a lot of sticks and branches, more than any of the other trees. After every rain the yard and sidewalk are littered with twigs.
This Linden has a spirit about it, a rather lovely spirit. You can sit on the porch and look at it and pretty much feel its good vibes. Every single day I get a familiar, contented feeling of pleasure from this tree.
About four years ago, the top of a large truck grazed some of the overhanging branches – branches hanging over the center portion of the road, which the city should have trimmed. I am guessing that perhaps that incident caused some stress to the tree that we were unaware of. Aside from tearing off a few small branches from above, the tree seemed to remain intact.
Yet a few months later, the day after a rainstorm, a massive, heavy limb suddenly split off the tree and landed clear across the road in the middle 4:30 pm traffic, blocking cars in both directions. By some miracle it missed landing on any vehicles or pedestrians. A neighbor immediately called the city department of public works. Nobody showed up. The police eventually appeared, looked at it for a minute and then drove away. We stood there rather dumbfounded at the lack of municipal interest, left to our own devices, as traffic was now stopped and could not pass.
The two guys in the first vehicle that the tree had blocked – a pick-up truck – were clearly in a hurry. They suddenly jumped out of the cab, pulled a chainsaw out of the bed of their truck and started cutting up the heaviest parts of the tree right there in the road. Once they could get through, they zoomed away. The woman with all the lawn ornaments and flags, who happens to be a senior, kindly came across and started to help us drag branches off to the side. Thankful for the impromptu community effort, once we got the road cleared traffic resumed and we continued to clean up the wood and brush, which was now pulled into and filling our driveway.
Where the limb had fallen there was now a sizable gash in the trunk.We immediately called an arbor company to come out and assess the health of the tree. He told us apparently some water was running into a fissure of the tree and had probably caused the bough to split off after the storm. He felt the tree was still healthy, suggested that we could fill the indentation with cement or leave it, that we could eventually cable the tree but that it seemed stable for now. He said Lindens do tend to drop branches. Despite the gnarly-looking scar, the tree seemed to recover and heal.
The following year, early on a bright sunny morning following a night of rain, yet another large bough split off from the Linden, taking a significant part of the tree. This time it landed on top of the sidewalk, across our driveway and into the driveway next door, just missing the neighbor’s car and our front porch.
Again, luckily, no children were walking past it to school, nobody had been standing there with their dog. The SO and I cut it up and hauled it away. A few guys from the DPW happened to be driving by, noticed the situation and helped cut up the largest parts. We were grateful. Surprisingly, once again the branches and boughs that came down were solid and intact, not rotted. The broken part created another crevice in the trunk where it pulled away.
I called The City Tree Commission to let them know of the situation, and that we were interested in preserving the beautiful tree. The woman in charge who I spoke to, the head of the “tree preservation committee”, appeared to have a hint of bureaucratic attitude. She stated, not in the friendliest of deliveries, that the Lindens are nothing special, that they are all over the uptown area, that they are a dime a dozen and that their little leaves are a nuisance which just clog up all the drains.
I had to wonder at her experience. There are no other Linden trees in the uptown area that I have seen. The trees with all the little leaves all over the place that are clogging up the drains happen to be Locusts. We have Locust trees everywhere. Did she not know the difference between a Linden and a Locust? Either way, despite her being in charge of the “tree preservation committee”, it was clear the city was not interested in preserving or helping in this situation. She asked me to send her some photos and seemed more concerned with knowing exactly who it was at the DPW that had helped us finish clearing it up the following day, as if that was some sort of travesty. She never responded to my email with the photos.
Despite the drama/trauma and the gaping gouges now gracing both sides of the trunk, the Linden continued to thrive and bloom, with a full, healthy canopy….at least for a while.
About two months ago a tree crew hired by the city came through and removed trees in front of two other houses on our street, on either side of us. When I asked the guys cutting down the trees why that was happening, they said The Tree Commission had sent out an arborist to decide which trees were a a potential hazard and should be removed. Since the city has determined that our tree is not a hazard, I would assume they are deeming it safe. However, I called The Tree Commission again and asked them if they had noticed the Linden tree and why it was skipped over.
This time I reached an administrative person who was a lot more friendly. She said the city had a grant to remove hazardous trees and they chose the trees they felt were most dangerous. I explained my concerns and said it would be great if the city could preserve this beautiful, old tree, and couldn’t they send their arborist out to at least look at it to check again that it was safe? She said there was no more grant money for now but she would make a note of it and put it on a list. She asked me to email photos, which I did (again). I did not get a response to my email or pictures.
With growing concern over the past few weeks, the trunk of the tree appears suspect to me. While the Linden continues to leaf out beautifully and has not dropped any more parts, I have had a mounting sense of unease about it. I keep bringing it up to the SO – somebody needs to come and assess this tree again. When I walk beneath it daily, something feels off. I am afraid somebody could be hurt or even killed if we have any serious wind.
A few days ago it rained again with significant wind and a tornado warning. The SO and I sat on the front porch watching the rain and wondered how the Linden was going to behave. With relief, it seemed to handle the storm with no issues. Yet the following morning while out walking the dog, I discovered a long crack in the trunk facing the street side, immediately took a photo and texted it to the SO. There are small children living next door, kids going by on bicycles, people parking beneath it, dogs, us. There was no more assessing the risk. He took one look at it and called a tree company to take it down.
It is my birthday, one of those “10 best of the year” spring days of low humidity, clear blue, sunshine seventy-degree wondrous perfection days. I had ideas for how I wanted to enjoy my day. Losing this special old friend of a tree was not part of the plan.
The tree removal guys showed up in the morning to take down the Linden. I cannot tell you how upsetting it feels. Our beautiful, spiritual Linden. I felt – out of respect – that I should be present for its demise, and so I stayed from beginning to end, watching from the porch with my iced coffee while they deftly dismantled it.
It took about two hours. I wanted to know how old the tree was and asked that they cut a slice of the trunk so the rings could be counted. I had tears in my eyes. Losing that tree is heartbreaking. Maybe it sounds a little bit “woo-woo” to some, but before it was gone I gave the trunk of that tree a big hug, silently apologized for what had to be done and thanked it for gracing us with its presence all of these years.
Wouldn’t you know it, a supervisor from the city DPW suddenly drove up, asking if we had a permit to take down the tree. I explained to him that it was a quick decision as it was too dangerous to leave up another minute. That I had contacted the city numerous times about the tree with no response. That during this whole covid-19 thing going on I was under the impression these offices weren’t even open.
He was actually a pretty nice guy. The tree guys had also taken photos and assured him that as they were taking it down they could feel it was shaky and unstable. Wonder of wonders, the DPW supervisor said the city would come back and grind out the stump the next day, which they did. Thankfully, we didn’t have to pay for that too after the expense of the tree removal. I kind of wish it was him that I had been in contact with in the past. Perhaps the outcome might have played out differently. Or maybe not, but it might have felt better. Remarkably, the tree was not rotten inside, save for one thin crack and stain at the bottom portion of the trunk where the water had run down.
The glaring absence of the Linden is disturbing and sad and weird. When someone familiar or close to you dies, there seems to be a vacuum left in the universe, and so it feels this way with our Linden no longer there. I miss the comforting and benevolent presence of that tree.
We are now totally exposed with no privacy and a not so pleasant view from the windows. The light is strong and harsh, the porch and front rooms already hot. The loss is deeply felt. We will replace the tree with something eventually, although it will take decades before anything would be large enough to shelter the way the Linden did.
Like many things in life, eventually we will adapt to this new reality, but right now we are not liking it. The tree guys did cut a slice of the trunk for me. It is difficult to get the exact count of all of the rings, as they are not clearly defined. I wondered what life was like on this street, in this house, back on the day a young Linden was planted. I was hoping that the tree would not be exactly the same age as I was. Somehow, ending the life of that dear tree on my birthday would just be just a little bit too freaky if the ages matched. It is more than half a century old.
It wasn’t the same age, but it was close.