Goodbye: maple tree

We are moving … 2 miles. (I use the numeral 2 instead of the word “two” so there is no misunderstanding.) Same city, same zip. We are staying in town, buying a new-to-us house. This is why there is a For Sale sign in our front yard as of this morning.

When we moved here eleven years ago it happened fast, and I didn’t get to say all my goodbyes. So I am starting today, with the maple tree that until Monday was in our backyard.

A crew came to take it down, limb by limb. Four or five guys, a couple of ladders and a cherry picker picked it apart. It took a couple of hours to dismantle something that took decades to grow.

Now there is only a stump, a large one, reminding me how grand this tree was. My favorite. My first maple. They don’t grow where I grew up. It was twice taller than the house, and its leaved turned in the fall—no small miracle for someone who grew up with only cedars and live oaks.

The tree died—though we didn’t know it—in the drought. We’d been homeowners before but not during an Exceptional Drought (official designation). We didn’t know to mulch it and give it extra water. I would have emptied out the dogs’ water bowl on it every day if I’d known.

A year or so ago we had the city come and trim it off the power lines, and I got my hopes up because as soon as that dead weight was gone, the maple sprouted fresh greenish-red shoots. It was a sign! I started dumping out the dogs’ water on it every day to help it along.

But it was too late for signs. The tree was dead. The new growth quickly withered. The trunk turned black in splotches, like some kind of tree plague. And we would have left it there, a blackening splotch, until we decided to sell the house. You can’t tell a potential buyer, “Pay no attention to the dead tree.”

So we took care of the problem. The problem was that a tree should never have earned such a label. The maple became a problem because of weather and ignorance.

Our new house has two small trees. I don’t yet know who they are. The neighborhood is heavily treed, just NIMBY. If there is another drought, which is likely, I’ll know how to care for these little ones.

The stump startled me this morning after bringing in the dogs from our walk. The tree never looked that big until it was cut down.

I poured out the dog’s water over what was left of the maple. Not a baptism, but a preparation of the dead, which in this case means neither burial not cremation but being ground into mulch. Feeding the other trees in the backyard long after we live 2 miles away.


  1. So much I love about this. Especially “I don’t yet know who they are.” Of course trees are whos.

    In grad school I wrote an essay, “Spaces Where Trees Used to Be,” to eulogize a number of trees from my childhood that were gone. It also had something to do with the death of my mother.

  2. As always, I enjoy how you tease out nuances and depths of everyday events, and especially how this lead in phrase “…and I didn’t get to say all my goodbyes” contrasts with the ending (and your purposeful decision to make a parting different this time).


  3. Ahh, the trees I have had relationships with, unknowingly, until their loss brought it to my attention, how they stood, silent witnesses to my life. Who thought to plant them in the first place?

    “He that planteth a tree is a servant of God, he provideth a kindness for many generations, and faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.” – Henry Van Dyke

    I loved this tribute, Megan, dog’s water and all. Wonderful!

  4. I often wonder if we ever moved what it might be like to dig up the jacquemontii birches in our front yard. (it would be impossible, that’s what it would be like).
    Trees are nearly ‘who’s’ that’s for sure (doesn’t the Lord of the Rings confirm that?)
    Here’s to healthy trees and happy you in your new digs.

  5. We have two stands of live oaks at either end of our property – huge and beautiful. I like to imagine they have history stored deep down in their roots. I’d like to ask them what they know. I can’t imagine not having them right where they are – for always.
    I love this Megan. I hope the move goes well and that your little trees get to be good friends.

  6. Oh, my, I love this. And I didn’t know you were moving. You’ve mentioned wanting to, but I didn’t know it was real. And trees are hugely important. We bought our last house because of three trees — the 200 year old oak in front, the 200 ft palm at the side and the scraggly, struggling gingko in the center because it reminded me of my favorite growing-up house, which had a gingko in the yard. I said goodbye to each of those three when we left last year.