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Lileks: Remembering an old friend who stood tall

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Star Tribune
  • July 13, 2013 - 7:54 PM

When I saw a stump of a metal lamppost, I actually thought: Man, the ash borers are strong this year. Perhaps someone painted orange around the lamppost as a joke, and the crews came along, scratched their heads, shrugged and cut it down. If you ever see someone with orange paint around his kneecaps running in terror from a city worker with a chain saw, you’ll know A) they really do have orders to cut down anything marked orange, and B) their orders include chasing the tree if it attempts to save itself.

It seems as if fewer trees have gotten the Orange Verdict this year; the doomed stand out. Passed one the other day and felt a twinge of sadness: ragged bark, unkempt branches, bald bare sticks on top scratching the sky to get its attention. It was big enough to earn a special slab of sidewalk, a curve cut in the concrete to accommodate its girth. It’ll be there after the tree’s gone, like a widow that sets out plates every day for a departed spouse.

A neighbor lost a tree last week. It was old, tall and rotten. It squeaked in the wind and had become incontinent: It would drop thick limbs for no reason, snapping phone lines, littering lawns, giving squirrels the ride of their lives. Had to go.

It was inaccessible by the usual means, so a vehicle the size of the trucks they used to move Saturn V rocket boosters showed up with a crane and took it out over the house. Once on the street it was fed to a growling wood chipper that ate it with such feral rapacity you suspect the machine was starved for a week before a job this big.

In its place they’ll put a sapling, which will stand there like a gawky teen in the spotlight. (New trees always look self-conscious.) Someday it will be as tall as its predecessor, thrive, decline and have to be removed, probably with an orbital space laser. For now we look up and sigh: Goodbye; thanks for all the shade.

Then the next morning you see a square of light on the floor, in a place where there had always been shadows. A parting gift from an old friend. You smile, and think there’s grace in loss, sometimes.

Also, you’d better move the rug, because all the light will just ruin it.

 

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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