A tree croaks in Stanstead

In keeping with our domestic mouse-rescue policy and spider relocation program, my wife and I have a pretty strict pruning policy. When it comes to our plants and trees, we let it grow, we let it all hang out, we let our freak fronds fly.

Our front flower garden could best be described as “Fern Gully.” Our lawn is as nature intended it – infested with weeds and dotted with dog-pee burns. I often look out and think our driveway could use a good mowing. As for the branches overhanging the driveway, if they scrape the paint off top of the car every time we park, that’s the price we pay for keeping the atmosphere flooded with the filtering goodness of photosynthesis.

We prune, pluck and pare only as a last resort.

Which is why for years we have ignored the maple tree that, for all intents and purposes, has been dead. Or at least half dead. Half dead, half alive, like Matthew Perry’s career.

We planted the tree a few years after we bought the house, and the sapling thrived. But seven years ago, a freak October snowstorm swept through the region, weighing down and in many cases snapping leaf-laden branches not yet hardened for winter. The snow splayed the three main upright limbs of our little maple, snapping one beyond salvage, twisting the other two to the ground.

sad tree 1

A sad day for the tree

We severed the snapped branch, and by late spring, the remaining limbs had begun to right themselves. The tree continued to develop but was never quite the same after that – again, much like Matthew Perry after “Friends.”

One summer saw barely any leaves sprout at all. Our neighbour, a tree specialist, came over, dug a fingernail into the bark and pronounced, “He’s dead, Jim” or far less dramatic words to that effect.

But the next spring, it was back! Subsequently, it shot out desperate green shoots and clung to its leaves in the fall long after other trees had discarded theirs, as if it knew that each leaf might be its last. Two years ago, I peeled some bark away to reveal an infestation of earwigs. (Incidentally, our pest-rescue policy does not include earwigs; we are decidedly pro-smoosh when it comes to earwigs.) Last year, several branches on one of the remaining two upright limbs produced no greenery. This year, the entire limb was lifeless.

Not that we particularly cared how our property looks (with apologies to the people of Stanstead if our tree cost the town first place in Quebec’s municipal flower contest – “Ain’t We Just the Prettiest,” I think is the official contest name) but the tree did look ugly, so we decided to act. Did we cut it down? Of course not! Live and let leaf, we say. Instead, we opted to lop. For once, we were prone to prune.

While I’m all for maintaining and nurturing (and ignoring), there’s something to be said about ripping stuff apart. In fact, I could see myself working in demolition because, honestly, what’s the worst that could happen? You accidently fix something?

So there was some satisfaction in getting the ladder and hand saw out and shearing off those dead branches. The first one especially. The second one was also good fun. By the third branch, it was starting to get old. By number four, my hand had cramped into a disfigured claw.

By the time I got to the dead upright limb, I was thinking I should borrow my neighbour’s chainsaw. But never having used a chainsaw, I’d have to borrow both the chainsaw and the neighbour, and that’s just embarrassing.

Instead, I began sawing away at the upright limb. Gravity, weight and my misshapen claw, however, caused the blade to jam after I was about two inches in. I figured I just needed to widen the cut a little, so I fetched my crowbar and hammer. But my other neighbours were across the street and, well, desperately hammering a crowbar into a tree you obviously can’t cut? That’s just embarrassing too.

I did eventually employ the crowbar method, to no effect other than making my ears ring. In the end, my solution was to keep hacking away at the limb on various sides until, using my manly, not-at-all-embarrassing brute strength, I toppled the limb to the ground.

And now, freshly pruned in accordance with house policy, the tree we won’t admit is dead stands still on our pee-stained lawn, set off by burgeoning ferns and rogue lilac shoots, perhaps the ugliest, most lop-sided, saddest tree in town. And this doesn’t embarrass me in the least.

A sad day for the neighbours

A sad day for the neighbours

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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33 Responses to A tree croaks in Stanstead

  1. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    You adhere to the Charlie Brown philosophy of horticulture. I like that. I like that you welcome diversity and less-than-perfection into your environment. That tree wants to LIVE! It stands as a reminder to all of us, especially your neighbors, that beauty is only skin deep. Unless underneath, you’ve got earwigs. Then get smooshing. Also, there’s something in your post about man’s inhumanity to man, but I’m a little less clear on that.

  2. pinklightsabre says:

    Good god I like your playful use of words and yes, I own a chainsaw but no, I haven’t used it yet, and if I have hands left afterwards, it will make a good post I am sure. Thanks for this, nice way to start the day.

  3. Robin says:

    This is funny. So glad your tree is still alive…thanks to your herculean efforts. We have had a similar ordeal with a birch tree that was horizontal last winter in an ice storm. I watched as my husband tried to get a dead branch down last weekend and had to yell out the window…please don’t hurt yourself! Anyway, thankfully we have no neighbors to care what our tree looks like and it’s really great for bird-life. Bet you have a few happy nests and chicks in your maple….oh, and thanks for your book! I did receive and am enjoying it!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Birches are pretty supple and ultimately quite hardy; hope yours makes it, your husband too.
      No birds in our sad, semi-nude tree, but we have birds in our backyard box for the first time in 10 years at least. We’re watching them and keeping an eye on the cats. Trying to identify it, actually, olive coloured and small, but not a sparrow. My goal for the day is to take a photo and post it.

  4. I reckon it’s pretty tragic for a Canadian to admit that his Maple tree is a goner. It’s seems unpatriotic, doesn’t it? I’m glad you persevered because like my first car, it may not be pretty, but it’s got character!

    Photosynthesize away!

  5. monicahlv says:

    Great story made me remember our the two trees like that in our front yard when we lived in Las Vegas (We live in Sweden now and have the world’s largest cherry tree where the cherries can only be reached by the birds). They were the same type of tree, butI have no clue what type that was. They both looked just like your tree with one good leafy bough and three or four broken limbs.

  6. Finally, a gardener (sic) who shares our values and aesthetic. We pruned our lilacs this year, and our neighbours nearly stroked out. Also:DEATH TO EARWIGS. And slugs.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I have to trim the lilacs every two years to keep peace with the neighbours. They’re not so keen on their car roofs getting scratched. Slugs are miserable too but the worst are potato bugs. I refuse to grow potatoes because of them.

  7. Elyse says:

    Finally, I found out where my husband learned his gardening skills.

    We have a pair of cedar trees at the edge of our driveway at the bottom of the walk up the stairs to our front door. They are 85% dead, but my husband refuses to cut them down with the chain saw we own and he knows how to use. “The birds like them.” We live in the woods. There are lots of trees around. Live ones. Apparently, my marriage is for the birds.

  8. Rosemary, do I need to start calling you “Jim” now? This AM, I was picking up the pieces of the gate (built circa 1957) that blew down a few weeks ago after sagging for innumerable years, propped up with cinder block. I figured it was just a matter of time before the hillybilly police stopped by to award us with a citation for bringing the property values down even more than we typically do. At least the guy in the haz mat suit that jumped the gate last year in the middle of the summer can just walk thru this time.

  9. Laura Lynn says:

    Good for you, live and let live is a good policy. I, personally, think that tree has a lot of character. We have a sad little pine that the landlord planted at the foot of the driveway that the deer routinely pull up, right out of the ground. We put it back but…

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