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Edward Gorey House, Cape Cod

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Just the other day I came home and found my 76 year old mother with the saws-all (aka reciprocating saw) in her skinny little hands and she was cutting down the apple tree.  (Please refrain from George Washington remarks). I am always worried about my mother in the garden because she is forever standing funny on a ladder with her too-big-Merrell’s on, teetering her way around the ivy that never stops growing.  She usually dismisses me with her Salem 100 and goes back to work annoyed at my fretting. Perhaps it was just plain old guilt that made me comment. I felt lazy and bratty not helping her cut down our sick apple tree. The truth was that I was feeling funny about the loss of the tree and I had to get my head around the grief of its death.

The tree is/was at least 50 years old, and probably closer to 80, and last year we noticed blight. When it came time to bloom, only half did.  The other half stood dead looking somewhat like an Edward Gorey drawing (or Tim Burton depending on your generational references.) It was odd and troublesome to see one half alive with pretty white flowers with pink centers surrounded by brilliant green leaves, and the other half a dark mottled grey without new growth.  Strange fungus had begun to grow on the trunk; gigantic black bee’s made a home inside by burrowing a perfectly round hole as its door.  I learned that these were carpenter bees. I had always wondered about those bigheaded bees and now I knew.

Even the squirrels had begun to treat the tree differently. Normally they would spend a great deal of time in the tree, sampling the apples with a few bites, throwing them to the ground in disdain and grabbing another.  I can see their fat bellies surrounding the apples. If a plate of cheese and a glass of white wine had appeared by their sides, I would not have been surprised.  But they too had moved on.

We discussed taking the tree down many times and finally it had to be done. So I put aside my resistance (to change) and took up the saw.  It was quick work once I got started and I still couldn’t imagine my mother holding the violently quivering machine… Her method was to get a big branch down with the saw, take up the shears and begin to prune the tree into nice little pieces that would fit into the trashcan.  When I joined the party I took down huge limbs all at once and nearly killed myself along with other innocent shrubs.  But now it is done.

No longer shall I spend time looking out the window at the Mockingbirds hanging out in its branches, waiting with a menacing look for the perfect time to snatch a bit of my hair.  The squirrels will have to go back to burrowing walnuts in the potted flowers.  Fruit will not rot on the ground, shade will not be given, and its beauty is now only a memory.  For a moment I thought I should have taken up a camera and documented the whole process but somehow I felt it would trivialize the experience.  I thought of the last fight I had under its branches and how I threw a six-pack of Red Stripe at a friend, the bottles landing at the base of the tree…unbroken (white trash moment).  I felt bad that I had not given the tree medicine when it first got sick.  I remembered some friends saying how much they enjoyed sitting in our back yard under its branches on a hot summer day.

When our gardeners arrived they marveled at how 2 goofy women had cut down most of the tree without any help.  They happily grabbed a chain saw from their truck and took the rest of the trunk down to the ground.

Now we plan to put a table and chairs over the stump.  There is still shade from 2 Bottle Brush trees on either side with plenty of hummingbirds showing their appreciation.  As I type, Mr. Squirrel is making himself known by traveling his route across the garden.  From tree to tree, to fence to tree, and tree to metal overhang with a loud THUD!; across the roof to other side of garden to perhaps a hidden treasure.  Life does not go on for our beloved tree but the memory of it will and that will have to do.