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At bringing down a big ol’ tree
By Lynn Kuhns
Well, I guess I could say that I recently “killed” the largest living thing I ever will during my lifetime.
Because the glorious cottonwood tree on the south side of my property had grown so large; because the shape of my lot provides only so much room to build a house and mostly because it was threatening my neighbor’s new cottage and would intimidate the home we’ll soon build, I had to have that tree taken down.
Some hate cottonwoods for the fluff they spew out in spring. Water hogs, they grow fast and high, and pretty much keep anything from growing near them.
But cottonwoods welcomed settlers with shade and as signals of water. Cottonwoods on the Great Plains today were living when the huge herds of bison roamed the prairie. Many Native Americans consider the cottonwood tree sacred, “the standing nation.”
No matter which side of the cottonwood debate you shoulder up to, mine was an awesome tree — about four feet in diameter and probably more than 100 feet high.
I had called several tree-trimmers to see if they’d take the job. Because of the tree’s intimidating size and location, Randy Schuh was the only one who would. His years of experience, a heck of a bucket truck and a good crew meant he could get the job done safely.
He trimmed off the branches and then lowered the larger chunks of limbs with ropes and pulleys so the big wood wouldn’t swing out and whack my neighbor’s cottage. Then he hinge-cut the massive, eight-ton trunk, and, with block and tackle and tension provided by workers and a truck, had that trunk fall exactly where he wanted it.
While Randy had been working, a bald eagle soared high above the cottonwood’s truncated reach. We all stopped to watch a majestic part of Nature’s parade, even on that chilled November day; even as a long-living, far-reaching part of it was being taken down.
While the felling of that giant was an ironic part of my “building process,” I wasn’t ready to see it laying there cut up like a huge Tootsie Roll, rudely ignoble and sweetly majestic at the same time.
In spite of the almost celebratory atmosphere that was announced with the wild war-cry of chain saws and the awesome shake-the-world thud of that tree’s fall, I was not ready for it to be gone.
The space its trunk once filled is now empty to a southwestern view of Lake Winneconne. My small cottage sits unsheltered and shrunken in fresh-stripped space. That we’re open to the sky is really noticeable at night, when brighter stars and moonshine reaches unfiltered by a graceful web of high-strung branches.
With chunks of limb and trunk stacked on drifts of sawdust, that part of my yard looks more like a war zone than a site for the home of our dreams, but we’re nearer to that, now.
Later, when I was alone, I straddled the tree’s downed trunk, patted it and sighed out some apologetic sorrow — not only to that cottonwood, but to my neighbors who enjoy trees; to my departed parents who built this cottage “in the woods;” to birds that no longer can nest there; and to squirrels that can’t scurry up its trunk. I had to say something, because there was a tender feeling of loss.
No more will cottonwood fluff accent my window screens during that gentle “first-down” of spring. I’ll miss looking up at its strength and form. I’ll miss the heart-shaped, lemon-yellow leaves it shed on the black soil here.
Trees are one of the reasons many of us stay here or move here. They provide shelter, shade, security and fresher air. They give birds, mammals, children and other living creatures places to nest, climb, browse and sing.
A perfect blend of function, form and life, trees are praised in the Bible and other sacred books. They’re inspiration for poetry and songs, and for reflective time.
Some here are blessed with room – you don’t need much – for trees to grow in, and places to plant more. They don’t remove or trim back nature’s living gifts from their farmlands, roadsides or sections of their yards.
Others move in to change the shorelines, woodlands and natural blessings of their properties. Some do it out of necessity, while some are driven to transform their homestead-kingdoms with some kind of landscaped territorial mark.
I know we’ll plant more trees near where that cottonwood stood, and take care of them so they don’t have to be felled because of neglect or threat. It may take 15, 30 or 50 years until they inspire others with their beauty, but it will be a start.
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