The family tree

“It’s like losing a family member,” a friend wrote on my Facebook page after I had posted a photograph of the tree that had fallen in our front yard during November’s windstorm.

In a way, he was right. The 75-year-old tree went down in the middle of that memorable night, not so much because of its 60-foot height catching an unfortunate gust of wind, as because of its unknown internal rot.

“A 10-mile wind could have knocked it down next summer,” the Dickensian woodcutter said to us the next morning while examining the tree’s pith. Somehow, that made us feel better, but only slightly.

The tree was not one of our more memorable trees. It was not one of the three majestic white pines that we’re blessed with in our yard; not one of the three oaks that rain acorns down upon us during the late summer weeks; not the crab apple tree that our older son climbed every day when he was younger; not the ash tree with the rope swing that both sons swung from; and not the birch trees that we recently planted and enjoy the beauty of each day. Those are the star family members of our yard — the immediate family.

It was just a pine, a rather scruffy, albeit tall, tree that stood between our and our neighbor’s house. If a family member, it would be likened to an older uncle-by-marriage, standing somewhat quietly and aloofly by himself in the corner. Always nicely dressed, never causing untoward problems at the family gatherings, never drinking too much — simply off to the side, smiling gently at the goings-on. Finally, on this particular evening, as if to say, “I’ll just sit down for a moment, if you don’t mind. This corner chair will be fine. I’m just a bit tired,” and down he goes, slightly rattling the teacart on his way down, never to get up again.

For a tree that falls in the city, this was about as gentle a “timber” as they come. Ten feet one way, it would have been in the middle of my son’s bedroom; 20 feet the other way and it’s in our neighbor’s bedroom. Instead, it landed on the middle of our garage roof, causing no structural damage to either the house or the garage itself.  On its way down, it landed against my car — brushing it, really, in a love-tap sort of way, as far as these things go. The fall, which occurred at 2:30 in the morning, woke me up, but it was a type of “whumpf” that sounded more like a wind blast than a tree falling. Seconds later, however, our son ran into our bedroom with the news that a tree was down.  

Along with numerous other reasons, we bought a home in Southwest Minneapolis because of its green canopy and old-growth trees. We are intrinsically saddened when we spot the “orange ring of death” that marks those trees selected for “deforestation.” We are disheartened when a friend or neighbor chooses to remove a noble tree for aesthetic or new construction purposes. One friend, who was building an addition onto their home, told us that he had received a nasty note from a neighbor, chiding them on their removal of an old pine from their backyard to make way for a new deck, which, we couldn’t help notice, would suffer from lack of shade.

“Can you believe someone would write such a note?” he asked us.

Well, as it just so happened, we could. Especially when one regards trees as family.

Glenn Miller is the owner of Miller & Associates, a corporate communications and video production firm (glennmillerandassociates.com). He shares this column with his wife, Jocelyn Hale.