Tip #533: Requiem for a Willow

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” Bruce Lee

When I moved into my house almost 30 years ago, I was charmed by the ancient weeping willow that stood sentinel in front of the house. That very night, I looked out my window and saw a huge raccoon looking in at me. Since my house is in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, a mere mile from our State Capital, this seemed pretty extraordinary. Magical.

The willow branches danced in the breeze, sending lovely leaf shadows on the living room walls. It provided a lacy curtain of privacy for the upstairs bedroom in the spring, and for the living room in the summer.

It was absolutely beautiful, arching over my house as if in an embrace. As the willow bent over us, I felt grounded, solid, and safe.

Yes, it was a pain in the neck to have to pick up fallen branches almost every day. Yes, every fall its leaves piled on top of the screens on the house gutters. And yes, it attacked my underground water and sewer pipes, clogging them up with roots that had to be removed for a fee on a regular basis.

But that weeping willow was my landmark. I could always tell people I lived in the house next to the huge willow tree. There was no other willow on the block or on the street.

The willow also housed a variety of tenants over the years, including the raccoons, squirrels, blackbirds and even a hawk one year. Right here in the city.

My beautiful aged friend is now gone. It succumbed to myriad maladies brought on by the drought last year and the harsh winter this year.

The arborist and his helper needed a crane to reach the top of the tree. They had to have the city reserve space on the street and my utility company turn off all of my power for the day to keep the arborist safe, up in his cherry picker.

Cutting down the tree took all day and into the night. The minutes and hours were punctuated by the sound of heavy limbs and enormous pieces of trunk crashing to the ground. The smaller pieces were sent through the wood chipper, while the large chunks were carted into a waiting pick up truck.

The constant buzz of the chain saw covered the continuous chirping of a chipmunk, who was most probably reporting the action to the animals and birds in the backyard.

I spent three hours picking up larger limbs, plucking out shredded pieces of bark from the flowerbeds, and raking up small twigs and wood chips. I filled five huge plastic bags with sawdust. And I’m not done by any means.

Now I am covered from head to foot with sawdust. There is sawdust everywhere: on the ivy growing on the house, the shrubs next to the house, the flowers in the front window boxes. And because it has been so very dry this month, the sawdust has covered and revealed all of the cobwebs on the house, in the grass and within the shrubs.

There is collateral damage. Two shrubs in front of the tree had to go, to allow the crane to get close enough to the willow. A hydrangea that was finally coming into its own was crushed by falling limbs. So were the pink gooseneck geraniums and phlox, planted amid the luxurious purple flowering vinca vines that took years to grow. All crushed and covered with sawdust.

So, there are many losses. I have lost my privacy and my serenity, because the trunk of the willow used to completely screen us from our next-door neighbor and from the sight of the four way stoplights at the intersection of the busy streets at the end of the block. The shrubs, flowers and vines are gone.

But most of all, I mourn my beautiful proud generous willow.

I am left to bend alone in the wind. I can plant more shrubs, more flowers, and more ground cover. I can even plant another tree someday. Something smaller and flowering, to brighten that sad spot. A fruit tree, perhaps.

It may not protect and embrace us as the weeping willow has done these many years, but it can nurture and sustain us. Perhaps that would be the best legacy.

May your learning be sweet.


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