Saving Grace

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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Fifteen over-grown Bridal Veil spirea form a hedge at the top of our ravine, running alongside the sidewalk. I didn’t plant it – it came with the house and the six maples, one huge smokebush, a Seven Sisters rambling rose, and three straggly lilacs. That was it as far as the landscaping went on this town lot of nearly an acre – all of it planted decades and decades ago before anyone left of the old neighbors can remember.

I dislike the hedge. It’s overgrown. Most of it doesn’t get enough sun and as a result is as straggly as the lilacs which I removed because they never bloomed in the shade of a maple. In addition, it’s a Japanese Beetle magnet; in July a moving cloud of iridescence rises from it as the insatiable plant-hungry beetles emerge from the ground. I’d rip the whole thing out if it weren’t keeping the sidewalk from falling down the short, but steep bank, and into the ravine. That, and for one or two weeks in late spring it redeems itself with cascading branches of white, arching over the bank like waves about to crash onto the garden below.

In a classic case of Be Careful What You Wish For, I returned home from work one day to find a large portion of the hedge buried under a pile of dirt. I knew the dirt was coming; I just didn’t think it’d be dumped on top of the spirea…..which is across the yard from where I needed it.

And why and where we needed the soil is a story unto itself, and has to do with a very special maple.

The day after Thanksgiving, I finally was able to rake leaves. The time between the bulk of them falling and our first snow was so short that most of them never got raked. Even the leaf sucker trucks that come through and vacuum leaf piles that are raked to the curb didn’t get their job done on time….the snow-plows turned up piles of leaves along the with snow. The temperature reached into the fifties though on Thanksgiving Day, the snow melted, and we probably wouldn’t get another chance to rake before winter set in for the season.

All the leaves have fallen off the trees; every branch is bare … except for on the big Norway outside our back door. A few leaves remain, still stubbornly clinging to the branches, holding on and refusing to let go. I laughed, thinking it must be the glue running through the tree’s veins that hold them there.

Glue? Yep, you read correctly. Glue. When the weather warms in March, I like to tease my husband by saying, “Spring must be on the way; the glue is running.” While all the other maples have sap running, this huge one – at least 60 feet tall – has glue running through it.

Five years ago, we had an unbelievably horrific wind storm. Crack! I’ve never heard anything so loud. The maple split right down the center – a split twelve feet long, and wide enough for a small child to pass through. We were sick. How do you replace the grace and beauty of a mature tree – something that has lived since before you were born, and by all rights, should be something that lives on long after you are gone? It was especially devastating because we had to have an equally large one that had been struck by lightning taken down the previous year.

I had my boss, an arborist, come take a look. He said because of the extent of the damage, and the close proximity to the house, he’d take it down immediately. Or in a last ditch effort, a tree company may be able to put an industrial sized bolt through it, pinning the two halves together. My immediate response was to plant four trees in the near vicinity – an American Hornbeam, a serviceberry, a white spruce, and a New Horizon Elm, (a fast growing hybrid resistant to Dutch Elm disease).

Keith’s response was quite different. He refused to let it die – or to listen to sound advice. He and the neighbor schemed ways to save it; the best plan they concocted being to saw off the smaller of the two halves up near the top of the split, cable the trunk together, and tar the split. Did he listen to David, my boss? Did he pay attention to the web-sites I showed him: one titled “Can These Trees be Saved?” which had a photo that was an exact replica of our tree with the caption underneath that read, “Say Farewell to a Friend”, or another site that jokingly suggested trying wood glue. Of course not. Stubborn man.

A week later, bright and early, as I was heading out the door for work, they came: our neighbor, who owns a construction company, a crew of five guys, a backhoe and a come-along. Surgery was about to commence. I was glad I was going to work.

I was kept posted throughout the day about how the life saving heroic surgery was going. The solution this surgical team came up with – and I am still, five years later, trying to figure out how they came up with it – was to glue the thing back together. GLUE! Two big five gallon – maybe ten gallon, I forget, it was a long time ago – drums of carpenter’s glue. Forty-five dollars per drum – that part I do remember. They poured it down the crack, and cabled the tree together up above the crotch. My tree-surgeon husband, (doesn’t every woman want to be married to a surgeon?), then requested I bring home pruning paint. He went through four cans of the stuff, sealing the split, still oozing glue. I think he used cement in there somewhere also, but I wasn’t asking. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t turn it into a silver maple by covering it in duct tape.

Poor guy, he truly believed this would work – that he’d save the tree. I wondered how we were going to explain to the tree service guys why their chainsaws were gumming up when they were called in to cut it down.

But it did work – half a decade has passed, and the tree is flourishing. A friend told me this proves the resilience of nature. He is right, but I also think it shows the tenacity of man – the willingness to take a risk; to be stubborn enough to not give up when the odds are stacked against you. My husband refused to give up, and the tree responded beautifully. It has become somewhat of a legend among people who know the story. It’s the first thing they want to see when I show them around the yard, and people I haven’t spoken to in a while always ask, “How’s Keith’s maple?” One of my co-workers at the nursery, with only a touch of sarcastic humor, now recommends wood glue for storm-damaged trees.

But what’s all this got to do with a damaged hedge on the other side of the yard? There’s more to follow … along with another three hundred yards of dirt.

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