I have been called a 'tree-hugger' more than a few times. I must admit that I feel a small thrill of pride when I hear it because it is the truth, literally and figuratively. I love the earth, the trees, the sky, the prairie, the mountains and the sea; all of it. ( I tried to love the desert but can't say I was too successful, although I hear it can be done.)
Once, when my children were small, the county men came and tore out the old trestle bridge that crossed Skeleton Creek in front of our house. They took down many, many trees on the other side of the creek and afterward that area washed terribly every time the creek rose to the flood level, digging deep gashes in the earth where the giant Cottonwoods, Ashes and Elms had stood for decades before.
One morning I heard the roar of a chain saw much closer to home and, throwing on a robe over my nightgown, I went running out the front door. Men were climbing into a 'cherry-picker' that was parked underneath the oldest and largest of the Cottonwoods, the one that stood beside the road but in our front yard. Danny's grandparents had planted that tree there almost a hundred years before. I ran to the tree and stood in front of it, refusing to let them cut it down. They said it would drop branches on the road and was a hazard to drivers. I told them to leave it alone, that it was older than any of us and deserved a chance to live out its life; it was a survivor, one of the ancient ones. I refused to go inside until they were gone. They let it live and it is living still. It has not dropped any branches on the road.
The other day I went to see the Pulmonologist and we were talking about how bad Cedar pollen was for those of us with tree allergies. He reminded me that they were also extremely volatile and literally explode if they catch fire. We have cut down almost all the Cedars around the house because I am so sensitive to them. But there is one big one left, the last of a double line of Cedars that used to run from the old house, built in 1895, out to the road where the mailbox sat when Danny's grandparents (the same ones who planted the Cottonwood) lived here.
I went out the other day to give it the news that it would have to come down. I stood there leaning against it, feeling the life flowing up and down within that thick, flat-barked trunk and knew I couldn't do it. It too deserved to live. I would deal with the stuffy head and itchy eyes. I would stay upwind of it when the pollen was heavy and the wind was high. It could be done.
As I stood there making the decision, I became aware of the music that filled the branches. Although I couldn't see one of them, the branches were full of small songbirds, filling the space with their myriad, lilting songs. This tree was their place of shelter and warmth in the Winter, their place of safety from the circling hawks in Summer, a source of food in the winter months when the green branches turn blue with berries, and a place of courtship and nesting in the Spring. No, if this tree falls it will not be by my hand. It was here and grown before I was born, before my father was born. It may no longer be pretty but it is majestic and it is a sacred place.