Wednesday, July 27, 2011

7/25 Losing A Limb


Not mine, fortunately. A limb belonging to the double-trunked oak tree, which holds down the earth in the sunrise corner of the garden like the colossus it is.
I suspected something up when the noise of the tree-chipper machine in a neighbor’s yard went on too long. It’s a distinct noise, not rare enough among the domestic mechanical voices which disturb our humble attempt to cocoon ourselves in a little paradise of green. It tells us that someone is chipping away at the urban forest.
After a half hour or so of intermittent grinding, I stick my head out a window and locate the source. Yes, the house behind our right-hand neighbor. A couple of workers appeared to be taking down a mid-sized tree in the back yard of a man who lives, seemingly alone, in a house fronting on the next street over. I have seen him; I presume he has seen me. We do not share a common tongue.
I think of a line from Finnegan’s Wake. “You are inedible to me.”
But the noise kept on too long. Pausing in my work a while later – no doubt at the point where any excuse would do – I stare out the window again and noticed my neighbor’s harmless, unassuming tree has been reduced to a little stub of a thing, a broken toy disregarded on the face of the earth. And still the work of destruction goes on.
Then I guess. They must be up in my tree.
I put on some shoes – it’s gray, rain-threatening day – and trot out back to my fence. Four young men in blue shirts that say the name of their company wait in a loose line against the wall of neighbor’s house. One of their colleagues, at least, is strapped among the limbs of the giant oak, working his chain saw. Some small branches have fallen. Some sawdust covers my fence, and leaves have fallen on both sides of the fence that separate’s the Chinese gentleman’s and our right-hand neighbor’s yards.
The four spectators stare at me, but say nothing. I make the “over here, bud” gesture with an index finger to them. Somebody speaks to somebody else, and one of them comes trotting over to the fence to mollify me with politely offered explanations.
They are only cutting from the fence line, polite blue-shirt tells me. He has taken a class in handling older neighbors who grow crotchety over losing favorite trees.
No part of the tree on my side will be cut, blue-shirt assures me.
Damaged? I say.
Or damaged, he adds.
Since most of the tree by far is on our property, and only one fat, yardarm-pointing branch runs over to his, the tree should still be healthy after this loss of limb. Of course how can blue-shirt be so sure?
I seek assurances that they won’t cut any part of the tree over my right-hand neighbor’s yard. Oh no, he says, we won’t cut any part of the tree over her fence line either.
“But he has the right to cut the part of the tree over his property?” I persist, wanting it all spelled out.
You have rights and responsibilities for tree maintenance in the air over your property line, he tells me, but not over your neighbor’s.
Liability too? Yes.
So much to the good, I think, since we had worried that we would some day be responsible for pruning out tree away from the house of the Chinese man, who was now clearly taking matters in his own hand. Of course, I am taking the word of a tree-trimming service for this. But I decide to, and walk back into my house, unwilling to watch the dismemberment continue.
And so a gigantic limb – I do not see it (or hear it) fall – disappears that afternoon. Turned to ragged mulch and saw dust by the tree-eating machine and the men who fed it.
I see its absence, however. In the garden at the end of the day, I picture in my mind the place where this many-tonned horizontal expression of the might of trees, the aristocracy of the green plant world which sustains animal life (such as human), had reached mightily into the cosmos.
No more. In its place, plein air.
It feels like there’s a hole in the universe. A piece missing from the puzzle.
The kingdom of the squirrels has been reduced, which may be to the good. But also of the birds; a loss. The elderly gentleman who lives in the house now freed of the shadow of a mighty oak will have more sun and sky to himself. I hope he can do something with them.
As for me, I miss this customary sidetrack extension of the oak tree’s heavenly highway. Less for the use the squirrels and birds made of it, but for the good it brought to us. Shading a good piece of our outdoor breakfast area from the morning sun. Less practically, but further-reaching, deeper, enclosing our make-believe paradise in the crook of its great arm clothed in curtains of green.
This thrust into neighboring air space was part of our protective coloration, our hiding in plain sight. I feel more exposed, not longer quite so sheltered under the massive arms of the heavy oak. I fantasize planting tall shrubs, tall pointy conical cypresses, maybe, against the back fence to help build back our bubble; and make tentative plans to transplant a tall perennial from the front garden back here.
I am over-reacting. But the loss of something comforting, familiar, and possibly sheltering poses a dilemma. I don’t like the idea of shutting other people out, but I very much do like the idea of enclosing myself in, protectively, privately, naturally. There’s a contradiction here, and I am loath to face it.