The tree will be the tree

When we purchased our fixer-upper home two decades ago, we were drawn to the property by the big Plains Cottonwood on the property’s corner. The tree, now likely a hundred years old, stood majestically over the neglected yard and cast shade on the now 95-year-old house. Since buying the property we’ve poured our sweat and love into reviving the house, yard, and garden. While living here the cottonwood has stood resolute through our hurricane-force Wyoming winds, spreading shade in the summer and beautiful lines in the winter.

Plains cottonwood tree
Our Plains Cottonwood tree at the height of last summer’s 98% solar eclipse.

Last fall one of the larger limbs began shedding its bark, aided by squirrels intent on its destruction. I should have called a tree trimmer right away but I delayed. We live across the street from a school and I reasoned it would be best to wait until this coming summer due to school traffic. But a city nuisance notice arrived recently and forced me to address it this month as the offending branch had to come down.

I’m embarrassed at having received the complaint. It’s not in my nature to cause problems or concerns for my neighbors. I should have acted last fall when the branch quickly deteriorated. But I feared a visit from a tree professional, thinking we’d be told to cut the tree down given its age. Fifteen years ago we had it trimmed and the tree guy said the tree would only live another five years. That prognosis saddened us as we thought of our yard without the shade and beautiful lines created by the cottonwood.

About ten years ago, a different tree service trimmed it for us. They came, they chopped, and they sent us the bill. They offered no prognosis for the tree and I was afraid to ask.

Life’s been busy in the past decade with typical things of life…work, travel, cancer, surgeries, deaths of loved ones, graduations, and Kansas University basketball regular season championships. Through all that the cottonwood continued to live and I forced the idea of tree trimming to the back of my mind.

Prompted by the recent city notice I contacted a new tree guy who had been recommended by a friend. We met last week and looked at the tree together. He said the cottonwood is beautiful and in good shape. He continued, saying that despite some dead branches, the tree had not been neglected like many around town. My spirits lifted as I heard his hopeful words. Finally I asked, “How long will it live?” He said, “Many years, maybe decades.”

Yesterday the tree guy and his crew removed the offending large branch and some smaller branches. Today, looking at it, I felt gratitude for the tree’s physical presence in our lives. I also thought about the bad news we’d received fifteen years ago, about the incorrect death prognosis. I thought about how I put off addressing a few dead branches in the interim, fearing my call to have them removed would be the tree’s end. I thought about how I let part of the tree become a nuisance because I didn’t want to make the call that might hasten its removal.

And I thought of the most recent positive prognosis. How the tree guy pointed to various parts of the tree while explaining why it still has many years to live. I thought about my feelings regarding the tree over the past fifteen years and how they changed based on the opinions of others.

Will the tree outlive me? Will it live to three hundred years as one has done in nearby Colorado? I don’t know. But it’s alive and apparently healthy now, providing shade and beauty to the neighborhood.

Going forward we can enjoy the tree while providing the ongoing care it needs, or we can fret about its demise. The tree has lived through a hundred years of different owners, changing climate, wars, and rumors of wars. Whatever our attitudes, whatever’s happening in our lives, and whatever’s happening in our world, the tree will be the tree. That thought fills me with gratitude for the tree and the natural world. And it provides me with a lesson for living in this turbulent world.

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