An old friend died yesterday, someone whose company I had enjoyed every single day for more than five years.
A soon-to-be new neighbor hired a crew of eight men to scalp the property below me in order to build a house with a better view. Now I’m no eco-snob—I already enjoy a lovely water and mountain view, and trees were surely axed before this house was built.
And I have mixed feelings about the result. I now have an even better view of the bay, and now I can see Mt. Baker from the other end of my house, too.
But what I don’t have is a meadow where the deer herd congregate, sheltered from stormy weather. What I don’t have is a row of alders where mobs of crows sat to chat and wait for the dawn. What I don’t have is the magnificent, ancient madrona tree who anchored my view to the east. If I got to choose between new neighbors and an old tree, it’d be no contest. Madrona wins every time.
The full truth, though, is also more complex. Most of the distinctly beautiful madronas, whose red bark glows in the early morning light, are sick and dying. Something similar to Dutch elm disease is eating away at these wonderful beings. I took a walk down the hill this morning to visit with the tree as she lay scattered where she was felled, her trunk in a hundred pieces like the vertebrae of a dinosaur.
Deer wandered around in the rubble looking a bit dazed, yet delighted to have a buffet of green madrona leaves laid on the ground. I couldn’t shake the image of vultures picking over a fresh kill. I suppose the good news is that the leaves won’t go to waste.
I tried to count her rings at the stump, which is easily four feet in diameter, but I soon realized that accurate ring counting is beyond my abilities. This tree was surely 80-100 years old; of that much I’m sure. As I touched her dismembered limbs, I said goodbye and thanked her for the countless moments of beauty she gave to my life. I picked up one leaf to press and save and one small branch that caught my eye. It’s a classic Y-shaped branch, but one of the upper stems is long dead, with coarse peeled bark, while the other stem is smooth and strong and was clearly thriving yesterday. I will keep this branch as a reminder that when one avenue in your life comes to an end, another route can head off in another direction.
As I stood on the bare land where soon a new house will rise, I had to agree that they will have a magnificent, sweeping view. I hope they really, really appreciate it. Someday I may invite them over see photos of my old friend, Madrona.
• Have you ever had to say goodbye to a special tree?
• Are you ever conflicted about conservation and progress?
• Does a dying tree still deserve to live?
• Is a view more valuable than a tree?
If you have stories about trees in your life, I’d love to hear them. Please share below.