You know that god-awful feeling when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? Well, even if you don’t (which I hope), you can probably imagine the gut-wrenching sorrow that ensues. How could this have been prevented? Why did this happen? What could I have said or done differently to avoid it?
Today was a bad day. It started well enough, but ended in a panic of mortified disbelief. In November of last year, I called a tree pruning person whose name I had gotten from a gardener friend. I had called several arborists before, who had come out to look, but when the time came to actually do it (as in late fall) I couldn’t get anyone to give me a call back. So, I found this guy – recommended by someone I had no reason to mistrust. There was some dilly-dallying. At first, he had knee-surgery, and was out for a while. Then, I was out of the country for a month, immediately followed by a month of playing catchup with work. So, at the end of March, I called again, and asked if it was advisable to do it, this late in the spring. We decided that it would probably be okay if we stuck to the little stuff, like taking the dead stuff out, minor crossing branches, etc. In all, I had received the recommendation to open the tree up by about 30% to increase air flow, and reduce the endlessly excessive leaf drop. So, okay – let’s do it! Today was the day.
He arrived an hour and a half late. I had a client appointment mid-day. This made me a bit nervous – especially since the tree guy got here late. Recommendations aside, I wanted to be there at least until I could rest assured he knew what he was doing. We stood underneath the massive canopy, pointed upward, and in as descriptive terms as we could, talked about what he should do. Then I had to leave. Ironically enough, the client I was to meet, has a magnificent Sequoia in a corner of her back yard. She considers it the Guardian of the property, and I can see why. It is a beautiful tree, and it is in a great, non-obstructive location. It really does feel like the Guardian of the Family, and the entire design of her backyard has centered on that tree. Mature trees are important. All other benefits aside, landscaping with trees can increase property values with as much as 20%.
When I came back, to my great joy, the entire top of the canopy had been cleared of a bunch of dead wood, and opened up quite elegantly. It was time to start on the lower levels. I explained (or at least I tried to) how I liked the shady, green embrace of the canopy on hot summer days, and how I like to sit under the branches and read, but how the lower branches needed to be cut up a little because the evergreen screening plants that are growing beneath it, toward the street, were pushing up into the first tier. So, open it up a little? Yes, a little – no major branches – right? Since he had done such a nice job, and I thought we were speaking the same language, I relaxed, and walked into the back yard, feeling that everything was fine. I managed spend the greater part of one day last weekend playing in the garden, but my solitary moments are so few, and so far between, I truly cherished the idea that I was going to have the afternoon pretty much to myself, in my garden.
I heard the chain saw, but it didn’t make me panic. I mean, on a tree this size, even the smaller branches have some girth. After a while, I wandered back out front – and just about had a heart attack!!!!! Holy fucking shit- there was a MASSIVE HOLE above the Fatsia. OH MY FUCKING GOD – not AT ALL first tier…. The entire street face of my Magnolia was gone. The north facing privacy shelter of my magical, shady cave ripped out! The branches I had wanted pruned up were untouched, and still touching the top of the Fatsia. Other than a few well chosen snips, I made him leave them in place, or the tree would have looked completely lopsided. Actually, leaving them didn’t do much good – the violence of the enormous, gaping hole above it breaks my heart. I have no real hope of any of it ever filling out again – at least not in my lifetime – since all the major branches that would have supported new growth, are gone. It’s like a meteorite hit a roof, and took out a massive hole. All of a sudden, I can see neighbors again, and trust me – I really didn’t want to. The main reason for me building the wall along the property line, backfilling and planting the shade shrubs was to create more level, PRIVATE space behind it.
He was apologetic, but not overly so. “I’m sorry, I misunderstood”, he said. Mortified, I could hear myself stuttering “But we said no major branches!?!?!?!” and “Remember – I said I LIKED the shade”. Of course, all of that reproach was completely pointless. Done is done – so dreadfully, irreversibly done… “Now those other plants will get more light”, he attempted on a more positive note, and pointed to the Fatsia and the others in front. “They’ll grow taller.” Yes, the Fatsia probably will get a little taller, but not 20′ taller. I answered with another one of my feeble, pointless comments, uttered in complete despair and disbelief: “But those are shade plants! They don’t really NEED more light…”
I had hoped that writing this would make me feel better, but it didn’t. I’m still shaking, and the lump in my throat seems to have lodged itself in there for good. I want to apologize to my maimed Magnolia, but it would do no good. Reading Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” always made me cry, and I want to cry over this, but I can’t. The lump in my throat is too big. I would have posted photos, but I couldn’t even bring myself to look at it. The worst part is that I don’t understand how it could go so wrong… ? When I was gone earlier, everything went fine. After I came back, and we talked about the lower half, I had thought we would be fine. Where did it fail? If anything, this illustrates the importance of good communication – something I apparently do rather miserably. On this April Fool’s day, I am most definitely the Fool – with a capital F. If this was a joke, it was a cruel one.
The one happy instance that happened today – other than a fun meeting with a wonderful, and funny client – is that I found the charger cord for my camera battery, which had been missing for a while. My dead battery is now charging. Maybe tomorrow, I can supplement this post with cringe-worthy photos of a pruning job gone horribly wrong, but right now I would rather cry until that lump disappears. My lush, wonderful green room is gone, and rather than a haircut, my tree got an amputation – or more so, several. I’m trying to think positively. This could have happened in a storm. It could have been a branch that needed to come out because of disease. But it wasn’t. Regardless of what I pretend, I will always know that it happened because I trusted that someone knew what they were doing. I could see the ginormous cavity as an opportunity, but right now I don’t have the energy to be creative – I’m still weak with sucker-punched disbelief. I suppose I could plant something that thrives in dry shade and grows tall and skinny, behind the Fatsia, but right now, I can’t think of any such plant. Maybe a Clerodendrum would do okay in the northern light? I could train it in a tree form to save space on the ground level…? Maybe in the dry shade, it won’t sucker so much? Or, I could celebrate the hole, and hang tiered, large, colorful globes, like a mobile of sorts, from the upper branches. Tomorrow, I will go outside, hug my tree, and ask its forgiveness. Other than that, I’ll check back here in the morning – please – oh please, let the good ideas fly! What would you guys do? (Other than cry, that is…)
Here are some photos of the new void.
I’ve had a day to live with the void. The more I think about it, the more I think it needs to contain some kind of feature. Something to make it not look like such a giant mishap – you know – more intentional. Gigantic lanterns? Mobile? Sculpture? On the ground level, to plug the glaring privacy hole, I will probably need some plants, though. I welcome ideas on both. Thanks for all the kind and compassionate comments so far – I’ve really appreciated them.