November 21, 2019

Planting the Legacy of a Lifetime

The last spruce lining the drive (top is seen at left) came down Nov. 12, 2012.

Janine Pineo Photo | The last spruce lining the drive (top is seen at left) came down Nov. 12, 2012.

• By Janine Pineo •

Some of my best friends have settled down for a long winter’s nap.

It hasn’t been without a price. In the past few weeks, they’ve been rudely awakened by some rather mean winds that showed little mercy, and this summer’s drought deprived them of their favorite beverage.

But now ’tis the season for trees.

They grace our world all through the year, changing their finery much as we humans do. Seasonal fashion sentinels they are, sporting spring greens to autumn golds to winter diamonds.

The trees around my house are part of my garden family, and the loss of even one, such as the birch that fell a few weeks ago, is harder to cope with than the death of any of my other plants.

Long have I loved trees, probably ever since childhood when my father hung a swing for me in an old spruce. I remember swinging, the motion making the tree’s limb rustle while the ropes creaked. I’d look out over the yard, watching the sunset color the birches across the road. The spruce came down a long time ago, but I still picture it touching the sky high above me as I sailed back and forth.

I have fond memories of the trio of spruce that lined the driveway. They weathered every kind of storm and a minor bout with spruce budworm, but a few years back the middle spruce came down during a storm, breaking high up its trunk. I cried over it the next day, saving two splintered chunks of wood from its core in remembrance.

It takes, I think, the loss of a tree to make us appreciate their importance in our lives. The scientific stuff like photosynthesis aside, trees are an anchor, crucial to our yards and gardens. Trees can be the focal point or they can be a canvas for our creations, providing a backdrop of texture and color for our eyes, a whisper of leaves for our ears and comforting fragrances for our noses.

I have planted some trees in garden plots over the past few years, including a flowering crab apple, a dwarf cedar and a hydrangea. The crab apple — purely a decorative one — is the eldest. Oddly enough, the flowers are the exact shade of the leaves, a rich maroon, making it impossible to tell whether the tree is in bloom, unless one walks nearby and smells the perfume wafting across the lawn.

The dwarf cedar was a surprise for my mother the spring of ’94. She remembered the delightful smell and longed to have one in the yard. So I purchased a variety that in 10 years grows only 6 feet high, an appropriate size for the spot I’d chosen: just a few feet from a large clump of spruce trees and near the edge of an oval garden. It doesn’t overpower and yet its brighter green contrasts well with the darker spruce.

The hydrangea is a year old, an impulse purchase last fall that had me worried it wouldn’t survive through the winter. But having seen the results, I’ve come to believe that fall planting may be the way to go for some plants. The tree, which still has a lot of growing to do, had a slew of flowers nodding off its few branches late this summer. I’m dreaming of a white hydrangea wonderland brightening the back yard in the next few years.

Just imagining their potential is part of the beauty of trees. To me, they are the most permanent aspect of my always changing landscape, stalwart majesties growing ever so slowly, always in the picture. I work around and with them. And if I decide to plant a tree, much planning goes into it, because that puny little twig can ruin the best-laid plans if one fails to realize just how tall even 15 feet is and how far its shadow will fall.

Even now, I’m conjuring up ideas for putting a few saplings out around the periphery of the yard where some trees have fallen in recent years. Sugar maples, pines and spruce seem to be the family favorites, although we’ve started a hackmatack and a half-dozen apple trees. Already growing by leaps and bounds behind the stump of the middle tree next to the drive is a spruce, christened Burt (don’t ask, I don’t know why). Little Burt was sturdy enough last Christmas to be decked with red bows.

Slowly, oh, so slowly, these trees are healing old wounds, never replacing a dear friend but giving me a new one to nurture.

So while some of you have visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads this holiday season, I’ll be dreaming of an icy white birch glistening in a crystal blue sky or an evergreen dotted with red and orange maple leaves. Or maybe, in the chill of the night, I’ll dream of the northern lights rippling across the starlit sky, the silhouettes of treetops standing in silent splendor.

Come morning, I’ll wander up back and give my favorite birch a big hug.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in November 1995.

2012 update: Just Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, the last of the three spruce lining the driveway was cut down. The man doing the work estimated it was 70-80 years old at least. Burt is still alive, but not as lush as one might hope after 17 years. Maybe now he will want to spread his crown.