As I write, the old, dead tree out back is coming down. A crew stopped early this morning to ask if they could work on this side of the fence, so I gave them the landlord’s phone number. Since they began slicing off the side branches, my eyes have remained glued to the multiple holes that several woodpeckers have called home since before I got here. My hope is that, by now, the birds have vacated the premises and have started canvassing for other digs. Yet, it isn’t without some measure of sadness that I observe the drama unfolding before me, not unlike a bird’s wings, one feather at a time. And I hope that the fact that I haven’t heard the woodpeckers’ characteristic cries indicates that they are nowhere near. I’m not sure if birds mourn disruption as much as humans do, if they decry having to part with familiar surroundings and being forced to adjust to new surroundings. Come to think of it, it’s really not unlike what we go through when we leave beloved places behind.

Watching these birds go through the motions of building a nest, then bearing and raising their young, was actually one of the things that helped me through my own transition from wooded to urban living. I kept my field glasses near that back window so that I could be quick to see what they happened to be up to at any given time. That’s how it is with birds. You’ve got to be quick to catch the special moments that are over all too soon, and it is this vigilance that eventually rewarded me with observing the newborn’s beak finally poke out of the hole in search of food.

This happened some time in late May or early June, and at which time both parents began flying themselves ragged each day to keep “Junior” fed, and it was only at night that the process stopped or slowed. As fate would have it, I got busy with other things and never did see the moment when the young’un finally left the nest. I seriously doubt that any bird will come anywhere near that old tree while chainsaws rip through its ancient flesh, putting the final touches on its demise. It wasn’t completely dead. There was still a lot of greenery at the bottom on the healthier branches. But it has apparently become someone else’s bane, so down it comes, with many thuds, and, if I’m not mistaken, groans of protest.

Later, when I went back to the window, despite the fact that I knew what I’d see, it was still a shock to lay my eyes upon that vast, empty space where the tree had stood. I stared at the spot a long time, then closed my eyes and tried to envision its beginnings as a tiny seedling straining to make its presence known among what might have been those many years ago a thicket of other growth. Most trees with trunks that wide have seen many rings added to their girth, so I’m guessing this particular old-timer had seen many moons grow full and wane, and even more sunrises and sunsets. And while its bottom half was still struggling to survive in this world, where it is every tree for itself, the top had become home to creatures that might not otherwise have taken up residence in such a place as this.

I accepted this tree’s removal with a sort of resignation that is still seeking to find a space in my own thinking. My life has undergone a lot of change lately, and I’m not quite sure just how I feel about a lot of it. But I can say this: For a lover of trees, it’s never easy to bid one farewell. I must once again choose how to feel, and this is what I’ve come up with: I don’t have to go very far to find renewed comfort in the fact that, for every tree that is dismembered and sacrificed for the sake of aesthetics, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of others awaiting my gaze and appreciation. And knowing trees and their ways, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, at some point and unbeknownst to most, a new seedling, or maybe even two, someday poked through the soil in that very spot and whispered, “I’m back.”

That’s how it is with trees.

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Springvale, who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at [email protected].

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