Friday, July 24, 2009

Pillars of Dawn — or Stumps of Indecision?

There's a time to plant trees and a time to chop them down, to paraphrase Pete Seeger and the Book of Ecclesiastes. But is there also a time to leave them halfway up?

Along the edge of our lawn, there are, or were, five 40-foot black pines planted in a row. Over the years they have captured kites, hosted generations of robins, and held hammocks, bluebird houses, and wind chimes. Despite this activity, their own life has been fading — culminating this spring, when it was clear the middle three in particular were totally rusty-needled and quite dead.

We called in my old high school classmate Hilary, now a landscaper extraordinaire. After one look she pronounced the verdict: the three had succumbed to some beetle and must come down sooner, not later. It can be very sad to lose a tree, but this was not a tough decision for me, especially since a nearby flowerbed would now have a new lease on light.

So last Thursday morning I happened to be home working on a manuscript at my picnic table when Hilary arrived with her arboreal consultant Scott, ready to go at it. As they unloaded equipment and revved up the chainsaw, she asked what I wanted to do with the space, if anything, once the trees were gone. I already knew: a line of blueberry bushes for blue superfruit and red autumn color.

Hilary had another idea. "What if we leave the tree trunks standing at about 9 feet tall?" she asked. "They'd be like Greek columns." They'd continue to define the edge between the lawn and a meadow that falls away to my young orchard, she said. And they'd provide a medium-distance focal point for the view that opens up from there.

There usually are mountains out there, but this was not their day.

The view is indeed lovely from this spot. It looks east toward rolling meadows and woods and the Mt. Greylock massif and distant Hoosac Mountains, with the blue hulk of Pine Cobble Mountain to the north. You can see the sun rise from here, as well as the moon and Venus and all their kin, and it's great for spotting rainbows after an afternoon storm. Why (I wondered) put anything in the way?

"I don't know," I said, probably twisting up my face in a frown. "I can't picture that." Placatingly, I added, "You can try it, and we can see." I suspected that in her heart Hilary was ambivalent about deleting the trees entirely and wanted to preserve them in some form. I liked that in her.

Scott begins to lop. (We've gone back in time here.)

In minutes Scott was up the first tree, lopping off the branches and then cutting the felling notch. Hilary, in bikini top and cutoff shorts, was down in the meadow ready with a rope to pull the tree in the right direction. Soon there was a ripping and a roar as it fell — in the thrill I didn't even yell "Timber!" which was my self-assigned job. A half-hour of chopping and dragging it into the woods, then on to the second tree and then the third. Light eagerly poured into the space.

Now it can be said. Timber!!!!

Hilary, at the other end of the rope, rarely stands still, but I caught her in the act.

Since Thursday I've been pondering the Pillars of Dawn or, as I more frequently mutter, the Stumps of Indecision. My inclination is matching my first instinct: just get them out of there in a clean sweep and enjoy that open view, the wonderful morning light. It is always easier to let something go if you do it in stages, but now I'm definitely ready.

Tell me what you think!

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
. . . A time to get, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6
(Still there....)

See our terrific book The Backyard Lumberjack on the art of felling trees and much more.

Deb Burns, Acquiring Editor for Animal, Farming and Equestrian Topics


Kristy Rustay said...

Eileen Clawson, our freelance editor, wanted to weigh in "on Deb's indecision: she's just being wimpy — get those ugly tree stumps out of there and put in some beautiful, useful blueberry bushes!!"

I have to agree with her, Deb. My only other suggestion is to cut them shorter and make natural seats or a stump-table.

Mattenylou said...

I'd hang a hammock between two of your stumps, make a luncheon-sized stump table on the other, then pull those chairs up to the new table. You'll have a fabulous spot for relaxing!!

It will be wonderful for enjoying your view. Call me when your done, I'll bring the iced tea!

Anonymous said...

Cut them down!!! - Jayme.

Anonymous said...

They look ghastly. First thing I'd think on seeing them is, "Why does she have dead trees in her yard?" So if you're going to keep them you better come up with a tale worthy of Homer.

I say take the stumps out too. But then, I'm all for open spaces and new beginnings.

Melanie Jolicoeur said...

I think you should cut them too, though I also like Mattenylou's idea for a hammock. The problem with a stump seat or table will be the pine pitch making everything sticky!

Won't blueberry bushes grow well in that spot now because of the acid in the soil from the pine needles?