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Buying time for a stately old tree

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, at 9:18 p.m.

The grand old locust tree in our backyard started to drop limbs recently, like a battlefield enemy backed into a corner who staunchly reaches for the heavy artillery.

We’ve struggled with this tree for several years now, both loving and hating it, often at once.

Randy, my husband, curses the sap that rains down each spring. It coats the patio furniture with a fine, sticky sheen and covers the bricks with a layer that squerch-squerch-squerches underfoot.

Then come the seed pods, and more curses.

Come fall, this creature – more giant fern than tree – sheds tiny leaflets that burrow into every crack and crevice, impossible to rake or sweep. They drift into corners or scatter randomly.

But in summer – oh, summer – the canopy is unmatched. Look up from your chair, and it’s all green leaves and blue skies, branches shimmering like a sequined ball gown.

Until recently, when – creak, creak, SNAP! – those branches started to give way.

We called our tree guy out to prune and shape it again and to gauge the effects of two summers of drought on this tree and others. As he gazed and walked around the locust, he shook his head.

The tree, having competed for sunlight with a nearby, much larger cottonwood, had shifted diagonally toward our house, where several large branches waved precariously over the roof and windows. One good snow or ice storm, and we could have more than sap and seed pods to deal with.

The venerable old lady would have to be cut way back, he said, if not removed.

I grimaced and thought of Robert Frost:

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay

As ice-storms do. …

I remember high school English class, or perhaps it was junior high, when we studied that verse.

I recall that the poem was not really about trees, but truth. Not about climbing birches but about escaping reality, to “get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over.”

About childhood and adulthood, love and loss, about hanging on – seed and sapling and weathered old tree.

I didn’t want the locust to go.

Neither did Randy. And though he said his reasons were primarily financial, I knew he cherished and respected that old tree as much as I did.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.

And so I dream of going back to be …

So we said no, not yet. We asked the tree guy to disarm the locust but let it live, and he managed by trimming the larger boughs. When he finished, we had a bit less shade and a lot more firewood, but the tree looked sprightly, like a lamb after shearing.

Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away

You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

We figure we bought maybe a year or two for that old tree.

More time to rake and sweep and curse and grumble.

More time to rail against the gnarly roots that choke out the grass.

More time to look up, gratified, and enjoy the shade.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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