Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 21, 2009

Confessions of a Tree Hugger – another true story from Mitchell Kyd

   I have no shame. I am a tree hugger. Actually, I come from a long line of tree huggers. As a kid on a weekly excursion to the grocery store, I can remember my mother and grandmother chastising strangers for destroying trees in their own front yards if they happened to be ones that we had grown accustomed to seeing on our regular travels.

     My grandfather, the most agreeable man on the planet, once nearly lost his happy home by trimming the lower branches of a huge blue spruce in his front yard, thinking that they were obstructing my grandmother’s view from the front porch. What he didn’t understand was that her view out had been perfect and she had been just as happy that the view in had been veiled in a little mystery. I remember her calling out “Mason!” when she walked in the door from work that day. Not good. Like most marriages where loving spouses have a hierarchy of pet names for each other, in that house escalating to a given name was use of deadly force. Yes, we have tree issues in our family.

   Having grown up in a time where entertainment was primarily homemade, a perfect Sunday afternoon for me meant a walk in the woods, not a movie or trip to the mall. My dad was my very first hero and every walk with him through the ash trees, the hemlocks and the pin oaks was magic as he produced one surprise after another – a scarlet feather, a jumbo burnished acorn, or a handful of orange-scented needles. Each thing waited to be rediscovered on every adventure and it was all a gift of the trees.

   Fast forward fifty years. I now find myself mom to a daughter who spent her first year in college as a forestry major. With her hard hat, muffs and steel-toed boots, she stepped easily into the tracks my dad has made and even though the dendrology lessons are now most often delivered from my Jeep, I still take the quizzes. Do I know that the black gum displays its fiery red leaves on symmetrical branches? Don’t I just love the papery bark of the river birch that makes it such an interesting tree for winter landscapes? Do I know the giant sycamores are wet-site indicators and that they are her very favorites?

   With a history like this, it’s not surprising that the very last thing I did on my very last exit from my employer’s parking lot was to hug the trees. Really. My husband watched from the car as I stepped out into the darkness and said goodbye to the two beautiful red oaks that had stood as streetside sentinels well before my career had even begun. I knew it would be our last meeting because like mine, their destiny had already been set.

      At work, the tree huggers like me always saw “our trees” as an April performance site for robins or as a canopy for the best July parking spot on the lot .On a stressful day, they offered the chance for a intentional pause when you could watch an October leaf flutter to the sidewalk. A few weeks ago in early December, I waited to turn the ignition key while I watched four gray squirrels race around their trunks, cheeks filled and bulging. They were an industrious team with an instinctual and collective drive to prepare for the winter but even they could not keep up with the harvest of acorns these mature trees gifted each year.

    Quercus rubra makes a lot of “dirt” and for the company buildings manager, a good friend of mine, the trees were a problem. They represented high maintenance, too much clean-up and unneeded expense in an extreme budget year and so their fate was sealed.

   There are no bad guys here; it’s just business. In fact, the same manager had already granted a reprieve10 years ago when I was among those in our building who had entreated him to leave our trees in place. It was only a deliberate delay on his part and an expression of our friendship that allowed them to stand through the last week of my career The week after I left, they were gone. The first time I drove by and saw the wood chips, I cried.

   The red oaks had been anchored there long before I arrived on the scene. They had stood in noble salute for countless veterans who passed by them in November parades. They had provided a moment of cool retreat in the days when most shopping was done in the downtown and sidewalks had been busy pedestrian by-ways.

   They were there in my first week of work in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes stranded me at the Hitching Post Inn overnight. (My new coworker and I had to share a room and we kept the lights on all night long when we realized that creepy crawlies were crossing our floor in the darkness.) The trees were there in 1991 when our company closed a chapter in our industry’s history and displaced the work group where I had started my work as a summer job; my former coworkers strung toilet paper through branches at the side of our building as their last hurrah. A wise friend of mine noted that removal of the oaks now is a metaphor for my career.

   I surprised myself that last night in the parking lot as I stepped into the landscaping. I never expected it to feel so right to lean my cheek against tree bark and thank them for their shade, their beauty, their strength. I can’t bear to think the oaks went into the chipper so I chose to envision them on their way to a mill and onto a drying rack where they will be transformed into exquisite veneer and be cherished for the next hundred years. Like so many things in life we take for granted, their quiet presence had provided constancy and added joy to my life in unexpected ways. I wish I had told them sooner.

Copyright 2009. Mitchell Kyd. All rights reserved.



  1. When my agency expanded its headquarters building, I had the misfortune of a ringside (window) view of the process. A bulldozer knocked the trees down. They weren’t even accorded the traditional dignity of a good oldfashioned ax or saw. Just a soulless bulldozer bashing into them till they fell over. That memory still makes me sad.

    • I’m so happy to know that there are sane people who share my crazy reaction to the destruction of perfectly wonderful, healthy trees. Thank you for validating me.

      On a happier note, I will be looking forward to connecting with you and Carol after the holidays to set a firm date for our movie night. (I am planning to stay with you whenever that is — Ok??)

      I think Wednesdays are good days for Carol at this point because she doesn’t have a regular gig scheduled but it sticks in my mind that Wednesdays are bad for you. But maybe that means we plan a Tuesday night thing?? Oh, I’m so confused!

      I’ve been a lot busier than I intended to be these first two weeks but I’m sure January will bring some reality when the holiday hoo-hah is all finished. The arts council here is trying to recruit me for their soon-to-be-vacated exec director position but I am so looking forward to this time to myself that I don’t want to even think about anything until at least early spring. I believe I have already ticked off a couple of people due to that attitude. Too bad/so sad!

      I will be in B-ford several times in January for board and YLBC meetings but I expect we’ll be trading e-mails with Carol to get our date set. Just know that for now, I am only logged on in the evenings (for the most part) because we still have not signed up for Comcast high speed at home. I’m not sure what I”m waiting for… divine intervention, I guess!

      Thanks for continuing to read my stuff and to share your feedback. I love hearing from you! Hugs – Yvonne

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