So, the spring of 2016 turned into the summer, and a hot one at that. Humid, quite often, but simultaneously parched and dry and dusty. Which, so far as the elder beech trees of my fair city were concerned, put my Nervous Nellie radar in high gear. Whatever the blight was that was eating away at them, the drought couldn’t be helping.
Whenever I saw the Mount Auburn arborists at work, I peppered them with worried questions. How are the beech trees doing? Had they come up with anything that might stabilize the large swaths of bark that were being eaten away? Were there trees that they had on their docket due for more than spraying and limb trimming? The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to ask if any of the Mt. Auburn beeches were scheduled for removal.
Honestly, this doesn’t really show what’s going on. I know I’ve taken photos of the effects of the blight close up, but apparently I couldn’t bear to even have them sitting in my iCloud stash. For better or worse, I kicked all those visuals into the great cyber-trash can.
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If any of the Mt. Auburn giant beeches were on the arborists’ chopping block, I knew which one would be #1 on their list: a massive European beech with a thick double trunk, molded together like co-joined twin saplings that decided to join forces a century ago. It was the tree that seemed like it should be the most impervious–double the strength and girth!–but clearly, it was suffering. It started with a branch here and there just a few years back, then whole swaths of one side were naked as wintertime when spring arrived and new foliage should be sprouting. I knew this was the one that would soon disappear on me, like the long-declining companion to my kids’ library beech tree.
Here’s the thing: when you become a regular visitor to a place like the Mt. Auburn, and you talk to the people who visit and work there on a regular basis–well, it turns out that people remember who you are and what you care most about. Between my chats with great horned owl lovers and groundskeepers and fundraisers, I’ve turned into a bit of an MtAC Friend of the Big Trees insider. Which is why I got a frequent flier heads up—an advanced warning from the front office. Come visit this Sunday if you can, the message gently urged me. Our old friend, that heroic double-wide giant of a European Beech, was scheduled for removal, come Monday.
I was up north when the message came through, so there would be no final goodbyes before the chainsaws and chippers went to work. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the message, grateful to know that when next I visited, I’d be visiting a big empty space.
Or so I thought. I had a sneaking suspicion it might take more than one day to fell the behemoth beech, so I didn’t venture out to Mt. Auburn until late on Tuesday. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t want to see the carnage in action. I would be okay with an empty visage, after the fact.
What I got was this:
Now this had me wondering what I’d find. That big truck up front is hauling some sizeable limbs. I didn’t know what I was hoping for, but I sped up to see what might be left.
Which was this:
My old friend was a shadow of its former self. A sad work in progress.
As I approached, I couldn’t help but notice what a complicated job was being undertaken here. A massive living thing, on the side of a hill, surrounded by stone memorials and consecrated grounds–trying to remove this creature from that environment took A-list experts. As it turns out, the guys from Maltby and Company are top notch arborists, the folks you want to call in when you need the kind of workers who are as careful as archeologists and as strong as a team of Paul Bunyans. No wonder they were taking their sweet time. This was a big job that required a slow and steady approach.
Here’s the road they paved up the hill to put their enormous crane truck into place:
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I went back a few days later, to find just a stump remaining. It was a whole new experience, to put my feet exactly where that noble tree had lived out its life, seeing what it had seen.
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One month later, I attended a memorial service in Mt. Auburn’s Bigelow Chapel–remarkably, the very first such event I’d ever be to there. It was a useful reminder as to why, exactly, this sacred place was consecrated in 1831. It is, after all, a place to honor and remember those no longer with us, those we loved, those we celebrated in life and beyond. After the service (side note: best recessional ever: Benny and the Jets!) and the spreading of ashes, my sweetheart and I split off from the family and friends and headed out on our own path. One memorial event deserved another. We went to see where the great double beech once was, but is no more.
Which I most definitely count.
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