It is evening. By this time tomorrow, something will be very different here. Edward will be gone.
Edward is one of the stately maple trees that lured us to this place from Ulster County. His three sisters (yes, they have names, too) stand guard in front of the house, facing south. Edward towers just behind the house, far too close for practicality. His size, and his proximity, seemed like a dangerous combination, but we hoped he’d be there for a long time to come. We couldn’t imagine taking him down.
All four maples appear to have been planted at the same time, probably when the Hunts lived here – a little over a hundred years ago. That’s when this house was built, so I’m guessing that’s when the maples were carefully planted on the south side to provide shade in the summer and protection from the wind to the north. Or maybe Edward was simply decorative, a handsome shade tree to the rear of the house.
These four are now magnificent trees, and a bit intimidating. Their branches are bigger than the trunks of many trees. When a limb drops, the earth shakes. But they whisper softly in the wind and they hold firm to the ground even in the worst storms. They feel like part of this place, and now of us.
We have tried to protect them. A neighbor tap used to tap them each year in exchange for a couple of bottles of maple syrup. We couldn’t do it. It seemed wrong, stealing strength from these survivors of so many winters.
Just the same, Edward wasn’t healthy last year. While his sisters leafed out in thick green cloaks, he managed just a few patches of green and a growing number of bald, barkless branches.
This year, he has no leaves at all. Woodpeckers bore into his trunk. There is a split in his trunk that people who know trees assure us means there is no bringing him back. For the safety of this house, he has to come down. But I admit to being sad about it.
I have a complicated relationship with trees. A massive pine came through our roof, just missing my head, in our West Hurley house during Hurricane Lee. I was afraid there after that. So we clear-cut a wide area around the house. I know it was the smart decision, but it’s sat heavy on my conscience. I planted a few trees afterwards, but I’d caused the deaths of dozens of them. I hoped never to cut down another tree.
I have planted trees here. Apple trees, maples, birch trees, even redbuds brought with us from our former house.
But tomorrow night Edward will be gone.
I have taken his picture, I have tried to explain to him, to his sisters, and to myself. In time, we will get used to his absence. It feels like a death. But like any death, life finds a way to continue. I have found little maples, his children, and I have planted them along the back fence. A hundred years from now, if this house is still here, I hope whoever lives here loves those trees, too.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.