Nana’s Tree, 1966 – 2013

Joe's Mom waters Nana's tree when it was a baby.

Joe’s Mom waters Nana’s tree when it was a baby.

Nana’s tree, a blue spruce, was brought down this past weekend after a life that was long and well-lived, a life that provided shade and shelter to family and countless birds and squirrels.

These were the words that started to come to mind as I watched the men of the cutting crew strategize how to remove something in less than an hour, something that took Nature nearly 50 years to grow, something that was selected by Joe’s grandmother when his family first moved to Long Island and which remained after Joe and I purchased the house.  I was reminded of my mother’s annual Thanksgiving comment: “It takes so long to prepare everything, but it’s over so quickly.”

Some gardening jobs are just way too big — and in this case, too high (about 45’ too high) — for Joe and me to manage.  We enlisted the help of a friend’s tree trimming business, Aspen Tree Service.

Tree Cutting

As sad as it was to witness the tree coming down, it was also a wonder to watch the skill of the crew.  One man spiked his way to the top of the tree, where he tossed ropes, tied knots, and used nearby trees to help bring down the blue spruce, while a ground team caught the gently lowered limbs.  It was a ballet of physics and strength.

In the end, though, it was just a tree for them, another job — even though they took great care to not damage any of the surrounding shrubs and perennials and to clean up the debris.  For Joe and me, it was like losing a member of the family — because the tree was as much a tree as it was a testament to his grandmother’s spirit.

Tree Removal

After Joe’s family moved from Brooklyn to Long Island, his grandmother decided that the front yard needed an anchor tree to soften the edge of the house’s corner.  She purchased a burlapped blue spruce and instructed young Joe on where and how it should be planted.  Joe dug the hole and Nana supervised.

Nana was also the one who decided that as the tree began to grow, it needed to be pruned — despite the protests of young Joe.  Never to be discouraged, Nana pruned the single point top of the tree, which resulted in the blue spruce growing three center points.  These three points, in time, became three trunks.

In any event, the tree with the triple top became the anchor.  It was the tree that was decorated each Christmas with lights.  By the time I met the tree, it was tall enough that Joe and I needed a ladder and a pole to string the lights.  Eventually, it became too tall for decorating.

Over the years, the lower branches encroached over the under plantings, including the front lawn.  Additionally, other trees had been planted, casting a deep shadow over many of the blue spruce’s inner branches, which in turn dropped their needles, revealing the tree’s skeleton.  Joe and I pruned these out, ultimately reaching a point where we could stand upright under what were now the lowest branches.

Tree Cutting

My favorite place to view the tree was from the second floor picture window.  There, the branches were the greenest, receiving plenty of sun.  It was like being in a tree house — or maybe even a nest, and the tree was certainly home to numerous nests.

As the tree grew, it witnessed weddings, births, and deaths.  In 1993, when Nana was 94, the tree witnessed the passing of the woman whose idea it was to plant it in the first place.

The beginning of the tree’s end came this past October, when Hurricane Sandy struck Long Island.  Joe and I were in the house, running from window to window looking at the bending trees.  Then, at about 6:00 p.m., the sound of the wind changed.  It growled and roared, and snapping sounds could be heard all around.  One of those snaps was the center spire of Nana’s tree.

Hurricane Sandy

The next morning, after venturing outside, we looked at the tree, at the wound and at the center trunk that now lay across the fence and into the backyard.  I ached for the tree — those three spires had stood together for more than 40 years, like sisters.  In one wind-driven second, the trio had become a duo.

And the two remaining sisters — spires — looked lost, opened to elements, bald on the sides that faced the shady inside of the tree, the side where the lost trunk once stood.  They were without their anchor, weak and beaten.

As I watched the Aspen Tree Service crew go about their tasks, I considered Nana’s tree and the gaping hole that now remained in the landscape.  I also considered Nana, and the hole that has remained since her passing.  Not a day goes by that someone does not talk about this remarkable woman who raised two young children after her husband suddenly died, who traveled the world, who road motorcycles, who lived life with a capital L . . .

A woman whose roots and branches, shade and strength could rival the tallest of trees.


34 thoughts on “Nana’s Tree, 1966 – 2013

  1. That photo of Nana is just incredibly gorgeous! What a gaze she’s giving the camera! Her body language in that photo really does tell the story of a remarkably strong woman. I can easily understand the angst of losing this special tree, but you and Joe have handled the decision well and it’s all about moving forward. Back to that photo–I hope you have that somewhere where you can see it often. She’s an inspiration!

    • Hi Debra. Nana as an inspiration only scratches the surface. And although the tree is gone, we have photos and memories and other plantings and recipes to help keep her spirit alive.

  2. Kevin, it will be strange to see that tree missing from the landscape. But, it grew and stood a good many years, was useful (shade and shelter and celebration), and now has gone on to its next phase of “life” – its use as mulch and bedding material to shelter and protect younger plantings. Pretty similar to the human life cycle, I suppose. Joe’s Nana must have been a remarkable woman. I’m sorry I never got a chance to meet her. But, somehow, she sounds like she was a real spitfire, and I guess that’s where Joe gets it from! Anyway, this has been a beautiful testimony to a grand tree and a grand lady! Thanks for sharing!

  3. It is always so sad to see a tree cut down. Where I grew up in Minneapolis, each home had an elm tree planted along the road which had created, by the time I was born, a beautiful, cathedral-like, arched canopy over the streets. Then came the Dutch elm disease…

    • Hi Ann. I also remember streets lined with elms. In my own childhood neighborhood, each yard seemed to have an elm planted in the same spot. Those days, like the elms, are long gone.

  4. A number of years ago, the enormous blue spruce that dominated my mother’s back yard came down in a winter storm, leaving a big hole both physically and emotionally. For Mother’s Day that year, I designed and planted a new garden to go in the 16′ diameter circle left by the tree’s removal.

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