I’m Sorry Joyce Kilmer

I am grim today, busy altering history in way that would earn a poetic tongue lashing from Mr. Kilmer. It’s a little piece of history, about 150 years old, that sits on an even smaller piece of property. Currently, my name is on the deed. Two giant pines trees live outside my sunroom. They’re imposing and vine-covered. Raccoons raise families in these trees and honey bees housed a busy nest in the hollow of one. A beekeeper came and relocated the bees some time ago. I’ve spun in my writing chair and stared at the trees a million times—pondering a sentence, wondering if I should be doing something other than conferring with pine trees. They are not beautiful trees but are as integral to this house as its foundation.

They also have to go—or so I’ve been advised by my husband, the insurance company, and the guys who’ll take them down. That opinion I take with a grain of salt. Tree guys are like surgeons; they like to cut.

You can see that these trees are big guys. They stand about 140 feet tall and in recent years have started reaching for the sun, which forces them towards the house. I’d move the sun if I could. It’s an option that works in a novel built on magic realism, but not here. The tree man summed it up: “Lady, if they come down, they’re not hitting your house. They’re going through it.”

Pine trees live longer than most species of trees and, apparently, they never stop growing. That said, perhaps I should have engaged an environmental attorney to plead their case. But I doubt even our historical society would testify on behalf of the trees. Like a bear that frequents a residential backyard they have become a hazard.

My melancholy mindset is surely a shoulder shrug to some. The town I live in has a hobby-like penchant for tree cutting. In the summer months not a week goes by where you don’t hear a chainsaw buzz. Tree sagas continue around the corner where a small private college is situated. The campus dates back to 1865 and is marked with stately lush trees. When the tail of Hurricane Sandy blew through, one tree—a single oak—fell into power lines. The subsequent outage took days to repair—so it goes with Mother Nature. The college president, an equal force, decided all the accompanying trees needed to go too. I was awed by the indifference with which history was cut down, forever changing a tree-lined street that was only a couple of hundred years in the making.

Back to my pines. If we lived in a modern home I probably wouldn’t be as bothered. But over the past sixteen years, I’ve come to view my role here as more caretaker than owner. That sentiment extends to trees and curved brick walls and pivoting glass block doors that define impracticality, and for which the skeleton key has likely been lost since before I was born.

Nevertheless, this morning I am the tree executioner. Cherry pickers and chainsaws will remove in hours what resided here for a century and a half. Not many things last so long. I’ve posted this photo before, but indulge me, because the mirror image is about to be expunged. Because I think these stupid trees deserve a farewell. I discovered our house’s history based on this photograph. These are the pines in 1900—shady and unobtrusive. The sunroom hadn’t been added back then. A hundred years from now, assuming the house is still standing, the next caretaker won’t ever make this connection. The landmark will be long gone, as will I, the trees and me just passing through. Maybe this is why I love words so much. They are one of a very few things about which time has no say.



  1. Kyle Ann Robertson on January 26, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Beautifully written! And I know how you feel, but in saying that -we lost 3 pines and an oak during this past September in the hurricane and they just missed the house,(and I mean they hit the house but just the tips of them so only paint scratches to be filled) any closer, they would have hit the bed my grandson was sleeping in. So please err on the safe side and then plant two beautiful Dogwoods in the same spot!

    • Laura Spinella on January 26, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Thank you for such a heartfelt comment, Kyle!. The saws are buzzing as I type. Dogwoods… that’s a nice idea.

  2. Melisa on January 26, 2018 at 8:56 am

    I’m sorry, Laura Spinella.

  3. Ellen Pitts on January 26, 2018 at 9:15 am

    I’m not fond of cutting trees myself, but Hurricane Matthew showed me what tall pines can do to a house (not my own thank goodness) when pushed too far by strong wind gusts. They all look like giant hatchets to me now. Listen to your tree guys… perhaps you can convince one of them to cut a neat little slice for you to save. It won’t provide shade, but it could be used to create a nice “circa 1865” sign for your house… an outdoor table top, a garden step… or nothing. Of course, this is also an opportunity to plant your own tree.

    • Laura Spinella on January 26, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Thanks, Ellen. He’s actually going to try and save the lower section of one. We’ll see when he gets that far. And yes–that’s exactly what he said, any other sort of tree and he’d say thin it. It would likely be okay, but just as you note, pines snap. The weight of the branches is stunning as they come down–gently. I definitely didn’t want them coming through the roof! Thanks for stopping by! XO

  4. Susan Peterson on January 26, 2018 at 9:28 am

    beautiful words….

  5. Beverly Turner on January 26, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Laura, I feel your pain. I think trees are as individual as people. My neighbor, across the road, has a gigantic oak tree that feels like a wise old woman, spreading her limbs out to shade and protect everything around her. I love the silhouette of that tree in the winter with bare gnarled limbs against the winter sky. I know that makes me sound like some kind of crazy tree hugger. But that’s how I feel every time I look at that tree. Itwould be such a loss if that tree had to come down. So grieve for your two old friends but know that for safety’s sake, you’re doing what has to be done. Who knows? Maybe they understand that, too. 🙂

    • Laura Spinella on January 26, 2018 at 10:01 am

      What lovely words, Beverly. And I hope you’re right. ????

  6. mary olsson on January 26, 2018 at 9:54 am

    Sad new Laura. We had to have two large old trees taken down from the front of ours house, for pretty much the same reason, years ago. It’s strange how you can become so attached to them, and want to protect them, I tried. The replacement trees never really took off and one has died. I hope you have better luck. I know it’s a melancholy day for you. Mary

    • Laura Spinella on January 26, 2018 at 10:03 am

      I wanted to message and ask if the historical society would have come to their rescue. Yes, it’s sad, but there just wasn’t any way around it. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Tonni Callan on January 26, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I am so sorry! I feel your pain! We a hundred+ Mulbeery come through the roof of our first house. I was out of town, it was gone by the time I got back.
    In Savannah, I bougjt the house because of the three 200+ year old oaks! One was right next to the house, my husband, plunber, tree guy all wanted to obliterate it after a branch took out the roof of the porch. I let them take two branches, i just couldn’t do it. I have 14 a res now…and 2 little scraggly trees. I have planted a dozen, they just do not thrive.

    • Laura Spinella on January 26, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks, Tonni! He’s trimming my giant oak right now and he sees me watching him from the sunroom window. “Just a trim!” I guess we have to be the protectors to a point. But I really did like this guy and he would have saved them if he could. Thanks for popping in!

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