by Amy Atkins
Several years ago, a couple of guys with chainsaws showed at my house. If they hadn't been wearing hard hats, I would have called 911, but as soon as they started to chop at the big white birch tree in my backyard, I realized they were there on behalf of the power or phone company, trimming trees whose branches were encroaching on power or phone lines.
As they lopped limbs off, I mourned the loss of the shade the tree had offered us during the years. I thought about how grand the tree stood the day we came to look at the house and how, even subconsciously, it factored in our decision to buy. I thought about how gracefully the leafy branches, now in a messy pile on my lawn, swayed in a welcome mid-summer breeze. I assumed that though the tree had been nearly halved vertically, it would recover and thrive. It never did.
In the years since its mandated pruning, insects have made short work of the trunk, bits of sawdust and white bark litter the ground at its base. A woodpecker peck, peck, pecked herself a home in the tree one year, and the wood around the hole she created reluctantly rots away. Long, willowy branches drop at increasing intervals as the tree seems to die from the ground up.
Now, when the weatherman predicts an Idaho thunderstorm, I cower—not for fear of the wind, lightning and rain it may bring, but from the sound emanating from my ailing backyard birch. It creaks like an angry ghost pacing an attic floor and I'm haunted by images of the damage the tree would do if uprooted by a strong gust. The diameter of the tree's trunk is such that I can't get my arms all of the way around it and its height rivals that of any power pole. Regardless of what direction it falls—and that is imminent—it will be catastrophic. In danger are my garage, my deck, my house, neighbors' cars, two neighbors' houses, our shared fences and, of course, any pets or people who might be in its path.
This weekend, we removed a long section of fence, two gates and a railroad-tie enclosed planting area to provide access for a boom truck to get through because on Tuesday, a tree guy is coming to take down my beloved birch. The tree will be gone before I get home from work that evening. But before I leave that morning, I'm going to try one last time to get my arms all of the way around it.