Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Elm Tree

I had the Elm tree from the front of our house cut down today. Elm trees can live for several hundred years given the right conditions, but close to my house in the middle of a suburb wasn’t the right condition.

I didn’t plant Old Elm; it was here when we moved in. I suppose the previous owner wanted shade from the afternoon sun. From what I have heard about the previous owner, he didn’t give a lot of thought to anything and certainly not to where it would be best to grow an 80 foot tree. It was right beside the house, and at the end, the base was six inches from the house which it towered over. I should have taken care of the tree years ago, but I was attached to it. We had history.

When we first moved in, the kids would try to climb old Elm, without a lot of success, it wasn’t a really good climbing tree, but for little kids it was plenty high enough. Over the years it has been home to a number of birds and a couple of sexually innovative squirrels.

One year I made a bird feeder out of one of those kerosene lanterns which I thought was quite creative. The birds loved it, but it turns out that I would just as soon not have a bunch of overfed birds crapping all over my yard. The idea of feeding birds when they are quite capable of finding their own food just seems silly. My buddy feeds birds, but he finds some joy in watching them. Come to think of it, I haven’t noticed any bird shit at his place, so I imagine that he has them trained to go on his neighbour’s property.

Another year I made a bird house by hollowing out a piece of birch and putting a metal roof on it. I later found out that you shouldn’t use metal for roofing materials on bird houses. It turns out that they become hot boxes, kind of like mini torture chambers for birds. Well, at least there was no bird shit around. I’m tempted to make metal birdhouses for the Magpies.

One year I was hanging Christmas lights, I lost my balance, the ladder slipped and I fell. Lucky for me, the Elm tree caught me before I hit the ground. It would have been luckier if I hadn’t been hanging upside down with my leg wedged between two branches. I had lots of time to consider my escape while I swung back and forth in the cold November breeze. One good thing came from that fall; I never put up the Christmas lights unless someone is at home that can call 911.

Early on, I carved a face in the trunk of the tree. It was my attempt at one of those “green man” faces. It turned out pretty good and I think it took about three years before the Elm swallowed the green man and covered it with bark. I have always pictured someone burning the tree one day and while watching the logs burn, they will see a face appear. They might think that they are the chosen of either Jesus or Elvis, depending if they are religious or just crazy.

I have watched my kids in that tree and in the last couple of years I have watched as my grandkids stood on a cut off branch. There aren’t many good trees in Alberta and I am going to miss this one. I suppose that’s why I put off cutting it down for so long. I have often sat under its branches reading and drinking my tea, well in the years between bird feeders and bird houses of course. I plan on turning some of the branches into bowls for the kids so that they can keep a piece of their childhood.

There is more light now with the Elm gone, and hopefully I might even be able to coax the grass to grow on the front lawn. It is the beginning of a new day.

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