How the Hen House Turns: A Memorial For A Tree—An Old Friend

The Neepers say goodbye to beloved elm tree. Courtesy photos

How the Hen House Turns: A Memorial For A Tree—An Old Friend
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Our girls called it the Lollypop Tree when we moved into our new (old government) house in 1969.

It stood at least six feet tall on one straight trunk, now a lovely old elm stump two and a half feet in diameter.

The branches on the young tree formed a perfect sphere and stayed that way for years. Miraculously, the tree rounded up after a long spell of single-digit freezes that killed one third of its branches. The wound left a dramatic hole in one side of the then-sizeable trunk. It would eventually define the tree’s doom.

For many years the Hen House gang enjoyed the shade the tree provided. We often ate lunch on the back porch under its cooling leaves, and the birds took their midday naps under the porch.

Turkey soon learned we ate bread up there, however, which complicated lunchtime. Eventually Don added a latched gate to the porch, which did nothing to stop the chickens from insisting on sharing lunch.

Over the years, wet snows gathered on those finely branched ends and some broke, leaving the Lollypop Tree a bit lopsided. Wild birds didn’t mind. So many nested in the thick leaves in springtime, the cacophony of hungry hatchlings was nearly deafening.

Then one summer, just a few years ago, we realized the tree’s branches had grown straight over the entire porch. Cutting them back to the trunk did little to mar the beauty of the now-gigantic tree. Neither did attempts at thinning the branches, which insisted on leafing heavily at their farthest ends.

A few years ago we had the whole tree thinned—a job for professionals. It helped a bit, but the tree fought back, putting out even more branches at the end of its now 20 plus foot-long branches.

Lollypop was now a giant with15 or more long arms reaching for the sky, dropping heaps of leaves on the house roof and housing cute little yellow striped beetles that rained down on us as we sat reading or writing beside the English Ivy around the trunk.

Last fall we invested more time and money in sweeping up all the brown lacy leaves, so the bugs wouldn’t bug us so. It helped, but many bugs made lace of the leaves that came back this year. Our tree expert, Laurel, poked a wire down the old wound and gave us the sad news. The tree was dying. Sure enough, the green leaves disappeared again, and our long-legged friend became a huge bouquet of rust brown sprinkled with the light green of its last gasp.

I’m sitting here now on a lovely blue-sky morning, writing and watching the professionals of Olivas Tree Service take the tree down, branch by loaded branch. The ropes go over the limbs this way and that, the chainsaws travel up and down, the dismembered limbs ride slowly to the ground, and one man braces against his safety harness halfway up each limb in turn. Slowly the tree limbs disappear.

The brushy ends go first, to be chopped up and carted away. Anything over one inch in diameter we save to dry out for firewood. The lovely warmth our stove will provide next winter will remind us of our dear friend of forty-four years.

The Hen House birds are very quiet today, listening to the occasional hum of the chain saws, knowing I’m not going to let them out into the yard. Something of importance is going on, something life-changing.

We had a good rain yesterday, and the Hen House sits in mud surrounded by a solid sea of green, dotted with the peachy orange of wild globe mallow. Even the bindweeds are nearly crowded out. (We pull only the weeds that put out stickers.)

We counted the rings in the two-foot stump that remains—about 55, which means the first owners must have planted the tree three years after the house was built. It was fun to count back 44 to the size of the tree when we moved here.

There’s a time to laugh, a time to cry, and a time to enjoy the blessing of good memories.

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