When we bought our Island place nearly 20 years ago, two beautiful red maples commanded the entrance to the driveway. But once you got beyond them, the true commandant of the front yard rose impressively to the right, in front of the room we came to call the library.
It was a massive Norway spruce, with its characteristic drooping hunks of needles hanging from its boughs, designed, I learned, to handle the ice and snow with ease. It was not a beautiful tree. It was, simply, very large. I can’t be certain, but I think upon first sight an embryonic idea formed that we‘d probably get rid of it down the road.
We had numerous other tree issues on our acre. And like everyone, we were loath to remove any tree. Yet there were several that were misshapen, in poor health or oddly situated whose numbers were up. One of these was an elm, I believe, whose trunk bifurcated about two feet off the ground and was stealing space and sun from a much nobler nearby oak.
It took us several years to address the elm, giving me time to employ it in a memorable croquet game (regrettably the only croquet game ever yet played at the house) as an obstacle, stationed midway between two wickets so you were enticed to lift and punch your ball through the tree’s V-shaped open space. Of course, you could just avoid the obstacle altogether by going around it.
Only my nephew and I chose to lift and punch. He tried and failed three times to get his ball airborne and watched it ricochet away from the launching pad in front of the V.
I am not a golfer, but on my first elm attempt, I swung low, dug into the yard, lifted a divot and struck a perfect shot, barely clearing the split in the trunk. My nephew swore. But it made no difference, since I had laid out the course in such an eccentric manner that many of the later wicket placements were infinitely more difficult. In other words, anyone could get lucky and win the game.
Turns out I won the game amid howls of cheating accusations. But everyone started cheating from the outset, so it all leveled out.
About 10 years into the Island house ownership we had Patti P., an East End representative of Bartlett’s, the tree/lawn care giant, come out for a consultation of some sort. I pulled her aside and asked: “Is that one of the ugliest front yard trees you’ve seen in your travels?” pointing to the spruce.
Jane, spying this conversation unfolding and my gesturing toward the spruce, hustled over, accurately deducing that I was seeking Patti’s concurrence about downing the monster tree.
Jane, always a spruce proponent, vociferously argued for keeping it. Patti, though she had nodded subtly to me about the tree’s essential monstrosity, quickly became neutral, having been through countless spousal disagreements over tree issues. And so the spruce continued to thrive in its awfulness.
Fast forward to this summer. Patti was summoned again for a relatively minor dogwood issue. I looked at the spruce with Patti at my side and Jane nowhere in sight, looking for her shoes. “I ask you again. Is that one of the ugliest front yard trees you’ve seen in your travels?”
To her everlasting credit, Patti said, “It’s pretty bad.”
Having found her shoes, Jane confronted Patti and me. She saw me grinning and knew the jig was up. The spruce must go.
Bartlett’s came recently and it really didn’t take that long. The branches were sawed off from the bottom up, and there was a moment where the limbless trunk and the neat cluster of boughs at the top made for a pleasant-looking tree-like thing. And then it was a tall naked ravaged pole.
It was hacked into five-foot-long pieces, thrown into a chipper and the mulch, we were told, was headed to Mashomack, which I thought was a great ending for the spruce. Jane, not so much.
We had recently endured some septic tank issues inflicted by the town (the spruce had nearly been right on top of the tank, which was miraculously deep enough that even the ancient spruce had not invaded it). So that part of the yard was already chewed up and we’ll have to reseed the whole ravaged patch, after the spruce’s stump is drilled away.
Despite my enmity for the spruce, it will take a little time to adapt to its absence. It had, after all, a full life, starting out as the previous owner’s first Christmas tree, and I am sure that in its middle age it was a looker. But the word monstrosity sticks in my mind. Even Patti nodded when I said it.
“I tell people all the time,” Patti said. “Whatever you do, do not plant your Christmas tree in your yard. Only bad things will happen. Exhibit A.”
Enjoy Mashomack, Grandpa Spruce, and rest easy.