A tribute to a much-loved tree


There will be no more weeping for the willow in my backyard.

Sometime in the wee hours of a recent Wednesday morning, what was left of the once majestic, multi-trunk tree came crashing down.

No longer able to withstand the wind, rain and root rot, it took a nosedive into the trees and brush of the wetlands behind my house. As best we can tell, the only thing harmed was the remains of a cherry tree that had been halfway demolished when one of the siblings of the last-trunks-standing took it out a number of years ago.

The willow was like a member of our family. I got a sympathetic text from the neighbor who saw it had fallen even before I had a good look at it.

When we moved into our house in the late ’80s, the tree was a sturdy giant, with eight trunks that had grown together at the outer edge of the yard. It was like a resort for wildlife: woodpeckers, squirrels, birds of every feather. We even spotted Baltimore orioles building their hanging nests there for a number of years.

Age? Estimates put it at a minimum of 75 years. With every windstorm, small branches came down. And it had lots of holes from the woodpeckers. But it created lovely shade in the yard and a beautiful, natural barrier between neighbors.

We did our best to keep it alive through the years.

We even built a wooden swing set beneath one branch.

Silly us.

One day about two dozen years ago, I was horrified to see the swing set crushed under the weight of the overhanging branch, which had come down. Thank goodness there were no children playing there. Nobody had even heard the crack, but the first trunk had fallen.

We didn’t realize that was just the first of many crashing trunks to come.

It took a major storm to bring down each trunk. One at a time, they began to fall. Most fell harmlessly across our backyard, leaving only a mess that could be handled by a chainsaw and strong helpers.

But one fell and nicked the corner of the house. A near miss. Another came down between our house and the neighbors, leaving quite a dent in both lawns.

And during one big storm, two trunks fell across our back deck and the corner of the house, poking a hole in the roof and causing quite a bit of other damage.

The good news was that after this, there were only two trunks left, and both were leaning away from the house, so there was no more fear of damage.

The tree experts said it was time to take it all down. The base was beginning to rot and the remaining trunks had damage caused by the others. Willows have soft wood and they don’t heal well, we were told.

The last two trunks were clearly hurting and a shadow of their former selves. It was no longer a beautiful tree. But we said no. We wanted all it had to offer for as long as it would stand.

That was three years ago. Now, it’s all gone. And there is a huge void in our yard.

For more than 30 years, the tree defined our yard.  In the last few years, we let the area around the last part of the tree go wild. We know there are chipmunks and squirrels there, and we think a skunk family lives there too. They don’t bother us and we don’t bother them. I’m sure this last upheaval has made a mess of their lives too.

What’s next? Our plan was to plant another stand of trees. Ironically, we had begun to explore this in earnest about three weeks ago.

Maybe we will try willows again – just a little farther from the house. But should we remove the wild mess of stumps and brush that remains and fill in the lawn? Or do we just continue to provide an unsightly spot for our backyard critters to enjoy?

Stay tuned.

Fran Ostendorf, Editor