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Saving the Dogwood
They had black rot, the tree man said, it would be dangerous for them to stay, so close and liable to fall on the house. But I think those three tulip poplars should have stayed.
I remember that day clearly, the buzzing of chain saws, seeing the tree men climb with their slings and cruelly sharpened spurs. They cut away the branches first, tossing them to be mulched, shredding the proud green leaves. They tore the limbs until nothing but gray spears remained, proud and resolute.
Even the trunks they defiled tore away their pride, bit by bit, log by log.
I grabbed my bike and left in the middle. I couldn’t stand it. The ceaseless buzzing of chainsaws, the sound they made when they cut clean through a branch, the inevitable, repeating thud of the shortened piece of trunk falling to the ground. Those sounds rang in my ears as I peddled away.
I went to see some friends. We talked about frivolous things and played outside, but the tearing down of those proud Goliaths still lurked in my mind.
Once I got home, one was gone. Nothing but a stump, bleeding fresh sap, and a pile of logs remained. Another had undergone the transformation to a gray spear, but its tip was already gone. Only one whole tree remained. It was the proud soldier left of the three. Its leaves swayed in the wind, making rustling noises as if mourning the deaths of its companions.
But soon it too would be gone. There would be nothing left but a dogwood tree and three stumps arranged in a triangle around it to show what had once been the three mighty poplar giants.
I don’t know how I slept that night. I could still hear the buzzing of chain saws even though the tree men finished in the late afternoon. Those trees were such a looming presence I could not imagine how the morning would look without them.
I can still remember seeing the dogwood the next morning among those stumps. It was small, with just a few leaves hanging on after its protectors’ demise. One limb was completely torn off. But the dogwood hung on, surrounded by a perimeter of sawdust, and grew into the green-leafed beauty I see today.
I could not imagine how that dogwood had survived in the center of the triangle of towering poplars that stole its light for all those years. The only happy thing about the whole process of the poplars being cut down has been seeing the dogwood flourish in its newfound freedom. Recently, I even noticed green berries forming in clusters, ready to grow new dogwoods as it had grown itself.
A few days after the poplars were cut down, I went to another friend’s house. She was bemoaning the loss of two branches from her favorite climbing tree. It was a small, wizened thing, and pruning those branches would help it grow better. But she could not be consoled: now she couldn’t climb it, she said, even after I showed her another way up. I told her of the loss of the three behemoths in my yard, but she shoved if off. Her tree was special, she said.
Those trees were special too—shade trees to read under. She could not understand how those trees, with their gargantuan presence, could ever be special. They couldn’t even be climbed. She would never understand.
But I still remember that poor dogwood, lucky thing it was, being saved from the fates
that befell its neighbors. It is now so beautiful, with its haloes of blossoms last spring, when the
spring before it had only a few, that I understand the sacrifice, three trees for one, losing so much, gaining what seemed so little.
But even small things have beauty, as that dogwood showed in its transformation, and I understand now how three big trees died for a small one to live.