What does a tree mean?
In a city that has lost so much of its tree canopy due to a devastating storm last August, that might be an odd question. And although the sight of a branchless trunk where once a mighty ash stood does startle me and leave me a bit melancholy, it was not a blow that was unexpected, and I am OK with the men wielding the axes (well, they probably used power tools, the “axe” here is symbolic) because they were doing the right thing.
I liked the two large ash trees that adorned the parking area between our sidewalk and the street for the 20 years we have lived here in Cedar Rapids. They were nice. Last August, the angry derecho winds uprooted one, but the second remained, planted on the line between my neighbor’s yard and mine, there between the ends of our driveways.
I’m a tree person, and I appreciate the beauty of an ash, although, to be honest, they also seem a bit bland. Give me an oak or walnut or tulip poplar—trees with character and grit and personality. Ashes—meh. Pretty. Not much else.
But, on the other hand, there was something about that remaining ash that had survived the winds of August. This particular ash tree was special to me.
A few years ago, I looked up to see a tiny hummingbird flitting about in that tree, and I wondered what it was doing in a tree that did not have any food for it. I grabbed my Nikon with a long lens on it and I made the bird’s image.
And when I looked at the image on my computer, the secret was revealed.
Too small for me to see well with my naked eye, there was a teensy nest in the crook of a branch way up there. A hummingbird’s nest. The hummingbird was hanging around its house on a fine summer day, as many of us do.
More recently, my wife and I were leaving the house for a summer stroll, when something caught our eye in the branches of that same ash. At first it looked like a small bit of trash, maybe a little paper bag that had blown there.
It was neither trash nor bag. It was a bat. Some people freak out about bats, but some people hate snakes, too, and I’m not some people. I like both bats and snakes and I thought it was just cool to see that night flyer resting in what was, for it, early dawn even as my wife and I were enjoying the cool of early night.
A hummingbird’s house, a bat’s resting spot, a perch for a cardinal who liked, now and then, to yell at the pale pink guy moving way down there in the dirt, a ridiculous hairless ape parading about on two legs without even any wings, not understanding that up here in the canopy is a proud scarlet theropod dinosaur alpha male, ancient and angry, distant cousin of the T-Rex and still with that regal ethos, staring down at an ugly mammalian upstart in disgust and chittering a critique of the universe.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to see cardinals. I just don’t consider them, as some do, as the souls of past love ones. Their beady black eyes seem to betray a bleaker worldview.
A view that was sometimes had from up there in this ash tree. This particular ash tree meant something.
I’m glad the city is taking it down—as a doomed tree, it needed to go before it got sicker and more pieces fell off of it. Yet I can still consider the pleasant memories that tree gave to me and thus regret its necessary departure.
Fortunately, even with many of the trees gone in my yard from the angry winds of August, many more still remain. The ash came down in winter, which is a blessing because hummingbirds aren’t nesting here now. Should that tiny migrant return and poke around at all, it will find many other trees on my property that it’s welcome to construct its tiny house on. The cardinals are still hanging around, and the testosterone-infected red one is still fixing me with its proud, judgmental royal gaze. Even the bats have lots of places left to hang like piece of windblown trash.
So goodbye, ash. I enjoyed your foliage and shade for the final two decades of your long life, and I regret that it ended.
Something will be planted in your place, although it will take years for it to grow into a hummingbird’s home. But let us plant trees for the next generation of hapless, wingless apes, and move on and hope.
In Texas, a winter storm has brought havoc. The violence of a warmed climate still tears at us in many ways—what a year that this has been, not just a new virus, but in January of last year there were fires in Australia and more recently in California. There was a derecho here in summer, and now a winter snowpack across most of this nation into the South where they aren’t used to it.
In the scheme of things, one ash, which was doomed, is a small loss.
Yet a loss nonetheless, and one worth noting.