Sometimes you get sunflowers


By Janice Lindsay

I’m always sad to see an old tree cut down.

One raw, late-winter day many years ago, arborists took down a grand, ancient pine in our yard. I don’t remember all of our reasons for this but, once it was cut, signs of internal rot made it clear that the tree would have come down anyway, probably tumbling huge limbs onto somebody’s house. The decision to cut it down had been a good one.

The following summer, sunflowers bloomed where the tree had been. No human planted them. Birds must have been taking sunflower seeds from our feeders year after year, perching in the limbs of that tree to eat them, sometimes dropping them in the deep shade where sunshine never reached. Without the tree: sun on the soil, and sunflowers.

I think of this now because we’re in another house, and have taken down another old tree, a red oak that stood in our lawn, very close, too close, to the house.

Unlike our old pine with its perfect canopy, this oak was no beauty. It leaned several degrees. It was healing an old scar; perhaps it had been hit by lightning. It had been trimmed of branches dangerously close to our roof, so it was unshapely. Even birds and squirrels rejected it. I never saw a nest of any kind in its branches.

Shortly after we moved in, a retired forester of our acquaintance advised us to take the oak down before it fell. I resisted, though during every windy storm I wondered if this would be the day the old fellow took vengeance on the house that it probably felt had been built too close for its personal comfort. But the tree remained standing.

Finally, my husband tired of cleaning up after it – all those acorns on the lawn, all those leaves clogging the gutters. So I reluctantly agreed that we could take it down.

We watched the arborist high in the tree, cutting it into pieces. Branches were lowered, then limbs, then parts of the trunk, until only the stump remained.

When the men left, I counted the rings on the stump. The oak was about 115 years old.

How presumptuous and arrogant of us, I thought, to take down this centenarian, who had been growing on this spot since my grandmother was a baby. For a long time, our land had been a wood lot, so this oak had watched other trees come and go, had watched other people come and go, had patiently witnessed the changing scene.

Then I looked at the trees nearby. Between our house and the neighbor’s, there’s a stand of woods about 60 feet wide. Our edge of the woods is a few feet beyond where the old oak stood.

Those trees at the edge were mostly young. As I watched, they seemed to stretch their branches in relief and gratitude that, finally, for the first time in their short lives, they would enjoy whole years of sunshine, no longer shaded by their overbearing neighbor.

Maybe the trees weren’t grateful. Maybe that was my wishful thinking. But it’s true that the young trees now get more sun, and they seem to thrive.

You can’t predict what might happen when you make a tough, sad decision.

But sometimes you get sunflowers.

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