March 7, 2008

A Tree Falls in New Holland

Category: News — Ira @ 6:07 pm


“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree……

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
—Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”

“The most beautiful thing about a tree is what
you can make from it. Things like baseball bats
and furniture.”
—Rush Limbaugh

They stood there in the front yard, swaying in grand and lordly splendor when we first stopped to tour the house in the spring of 2000. Two giant oaks, standing as sentinels between the house and Rt. 23. Providing a barrier from all the noisy traffic that flows by each day on the clogged highway. A protective barrier between the house that be-came our home and the world.


We bought the house and took possession on May 1. I lived there alone until our wed-ding on August 4, 2000. It would be our home for the next seven years.

When we arrived, the property was in a state of somewhat shoddy disrepair. Ellen almost immediately reworked all the flower beds around the house. Sometime in the second year, we uprooted and burned an unsightly row of shrubs someone had planted on two sides of the house. That area was added to her increasingly colorful flower beds.

The two immense oak trees loomed in the front yard, proud as ever. I was a bit con-cerned because they had both grown out, spreading their enormous limbs directly over Rt. 23, almost entirely over to the other side. The lawyer in me could imagine all sorts of dire scenarios. A trunk-sized limb cracking and breaking during a storm and falling onto the road, right on top of or in front of a tractor-trailer. There would be a massive pileup, people hurt or killed, and unimaginable liability. And we’d lose our home and die in the poorhouse and, oh well, you get the picture.

Although not a tree-hugger, I have always appreciated trees. Especially the big, slow-growing kinds, the ones that stand for generations. They add character to any home. It takes foresight to plant one, and the realization that the one who plants will likely never see the tree in its most splendid adult phase.

In Aylmer, we had two great maple trees in our front yard. Kind of like my oaks here. They were just always there; I suppose they still are. The southern tree was closest to the house. Its branches grew to within a few feet of our upstairs bedroom window. The southern and western winds rustling through the maple leaves provided many a whis-pering lullaby that ushered me into dreamland as a child.

My father planted trees wherever he went. He was not particularly a tiller of the land, but he had a soft spot for trees. He was especially fond of the blue spruce and planted many of them around our home in Aylmer. He planted a row of fast-growing poplars for a windbreak east of the pond. He planted apple trees and grafted other branches onto them. One of his trees bore multiple kinds of apples, yellow and red.

In Bloomfield, he optimistically planted an orchard on a few acres on the east side of a steep hill. Tiny fruit trees of all descriptions. He cultivated the orchard vigorously but sporadically, usually on a Saturday evening after we were done with the horses. I can’t remember that the orchard bore a single apple or peach, at least none that were edible. He didn’t seem to mind; the simple act of planting motivated him and gave him joy.

In 2002, I decided to have the two great oak trees trimmed. Give them a haircut. I called Martin’s Tree Service. The nice man came out and gave me a quote. I gave him the job.

Ellen was home the day the crew arrived. She said a swarm of men, armed with chain saws, climbed up into the trees. Several others stopped the traffic in both directions. The men in the trees furiously cut away at the branches, which fell right onto the road. They stopped cutting after a few minutes. The men on the ground then quickly swept the branches off the road and allowed the traffic to proceed. They then did it all over again, until the trees were trimmed. I was pleased with the job and quit having night-mares about branches falling onto the road and causing accidents.

Then one summer evening a few years ago, a pickup truck pulled into our drive. A burly jovial man got out and introduced himself. He was the Earl Township Road Master, whatever that is. The township was planning on widening the entrance to the side road that goes right by our house. They would need a corner of our lot to do this.

We could deal with that. They would pay us a fair price, the Road Master claimed. But then he continued. The one massive oak tree would have to come down as well.

Blithely ambivalent to this point, I reacted vehemently.

“My tree. No. No. You can’t do that. That tree is probably sixty years old,” I groaned. “Anything but that.”

The Road Master, while sympathetic, did not budge. The tree would have to go. I shut up so he wouldn’t think I was a tree-hugger. I was starting to sound like one.

And so, in August of 2006, another crew converged on our property. They didn’t move quite as fast as the Martin’s Tree Service crew. They marked off a corner of our lot and plowed about with bulldozers and gravel trucks. Before they poured a new curb, they whacked down the proud old oak tree that had stood firmly in our yard for almost two generations. That evening, I dramatically observed a moment of silence beside the forlorn stump that was all that remained. The next day even it was gone.

And then there was one. One lonely lordly tree, standing guard between our house and the world.


The tree seemed sad. I think it missed its friend. Its companion, who had stood there so firmly planted for all those years. They had grown up together, grown old together, faced life side by side. Survived decades of lashing winds and thunderstorms. Swayed in the balmy spring breezes. Provided a canopy of cool shade from the hot summer sun. Cast their leaves to the biting winds as the winter months set in.

Now it was alone.

In the last year, it wept continuously and copiously, dropping increasing amounts of little twigs to the ground. Kept messing up my yard. Every time I mowed, I had to clear the yard, or mulch the little twigs with the new mulcher mower I bought when my old one blew up last summer. But the tree seemed to have as abundant a supply of leaves as it ever had.

Late last year a fairly mild little ice storm rattled through the area. The next morning I saw a mid-sized tree limb on the ground. It had broken from the tree, glanced off the porch roof, and landed in the yard. I borrowed a chain saw the following Saturday and cut up the limb. It made a nice little pile of wood. I set the wood pile beside the road with a “Free” sign on it. The next time I looked, the pile was gone.

Two weeks ago I spent four days at the Harrisburg Horse World Expo, as those who read this blog already know. Another snow and sleet storm swept through while I was gone. This one was big.

After I returned, my upstairs tenant knocked on the door. She claimed a limb had broken from the tree and was hanging dangerously from another limb right above the walkway she uses to reach her car. Convinced she was exaggerating, I walked out with her to take a look.

I almost had a stroke. It was exactly as she claimed. A rather hefty limb had indeed broken off and hung there precariously, swinging in the wind, directly above her walks. Visions of liability and dying in the poorhouse danced in my head again, for the first time in years. I sternly forbade her from using the walks until I could get the limb removed.

I called Martin’s Tree Service right there and then. The nice man promised he would stop by the next day. He did and called me at work.

He could trim the tree, he said. How many years would it have left? Four or five. I hesitated for a moment, trying to imagine my front yard bare and open, with no tree.

“Take it down.” I said.

“I think that’s the right thing to do,” he said kindly.

So the next day they did.

I arrived home that evening to huge chunks of wood strewn about my front yard. They were all that remained of my proud old oak. The crew foreman told me the tree was actually more rotten than it appeared. The bigger limbs would have broken and crash-ed to the ground before long. Taking it down was the right thing to do, he assured me.



Maybe so. But still, it’s a bit tough to absorb the new reality. And there now stands no protective barrier between my home and the world.

I was flying down the interstate last weekend on the way home from West Virginia and my last trade show of the season. Late afternoon and I was tired. Suddenly a little silver car squirted into the traffic from the ramp ahead of me. I stared at it. It looked like someone had placed a large jelly bean into a vise and squeezed it. The narrow oblong contraption trundled along on four wheelbarrow-sized tires protruding from the bottom.

“Now THAT is one ugly little car,” I thought to myself. I pulled up alongside in my powerful, rented Dodge Charger.

It was a hybrid. Brand new, looked like. And I was right, it was one ugly little car. The middle aged, sixties-type gray-haired couple inside peered out, all smug and conde-scending. Liberals, probably. Busy doing their little bit to save the earth. Seeing my appalled stare, the bearded tweed-jacketed driver stepped on the accelerator and the ugly little battery-powered jelly bean skedaddled forward into traffic like a frightened rabbit. It could move, I’ll give it that much.

Now I have nothing against hybrids, other than they are ugly. It’s a free market. If you want to drive one, feel free. Just don’t legislate and force me to do it. And don’t be fooled. You won’t be saving the environment. You won’t be doing anything, other than putzing along in an unsafe jelly bean of a car, showing the world you are a pompous, superior, condescending pain in the you-know-what.

Update on Anne Marie Zook. Anne Marie has finished the first month of her strict nat-ural diet program. She looks and feels fine. Last week, after an MRI scan, the doctor admitted that he could not tell whether what he saw was scar tissue or the brain tumor returning. He had warned Anne Marie that if she didn’t take some sort of conventional treatment (radiation, chemotherapy), another operation would likely be necessary in three months. It’s now been two months, and he can’t see anything to operate on. Which is a good thing.

Her parents, who had been staying with them during the last month, left for their home in British Columbia, Canada last Monday morning.

They are doing well. Paul, Anne Marie, Cody and Adrianna. Living each day with an intensity that most of us cannot fathom. I haven’t seen them lately as much as I’d like because I’ve been out of town the last two weekends. We always laugh a lot when we’re together.

Finally, don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour this Saturday night. Daylight Savings time begins, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our meddling Congress. And you all know how I feel about that.




  1. My Dad used to talk about the wisdom of planting trees, and planted a a few that I know of, but it’s something I have yet to do. As I read this, I realized that I was in my thirties now, and if I want to plant a tree sometime, and see it grow for decades, now would be the time.

    Comment by pat — March 7, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

  2. That story wasn’t just about a tree or two.

    Master of the obvious, ain’t I?


    Comment by RagPicker — March 9, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

  3. Yes, for every person who lives there should be one tree planted every year. If you can’t do it get someone to do it for you. Remember Dad’s orchard, he used to hire Henry D. every year to trim it. We should have learned from dad hoe to trim trees and grapes. Remember the load of grape cuttings he used to drag home from N.Y., and sell them? They were a mess.

    We arrived home from Pheonix Mon. eve, via Frontier. Had a good time in Pheonix, almost seemed like the Mexicans are taking over. Saw Janice, she even helped play domino one night at Dawdys, of course the ladies won.

    Comment by rachel — March 12, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  4. A-h-h, the Phoenix sunshine….Rachel did the ladies domino winning streak keep on even after I left? Steve & I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon 7 miles & up the next day 10 miles, well worth it!!!!

    As for trees, my philosiphy is don’t cut them down if you can possibly help it & yes plant trees! I guard each & every tree here at our house!!!! My dad passed on his love of trees to me too.

    Comment by wilma — March 12, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

  5. Ira, consider this a friendly nudge: I think you should plant another tree. A strong, hardwood, slow-but-sure kind.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — March 14, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  6. I just want you to know I covet your house. That is one sweet porch. And you just can’t go wrong with brick.

    I adore trees, especially in the fall. I can’t imagine all that old grandfather tree saw in it’s days upon this earth. I do hope you planted another one. You can watch it grow as you grow.

    Comment by Francine — July 28, 2014 @ 1:52 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags):
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .