Keep a tree or fell it?

#78 in a series of true experiences in real estate
December 1994, Hills Newspapers

Trees are nice. I’m sure you agree. Trees are beautiful. They make shady places and green covers, change color in fall, give us fruit. They are good for swings and for climbing, and trees can also hide thing we’d rather not see.

We talk about trees a lot in real estate. People tell us they like the feeling of driving through the countryside on the way home. They want quiet and privacy when they arrive. They want trees.

A buyer says he must have a new kitchen and wood floors – and big trees. One couple asks for houses with young and supple trees – ones they hope won’t fall down. Other people seek a near contradiction – complete forest seclusion with brilliant sunshine.

Almost always it costs more to be nestled in the trees. Maybe someday prices will depend on how many and what kind of trees are included with the house. The multiple listing will say, “Great price for 10 mature trees. Only $300,00.” Or, “Newly planted, but fast-growing trees, $200,000.”

That might happen. These days people seem more interested than ever in living near nature. They want to be close to stores and freeways, but want to walk out of their houses directly onto their land. They don’t want to be too far away from the city, but they’d like vistas of canyons and trees.
Wherever it’s located, if no other building is visible, if there is only calm and greenery all around – well, these are the places that can cost the moon.

Why aren’t we all out planting trees right now? Some of us are, but there are a few holdouts. When the city offers to plant curbside trees, not everyone agrees. “No,” some say, “trees are too much trouble. I’ll have to sweep up the leaves.”

And, of course, it’s true. At least with many trees, raking leaves is part of having them. If a tree becomes diseased, something must be done. If they are not to get out of hand, almost every tree requires pruning and shaping, and sometimes they get away from you no matter what you do.

I’ve had experience with these things. I have a tree problem right now. In my yard is a huge black acacia. I did not plant, it was here. I wish it were not.

It makes a mess with its leaves and its squiggly seedpods and its seedlings coming up all over. But what worries me is acacias, I am told, tend to crack and break in old age. I’m afraid that if this one falls over, it will land on the house – maybe on us.

I have talked to my tree man. He says it will take him and two helpers two days to get rid of the acacia. Judging from its size, I don’t think he is exaggerating. I’ve seen the tree man cut down a lesser tree. I have watched transfixed as he climbed deliberately to the top. As he goes, he cuts smaller limbs and throws them down. Then he begins his major work, slowly sawing through one piece of trunk at a time.
He raises his saw, holds steady – it must take Herculean strength – and a chunk is severed. Carefully he lowers his saw so both hands are free to shove the chunk free. Sometimes the pieces are so heavy and have fallen so far that they are partially buried in the dirt by the force of the landing.

I do not want this to happen in my garden. Plants all around will be flattened, and there will be such a quantity of acacia wood lying around. The tree man could cut it up for firewood, but this will take longer, and will cost more. The wood can’t be burned for a couple of years anyway. I would have to stack it and dry it somewhere, and I can’t think where that would be.

The affair is so onerous that I have done nothing about the acacia. Instead, I have planted more trees.

The new ones are still small, and they will never be as big as the acacia, but I think I have planted too many. I got excited by so many choices and brought them all home forgetting that they will grow larger and will take the sun away from my garden. It isn’t that I don’t know better. I’ve had experience with growing trees.

At my old house there was an ugly apartment building along one side of the yard. I hated looking at it. A friend said he had just the solution. He gave me an ash tree seedling which he assured me would grow very big and very fast.

Was he right! By the time the ash was three years old, the building had vanished from sight. The tree was big and green and looked awkwardly adolescent – gangly, not quite formed. Long, pliable branches going every which way were thickly covered with leaves. Pretty enough in youth, but somehow – unpredictable. There was no telling where this tree would go next.

The tree man came. He worked away, thinning, cutting back. There was less of it when he climbed down but clearly, the situation was not static. The tree man said solemnly, “It will only get worse.” The next year we had the tree cut down. It was sad, but it was necessary.

I did have enough sense not to plant an ash this time, but in addition to the others I added, I allowed my son to put in a baby fir tree. Only a few inches tall when he got it four years ago, it has grown some distance since then – about 15 feet and running.

The other day I said to my son, “Nick, I’m really worried about your tree. It’s growing very fast and I think we’d better cut it down while we still can.”

“No, Mom,” he replied, not unexpectedly. “You can’t cut it down. It’s my tree and I love it.”

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