It took seven strong men in four big trucks little more than three hours to take down 30 years of history.
Bark beetles had taken their toll on our once-lovely towering pines. The beetles leave pinholes in the bark and mounds of sawdust at the base of the tree to let you know they’re hard at work. If you’re ever driving along and see a row of pines looking deep fried, extra crisp, or an entire mountainside with trees that look like they have been painted with rust, say hello to the bark beetles. They are dastardly little things.
Out on the farm, our grandparents always cut a Christmas tree from the fields. It was short and squat, had stiff needles that left scratch marks on your arms and smelled wonderful. That tree was a family tradition.
The pines in our backyard were only 5-feet tall when we moved in. They grew right alongside our kids and in the same manner—silently and quickly, but without the orthodontia and pizza.
Those pines once stretched a hammock between the two of them. They watched over swimming pools, campouts, rounds of hide and seek, snowfalls, one unauthorized bonfire and countless family gatherings.
A huge willow tree once stood in the backyard as well. The kids had a treehouse in it for a long time. Neighbor kids enjoyed it, too. The old willow rotted from the inside out and had to be taken down. The kids are in their 30s now and they’re still mad about the willow.
There’s a sadness to a fallen tree, a hollow thud that echoes death when it hits the ground.
My husband and I were working as newspaper photographers in the Pacific Northwest when Mt. St. Helens exploded. Forests were annihilated. Sprawling stands of evergreens stripped bare and splayed like bristles from a hairbrush on the charred and barren mountainside.
It was jaw-dropping, not unlike the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes. The loss of trees somehow compounds the even greater losses of lives and homes.
Trees tend to be symbols of strength and beauty. The death of a tree is a reminder of our own vulnerability.
The trees returned to Mt. St. Helens —and they returned faster than the experts predicted. To all who had witnessed the devastation, the regrowth was invigorating. Those small seedlings cradled the beauty of new beginnings.
We’ve filled in the empty holes where the pines stood and dug a new hole that waits delivery of a Norway spruce.
One of the grands asked how tall the new tree is.
“Not much taller than I am,” I said.
“Can we decorate it for Christmas?” she asked, eyes twinkling.
New growth and new memories.