My home is perched on the side of a mountain, at the edge of town. In an earlier essay (Thoughts for the new year), after a devastating fire near Boulder, I wrote about fire danger in my mountain neighborhood.
There are a few houses above mine, but only a few. The landscape and a rocky road continue up to the peak of Saxon Mountain, with wilderness along its ridges and down the other side, connecting with miles and miles of uninhabited forest and mountain. Below my house is an open space where tall grasses provide grazing for wild animals, and bedding for deer and bighorn sheep at times. Three huge evergreens hug the sides of my house, and graceful aspen trees circle the structure. Fire prevention recommendations suggest establishing a perimeter around the house that would be less flammable, but I have been reluctant to remove these beautiful living creations.
This spring, I found a recommended tree specialist who checked out the growth around my house. We agreed on a plan to remove the large evergreen tree right outside my bay window, two aspens closest to the house among a larger clump, some bushes, and to trim lots of dead branches and ones that reach out toward the house. I wasn’t clearing as wide a corridor as stronger fire mitigation suggests; this was as far as I could go, barely six feet. The house is still surrounded by a few aspens, with two tall evergreens in the back. A cottonwood and a full older aspen stand closer to the road. My metal roof provides some protection as well. This was a strategy I could live with, for now.
There was life in that tree. Blue jays hopped, crows called, hummingbirds hovered, woodpeckers pecked, smaller birds chirped. (I haven’t been fast enough to successfully photograph the birds.) Rabbits hopped and deer grazed in its shade. A squirrel frequented its limbs, sometimes looking in my window to scold, and would hop down onto my deck to look for seeds. I’m hoping he hasn’t lost his stash for the coming winter. Even a neighbor’s cat once came to visit.
The branches danced in the wind, and bowed in heavy snow.
Earlier this summer, I watched robins mate in the branches of the pine. Lady Robin diligently built her nest carrying twigs, flying from the tree branches up above my window, out of sight. I couldn’t spot the nest in its branches… Oh, there it is!
I was out of town for a week and the nest was empty when I returned. Doing a bit of research, I learned that robin eggs hatch in thirteen days, so I missed them. Lady Robin was no longer hopping around the branches of the tree on her way in and out of the nest, and, with her fledglings off on their own, she had left too. I was relieved that the babies made their way into the world before the workers came for the tree.
The day before the tree cutters came, chipmunks chased each other up and down the trunk. That morning, a robin perched on a branch and tilted its head at me. Perhaps it was one of the hatchlings because it seemed small. It was as if they were bidding their tree friend goodbye, although, of course, how could they know? Inspired by Native Americans who said thank you to the animals they hunted and killed for food, I thanked my tree.
A few weeks ago, the destruction took place, so sad to watch. When the workers came, they described the big tree as an eighty-year-old Douglas Fir.
“We’ll put it down in the meadow,” one of the workers told me, indicated the open space downhill from the tree and my house. It would land on a clump of bushes, but they would likely spring back after a while. I sat on a rock wall across the street and the young man who lived there came out with his drone camera to film. The worker advised us to move back further in case there was flying debris.
Tears rolled down my cheek as they cut into the fir. I watched the tree I intimately came to know chopped up, hauled away in pieces, fed into a machine that turned it into pulp. A small ecosystem has disappeared.
Although the neighboring houses aren’t that close, I felt as though I had emerged from a forest retreat and now I’m living in a residential area of town. At first, my view seemed too open. But I’m already getting used to the new perspective. I can watch the shadow of the mountain on the other side of the house recede as sun illuminates the peak opposite my window. With a full view of the open space, I’m more likely to notice when an animal wanders in. The sunlight streams in and lights the room in the afternoon, and will warm the house in winter.
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Email me at: Ruth@RuthRosenfeld.com