10/12/13 8:00am


The tree was hardly a big selling point when we bought our place out here over a decade ago. But it stood out prominently in the front yard and was a presence in the first photos we snapped (the verb used back then with film cameras) after we closed the deal and wanted to send around some house pictures to friends.

It was a large Norway spruce about 25 feet from the small front room we shamelessly came to call the library. It worked well with its nearby neighbors, the red maples and cherry trees. There was a certain woodsy elegance about it, classically conical-shaped with its boughs dripping with downward-hanging fronds of pine needles. I read somewhere that those drooping fronds are an evolutionary adaptation so the spruce can more easily divest itself of ice and snow. Nice trick. If only power lines and driveways could learn something like that. You want cones? We got cones.

Early on we made facetious remarks that it could be in the running for Rockefeller Center, all dolled up in lights during the holidays. But if you’ve seen those trees, you know they are true giants and probably no tree on the Island could begin to compete. I, by the way, have probably seen my last Rockefeller tree. I’m put off by the crowds and, I’m sorry, by the time they get done trimming and shaping the tree it doesn’t look like a real tree at all. Well strung with a million lights? Yes, I’ll give you that. I’ll give you “tree-like object,” and that’s it.

Our spruce had a heart-warming start. The previous owner purchased it as the family’s first Christmas tree over 30 years ago and stuck it in the ground as a growing memento. And grown it has. To my eyes, it runs 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Its trunk approaches three feet across. Its nearest bough is now 10 feet from the house and is obviously aching to have a close encounter with cedar shingles. It has surely invaded the septic tank and leech field. It could fall on the house. It lords over the front yard like a bully. It has become a scraggly, heavily bearded granddaddy of a tree. It belongs in some frigid forest far away. It has outgrown its residential welcome. It’s time for it to go.

I’ve been advocating for its removal for some time, to no spousal avail. So I never miss the opportunity to elicit opinions from friends and acquaintances who drop by about its aesthetic suitability in the front yard. I’ve never once registered a positive reply. Over the past couple of years, I’ve asked would-be and actual arborists about the spruce and they, too, side with me, removal-wise. As for requested estimates for doing the deed, they’re not exactly rolling in, although it would clearly cost a bundle.

After years of digging in her heels, my wife is beginning to relent. She actually uttered the word “scraggly” recently, and we talked about its replacement tree or trees, maybe a sugar maple or some more fruit trees. We imagine the great opening up of the front yard to sunshine and space and watching the new trees catch and thrive.

But hold on.

Like most of us, I have a deep-seated aversion to taking out a tree, unless it’s a locust, which is cause for feasting and celebration. I admit there are times when I look at the spruce and marvel at its density and complexity, its long-term success, its clear supremacy in the yard, its tenacity during countless storms and tempests. Many times I have carefully freed the lower boughs when they were encased in icy snowdrifts, and they seemed to react as though they would have happily extricated themselves, thank you, at a time of their own choosing. So, yes, there is an attachment to the spruce.

I’m not saying I’m backtracking on getting rid of it, but on this glorious October day it seems to belong here much more than in August, when it looms like a lost North Woods denizen in the sizzling hazy days of summer. It was invited here, after all, planted by human hand. If I dared to observe, I would have a difficult time watching it destroyed and hauled away in fragrant pieces. In its absence, there would be a large patch of needles to convert back to lawn, and it does, at some angles, provide some privacy from the rare curious eyes that ascend the small hill to our cul-de-sac. Not that I care about them, but rabbits like to hang out on the spruce’s shady, piney under-blanket and it’s amusing to flush them into their strangely slow loping escapes. And there was the time, after hiking from the ferry, when I came upon a napping fawn half in and half out of the spruce’s lower canopy.

Okay. If and when it goes, I will miss it.