in memoriam: my backyard trees, and maybe my mind

I’m conflicted today. My neighbors across my back fence–I don’t know them; they moved in a couple of months ago–are in the process of removing six mature trees on their side of the property that have been around since I moved here in 1997. I have a love-hate relationship with the trees, hence, my conflict.

On the positive side, they kept my electricity bills down. They concealed a bunch of utility lines that criss-crossed our backyards. They gave my place added privacy. And most, most, most of all, the birds loved them and I love the birds.

But on the negative side, even being a tree hugger, I never felt compelled to hug these trees. Not to be shallow, but they’re not particularly attractive. The previous owner never hired professionals to trim them. He’d hire people who just randomly hacked away at their branches. Other times, the utility company would bring in a crew to clear the area around the power lines. The trees were never shaped and maintained in a way to bring out their best. This lack of care took its toll over the years.

Five of the six are eucalyptus–but not the fragrant type. I never did learn what the sixth one was. For about half the year, it had pretty-ish qualities. In the spring and summer, as it came to life, its branches dipped low into my yard like a weeping willow, and its leaves were fresh and spring green colored. But around August, the leaves darkened and started to fall, and the tree began dripping this sappy substance that mixed with the dust in the air and ruined everything beneath it [read: patio cushions]. Over the next few months, it dropped every one of its teeny tiny and multitudinous leaves into my yard. It was a part-time job cleaning up after it. By winter, it was just a bare, scraggly mess.

And while the trees kept the place cool, they also took away too much sun to have a nice garden. I finally just gave up and had the whole place professionally done. Now I have mostly bricks, which are not so picky about sunlight.

The landscaper did add a fountain, which I love, because, again, the birds love it. But the leaves always fell in and soiled the water, so I had to haul out the wet/dry vac every three weeks or so and spend 45 minutes pulling the fountain apart, cleaning the motor, and putting it back together. It’s a heavy, awkward two-person job, but there was just me, so it was always luck and a prayer I’d get thing whole thing reassembled and running again.

On the balance, I’d say I have a lot more gripes over the trees than compliments for them. But balance sheets are sometimes more complex than just the black and white pages they’re printed on because something that’s really bothering me today is the bird issue. Several weeks ago, a hummingbird built her nest outside my bedroom door. That hasn’t happened for years, so I feel ridiculously protective in making sure all goes well. The two little nestlings are due to leave any day now. But with the trees removed, they’ve just lost a thousand tiny perches that would have seen them successfully launched into the world. If the job had just been delayed a week, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad…

Or maybe I would because another part of the unsettled feeling is the trees have just always been there. No, I didn’t love them, but if I dig a little deeper I can see they represented stability in an increasingly unstable world.

I wonder if this whole episode is just the universe sending me a message. Nature is resourceful and resilient. The hummingbirds will be just fine. And so will I if I can learn to spend less time worrying about things that are out of my control and more time working on my “inner hummingbird.”

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