Volume 73, Number 54 | May 12 - 18, 2004


I survived the great tree suicide

By Andrei Codrescu

The majestic old live oak in front of the house collapsed gracefully on the eve of April 30 and covered the entire street with its leafy limbs — each one the size of an average tree — bringing all life as we know it to a standstill. Laura and I were found in another city by that livewire network of neighbors and colleagues that mysteriously and happily activates itself during a disaster — and summoned back to find the fallen giant tended to by neighbors and gawkers and bewildered birds looking for their nests, as well as one branch stuck like a lance into my roof, and another into the side of a neighbor’s house.

It had been raining for three days and three nights and the giant had given up, careful not to damage our houses too much, and in this, given its size, it had succeeded admirably.

The neighboring house, which the tree had also scratched, is home to two children, Dylan and Claire, who only a few days before had come to me with a not-unusual, but in retrospect, significant request: they wanted to climb the giant. This they did and it was almost as if the tree had had this last wish, to be climbed by Dylan and Claire.

Personally, I’d had tree epiphanies all week, especially after seeing a documentary on Julia Butterfly, who lived in a tree called Luna for two years. Laura had also been worried about the tree and had a dream that involved a woodpecker.

In any case, here we were, on May 1, International Workers’ Day, with all our neighbors, sharing sodas and sandwiches, and watching a heroic crew of tree-cutters flying from ropes all over the dignified corpse of the giant, carefully sawing and lifting branches with deft skill. For all that, there was plenty of dissent as to the actual techniques used to free our houses, and everyone had an opinion on how to go about it, including one proffered by neighbor Tom who, being a pilot, had some complex ideas about the physics involved. Others, like Paul across the street, sweetly offered coffee and the use of his lawn as a viewing stand.

My fellow tree-wounded neighbors fed and sheltered the crew when the rain got too heavy for an hour or so, and when the hole in my roof was finally revealed, it was neighbor Gary who climbed up there and put a tarp over it, a job that freaked me just looking up. Neighbors I had never seen came up with condolences and stories and offers of food and shelter. I had the feeling that all this was somehow the work of the fallen giant who in giving up his vast body had somehow released a lovely burst of fellowship and communal affection. Next step: planting a new tree on the spot and celebrating with a huge block party.


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