It has to go. We’ve known it for awhile. Even back when Mamma was alive, she talked about the need to take the aging tree down. But, though if it had fallen, it would have crashed right onto her room, she still didn’t want to lose it. In subsequent years my brother Charlie has had to deal with our outcries when he mentioned taking down the maple at Stone Gables.
But this week it has to come down.
In many letters from home years ago I read Mamma’s seasonal descriptions: “The maple tree is starting to change color,” “The tree is in her glory,” or “You should see the tree now–the most beautiful it has ever been.” And in the spring, “The maple is budding,” “The maple is like a beautiful blush over the roof.” Even in winter she would mention the maple’s gray stark branches or maybe write something like “Even the maple looks cold today.”
When we drove up and around the last curve approaching Stone Gables, the maple, blazing red and gold in the fall, or blushing rosy in the spring, was our first welcome. The tree was behind the house but it was tall and the colors were beautiful, including the green of summer, over the gray slate roof.
Its shade made a welcoming place in summer for shucking corn and in the fall chopping cabbage for making a crock of sauerkraut. In the fall my sister and I had the most hilarious times playing in the colorful fluffy leaves on the ground, making playhouses, and even sewing leaves together for some fanciful creation. The tree was one of our “bases” when a bunch of us played Hide and Seek.
The area beneath its shading canopy became a favorite parking place. We remember so many models of cars that motored to a stop there under the maple tree. There was the 1934 Packard that was pretty stubborn sometimes and required a push-off by several of us kids with the driver running beside ready to jump in when the motor came to life. Actually, it was usually in the place of honor in the garage, but still the push-off would have occurred right there near the maple tree. There was Orman’s green Studebaker, Stan’s 1950 Oldsmobile, Pat’s little blue Volvo, and on and on until now when we park our mini-van or Charlie his Suburban and unload to enjoy time at Stone Gables.
There was a low limb on the maple tree just the right distance from the ground for hanging a canvas baby seat for little ones to swing in. The same limb, later on, served as a good place to hang a headless chicken for bleeding out before Mamma attacked the defeathering job in a tub of hot water. Charlie, in my memory, was the one who had to chase the chicken down on a Saturday afternoon. That limb worked well, too, as a place for hanging a mop to dry.
One summer when Mamma was ill and unable to go outside much, a hummingbird built its nest in the maple tree. Contrary to hummingbirds’ usual habit of building very high, this one built on a limb just over our heads, low enough we could take pictures to show Mamma. She took the greatest delight in having such a tiny nest develop outside her room. I was convinced God sent us that hummingbird to cheer us during a dark time.
The tree has to be a hundred, and then some. It has lent shade, beauty, comfort and joy to four generations. If a single tree can be so important in the memories of a family growing up and expanding, how much more important each person who walked, worked, and played through those memories.
My brother Charlie now heaves a sigh of relief as an ice storm threatens. The maple is gone and will not fall on the house. Maybe we will plant another maple tree to lift its crown above the old stone house.
Joyce Kilmer was a lover of trees, too. He wrote “Trees,” one of my favorite poems:
“I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”