I’m used to hearing her call my name as she goes out the door early in the morning. Generally, she’s reminding me of something I promised to do, often in the faint hope that I’ll actually remember to do it.
Me: “Yes, dear.” (I’m unfailingly polite in the early morning)
She: “There are some limbs in our front yard.”
Me: “Alright, I’ll pick them up after I finish getting dressed.”
She: “No, I mean some big limbs. Really big.”
Sure enough, a huge section of the giant old tree in our front terrace had come crashing down in the night, filling the larger portion of the front yard with an enormous pile of tree-sized limbs that fell with such force that they buckled and crushed a portion of sidewalk and utterly smashed a small Flowering Crabapple tree that was minding its own business in the side yard.
The good news?
It missed the house, the car and the cat. And me, too, as I suppose it could have just as easily come down while I was mowing the lawn or raking leaves.
There was no big storm or wind of any kind the night before. Light sleeper though I am, I didn’t even hear it, though a neighbor later reported she heard a big thump around 4 a.m. and wondered what it was.
First on the scene that morning was Galva Street Superintendent Myron “Mouse” Townsend. As the tree sits on the terrace side of the sidewalk, it’s actually city property. We had talked about the possibility of having to take the tree down ever since an ice storm a few years ago caused some damage almost equal to the new downfall. But it seemed the big old tree had beat us to it.
He uttered a phrase I would hear many times in the next few days:
“Well, at least it missed the house.”
“We’ll have to take the rest of it down,” he added. And I suppose that’s right, as all that’s left is the main trunk and a pair of branches that hang--now kind of ominously--over busy Northwest Fourth Avenue.
I’ll miss that big old tree.
I’ll miss it for its shade and as a home for countless families of squirrels and birds and as a part of my family’s history and the history of my hometown.
My mother grew up in the house where I live now. I’ve looked at old, sepia-toned photos of her and her brothers standing in the front yard, as children and as young adults. They were, no doubt, standing in the shade of that tree. They are all gone now, but the tree has remained with its memories and mine.
It remained to be a necessary part of the pastimes my sons pursued in our front yard. It was “base” in games of tag and a combination base and outfield fence in a version of whiffle ball with rules so exhaustive and complex that no one ever really knew how to play it.
Mouse says they’ll take the rest of the tree down in the next month or so. In the meantime, I’ve been spending parts of the mornings looking at the way the light is different without the huge crown of branches to filter the morning sun. It’s a time of year when that light is already affected by the change of seasons and the southward movement of the sun, so it’s hard to imagine what next summer will be like. For now, the added sunlight is a welcome part of my morning yard, though I may not feel the same come July. For it is, truly, the cooling shade that has made the big tree an important, yet often unnoticed part of my life and the life of my home.
The house is an old one, built about 1864. I can’t help but wonder if the tree stood even then. It’s big enough to have been a part of the landscape those many years ago and, perhaps, even 10 years earlier, when Galva founders James and William Wiley stood several yards away in what is now the southeast corner of a Park that bears their name.
“What a beautiful spot. Let’s buy the land and lay out a town.”
Maybe, just maybe, they were looking at a tree when they said it.
My tree. My big old tree.