Sunday, January 12, 2014


the key to our future

Yesterday it rained hard and all around the Silver Maple which stands in front of our terrace the ground turned to mud.  The dogs track mud into the kitchen whenever they come inside but we don't want to talk about the mud right now because the question is more complicated.  It isn't just a matter of  planting grass seed. We've talked about this problem many times and as we talk the conversation quickly develops into a much deeper problem, the problem of how much longer we're going to stay in this house.

The need for grass around the Silver Maple calls into question the future of the Silver Maple itself.  The tree is dying and it doesn't look that great right now, being winter, but we are trying our hardest to keep it alive for as long as we can.  It's our favorite.  It was here when we bought the house. Its leaves have sheltered our terrace since the children were small.  We have sat beneath it on countless evenings and in all seasons and we've watched the cardinals nest in its branches and the woodpecker  peck against its trunk and we have a photograph of our daughter Rozzie and son Alex standing underneath one of its boughs back when they were five and seven.  Now they're in their twenties.  We don't want the tree to go.

But if we contour the land and put in new sod, it really means we should take the tree out first. The root system is so close to the surface and so expansive at this point, that the grass never grows underneath it well.

But if we take out the tree, that calls into question the terrace, which will no longer be shaded and therefore won't be so peaceful or friendly. We will have to put in an awning and an awning isn't as lovely as a tree and besides, an awning is costly - and what we've really talked about doing when the tree dies, is putting an addition on the back.

We always told ourselves that if that tree came out, it would be time to put in the beautiful room we've always imagined - the one with windows onto the garden - the one that would allow us to entertain more comfortably in the winter months - the one that might have a fireplace. This is a logical development of the property. Our neighbors have done it, because all these properties are deep ones, but we haven't done it because of the tree.

And yet that isn't true.  Because why would we build on an extra room at this stage of the game?  The children have moved away and yes we are happy in this house but don't imagine staying here forever. We moved here because of the children, and have lived here on and off for twenty years - in between foreign service tours.  But we can easily picture an urban life - the life we lived in New York or Boston before we had children.  Or if not that, a life back in Europe -  in the UK or Belgium where once we were so happy. Or who knows where? Our children are spread across the map and so are our friends.

This is what we talk about when we start to talk about grass seed.  It seems this tree holds our future in its branches and if the tree dies all bets are off.

This afternoon we took the dogs for their usual walk. The rain had stopped and the weather was warmer. Also we had to pick up my jacket at Sara and Jacky's house - where we had dinner last night.  As we rounded the corner from Hallwood onto Brilyn, we found Sara outside digging, her back bent over a tiny hole.

"Hey!" she said. "I'm planting trees!"

We laughed.  The trees in question were currently sticks. I remember when she got them last year and they were even thinner. "This one is a Crape Myrtle," she said.  "And this is a Washington Hawthorn," showing us a twig in her hand with a tiny green dot on top.

"Wow," I said.

"And take a look at the Red Bud."  In another bed in front of the house stood an actual tree. 
"It's huge!" I said.

"I know," she replied, "And it only started out as a stick."  A new thought crossed her face. "Do you want some? I have a Bur Oak inside, and a Northern Red Oak.  And I don’t have room here for an Oak."  We laughed again at the tiny saplings.

Ben agreed we should take some 'trees' and we went inside and I got my jacket back and we chatted with Jacky who was standing in the hallway with his dogs, and Ben thanked them both for the lovely evening last night and they said they had enjoyed it too. Then Sara  gave me three sticks wrapped in a plastic bag. "Is now a good time to plant them?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "You want to plant them while they're dormant."

We finished our walk. Jacky texted me to tell me that one of the saplings Sara had given me was a fast growing Northern Red Oak which will grow 60-70 feet. The others were a Washington Hawthorn and a Bur Oak.  So if one tree falls another three will be planted.

But what about the grass seed?

view across the garden in summer

1 comment:

  1. That's a nice story. I can see why you're having a hard time letting go of the tree. Aside from providing shade to your terrace, it has been a witness to countless memories of you and your kids as they were growing up. Still, the tree will eventually die, or you will finally decide to have it taken out. Whatever decision you make, I hope it turns out to be for the best.

    Hannes Dewet @