The Mast-Head: The Secrets of Trees

The tree had been a seasonal curtain on my view of Main Street

The summer’s drought ended the last of whatever miracle had been holding up the old beech tree outside my office window. Two weeks before Christmas, Kevin Savastano and his crew arrived early on a cold Friday morning, as promised, to take it away.

For years, the tree had been a seasonal curtain on my view of Main Street and the comings and goings at the library. From my desk, I look out due south toward the Town Pond Green flagpole. When the leaves were on the old beech, I could not see much, but in the winter, it was different, with a view clear to the Mulford Farm.

Kevin stopped in the office on Tuesday, looking for a check for the work, and said  the beech had been imploding and had it not been removed it almost surely would have fallen apart this winter and damaged the Star building across the narrow driveway.

Not knowing what to look for, the beech had seemed all right to me, at least in the spring. Yet by the beginning of autumn, branches had begun to fall. 

There is a bright line between life and death, I often think, but it is less obviously so for a tree. When we humans are alive, even barely and in our dying days, we are clearly alive. I think of Richard Higer, one of our most faithful letter-writers, who died on Dec. 5 of pneumonia. Mr. Higer rarely, if ever, missed a week to share his opinions with our readers. His last message, full of his left-of-center thinking, arrived at my in-box on Nov. 26,

Looking out our front-office window on a rainy Tuesday, Kevin Savastano told me that two European beech trees just up the way at Woods Lane will soon have to be taken down. I went out for a look later; even in dying, trees hold on to their majesty far longer than we do. There was nothing about their massive gray forms with rainwater slicking down their bark that said their time had come.

With the big beech that had been outside my window gone, I can see farther down Main Street to the pond. I can see each branching twig, bare of its leaves, as it reaches into the lungs of the sky. This is when trees seem vastly more interesting; there is no discernable structure to a tree in June. Summer’s cloak hides what is really going on. January lets us in on the secrets.