The area where I live used to be coastal prairie. The exact spot where my house sits was at one time a dairy farm. After WWII, the land was bought by developers and filled with bungalows. This is what it looked like:
The developers put in a mix of fast-growing weed trees in the yards and slower growing oaks to line the streets. As people moved into the houses, they added their own trees - pines, cedars, elms, palms. I am always amazed when I look at pictures of the neighborhood from those days. The trees were short and thin and sometimes missing altogether. When I was young, so were the trees.
When I was nine, we moved from this spot to what was then the middle of the country, on the fringe of the Big Thicket. I spent my formative years tromping through the forest. I went to college in the heart of the Big Thicket, surrounded by tall pines.
And then we moved back here, to the former dairy farm prairie. The trees I grew up with are mostly gone; weed trees grow fast, but they die young, the arboreal equivalent of rock stars. The tallows and mimosas and cottonwoods are just memories. But the oaks and the elms and the pines in the neighborhood remain.
One of the redeeming things about this house was the number of trees on the lot. It's not a big lot, but I had a Chinese Elm and a cedar and a sweetgum in the front, and two oaks and a huge Arizona Ash in the back. There was also a palm tucked away in the corner of the back yard, and a redbud that lazed about in the shadow of the ash.
I especially loved the ash. It had been badly neglected and we had it pruned not long after we moved in, but it still canopied the entire back yard. The ash is why I don't have any grass in the back yard, but it was also why my house was shaded in the summer and why sitting in my living room was like being underwater, all green and wavery.
Hurricane Ike cut the cedar down to half size. The ash lost a few branches, but seemed to hold up well. Ash trees are technically weed trees. They tend to get hollow in the middle, and the branches get too heavy and start to drop. Generally, they're good for about twenty years or so, but this one has been around for at least twice that long. A couple of weeks ago, a large branch dropped off the ash for no particular reason and landed on the roof. It didn't do any damage, but it did signal that it was time to cut the tree back.
It breaks my heart. I love this tree. But when an ash starts to fall, you can't really prune it. You have to seriously whack it. Technically, I should have taken the whole thing out and planted another oak, but I couldn't bear the thought of losing the tree completely. So we called a tree guy and he brought a crew and went to work. I also had them neaten up the oaks a bit.
I know the ash will come back; in a year or so it will look like a dandelion, and then ten years from now it will look like it was never trimmed at all. But for now, my heart is heavy.
This is what you saw if you went into the backyard and looked up:
And now this is what my tree looks like:
And this is what you see if you look up: