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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Our Trees

This was our first house. That first fall, back in 1993, we sneaked over here under cover of darkness, to rake leaves, even though we hadn't actually bought the place yet.  Two flimsy green metal rakes from the True Value on Main Street.  There was no fence, and we worked for hours under the night sky, dreaming and hoping the neighbors wouldn't notice.

It was a big task, there were six mature trees surrounding us.  Two maples on the street out front (spectacular every fall), a massive oak at the side, a silver maple out back, a dogwood by the back door, and an ornamental Japanese maple outside the kitchen window.

Over the years, these were the trees in whose shade our children read, on whose branches they learned to climb.  Many awkward family photos were taken with them as part of the composition.

One year, we discovered that the Japanese maple had a chemical imbalance.  As a solution, we would walk out each day and dump our used tea leaves on the ground for the roots to soak up.  This was the same tree I decided to trim one day.  I started well, with an excellent shaping of one limb.  But then I saw that things looked a little lopsided.  So I took a little off the other side.   A little too much.  So I went back to the first side.  But then I noticed things looked really strange from the back.  And so it went, like a bad haircut, I kept doing more and more, with each cut making things progressively worse.  Finally, I set my tools down and went inside.  The next day, our elderly neighbor asked my wife if there had been a storm.  She was worried about all the damage to our beautiful tree.

That was in the same era when a passerby called out to me as I was working in the yard.  Isn't this the place where Reverend Wise used to live?  Why yes, I replied.  I thought so, she said.  It used to look so nice.

The front trees fell to the power company.  New power lines meant drastic measures.  The first round, they carved the middle out of both trees, so that lines could pass between the branches.  Those proud upstanding citizens, with their hearts cut out.  It was almost a relief when a year later the trucks returned and took the trees down altogether.  They waited until we went on vacation.  We came home to a riot of sawdust, piled up logs, and the glare of unexpected sunlight.

And then came the ants.  Carpenter ants.  Those great, voracious, wood-destroying creatures.  I had been seeing the warning signs for a while, the hollow branches, the health of the trees, for crying out loud the ants themselves.  But like most men my age, it took a long time for me to take the danger signs seriously.  I thought those trees to be immortal.  By the time I consulted a tree surgeon, it was too late.  First came the pest control man.  He sprayed, and wave after wave of ants came fleeing from every opening in those trees.  It was like a scene from that zomobie movie World War Z - thousands upon thousands of moving bodies.  And then the chain saws.  With teeth even sharper than the ants.  The final great trees from when we had moved in - reduced to a stump, and then ground into oblivion.

These last few years, we've hardly needed those little green rakes any more.  The trees are all gone.  My middle-aged back feels OK with that - but my heart and soul miss the shade in the summer and the color every fall.

On a whim, I called the parks department to inquire.  And to my surprise last week, the city forester came to pay a visit.  He said the city is ready to plant three new trees on our tree lawn.  He pulled out a well-thumbed brochure for me to pick the trees I wanted.  I chose a maple, a gumwood, and in honor of my heritage, a London Plain.

I'm thrilled to think of those new trees replacing what has gone.  In twenty more years, there should be shade and beauty once again.  And maybe another young couple that shows up after dark, with shiny new rakes, to gather their dreams.

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