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  • Writer's pictureJohn R

Kiss My Ash (goodbye)

This tree is an ash. It’s located at the corner of our property to the southeast, and it throws a lot of shade. It’s a good 3 feet across at its base, and it has an absolutely awesome wingspan that soars out over ours and the neighbor’s property with ginormous limbs.

It’s also dying.

It’s a gnarly old bastard (editor’s note: I don’t think trees can be bastards in the technical sense) as you can see by the twisted trunk and the giant suckers that are shooting up everywhere. Our tree guy, Mack, says that the tree is probably good for “another five to six years,” which is an event horizon that seems ominously speculative.

Trouble is, I love this tree. It’s the old guy sitting on a park bench in the sun telling feeding pigeons and telling stories with cracker crumbs in his beard that you desperately want to brush away but don’t. It’s a bodhisattva, a sensei. Stellar jays crawk from its branches; raccoons poop appreciatively in the crotches of the big limbs; it’s a Grand Central Station for squirrels. It has known so much. And it’s dying.

I love it for its tortured soul, it’s stubborn desire to keep going even as old age begins to soften its insides, eat out its heart, invite disease. Each pruned branch reveals a dark and emaciated core. The leaves are prolific in a panicked sort of way, as if they’re in a giant hurry to produce chlorophyll that—if they only knew—will only temporarily postpone the inevitable. Exhausted, the leaves begin falling in mid-summer.

Comfort station: Raccoon poop lovingly deposited in the crotch of a big limb.

Which brings me to an existential dilemma. Or more accurately, an existential Russian roulette. How long do I let this big tree linger before it becomes a danger? If it falls in any direction, the consequences would be dire. Toward my neighbor’s property, it would take out their new fence and their flowering plum—a truly decent tree in comparison to our unruly behemoth. Falling the other way would deposit much of its bulk on our roof and the guest bedroom, which theoretically wouldn’t endanger anybody except guests, who might be considered expendable anyway, depending on how long they’ve been visiting. And cue the insurance snakes.

In any circumstance, I’m sure the vipers that compose our homeowner insurance company would boost our rates to unimaginable heights after devoting copious actuarial hours to seeing how they can screw us out of our savings, which (they will discover) is laughable easy to do.

Frankly, I’m easy to dupe. I’m gullible. I have this innate desire to believe in the best in my fellow humans, that they aren’t really out to cheat, lie, and steal everything they possible can from me. Most people are good, I tell myself. There’re a few bad apples, sure. But getting lied to from a cable company? A car mechanic? The insurance company you pay to protect your life and property? I mean, that kind of distrust goes against my Oh well nature.

But not Deb.

She is the archangel Michaela come to smite the end-arounds, the bogus brake jobs, the hidden fees, the third glass of sauvignon blanc that mysteriously appears on the bill. Injustice is the weed into which she plunges her flaming trowel of truth. Don’t mess with Deb when it comes to money—she will rip the fingers off your hand to get at the pennies clutched in your fist. She is the demon of the family finances, such as they are, and fiercely devoted to protecting the bottom line. So insurance folks, if you’re reading this, you’ve been warned.

Back to the dying ash tree.

"My disease grew upon me..." Edgar Allan Poe, The Telltale Heart.

Its magnificence is unmistakable, inspiring. I can’t help but root for this old fart (no pun intended) as I tour around its fat, contorted, arthritic base, noting the fresh pile of raccoon poop resting like a bumpy bicep of one of its massive outstretched limbs. I weigh the cost of removal (around $3,000) and the resulting safety against the pleasure of its presence in our everyday lives. And I always come to the same conclusion: we won’t be taking it down today, and probably not tomorrow. But soon, we’ll have that reckoning.

And yet, some ten feet away from the ash is a comely vine maple, and it’s flanked on its other side by a fetching mountain ash. Replacements are standing by, and we’ve even engaged in heretical thoughts of planting a substitute flowering plum when the old ash finally gives way. That’s a compelling thing about gardening—it’s a snapshot of existence within the confines of even the most pathetic yard: trial, error, failure, success, reward, progeny, phylogeny, and inevitably, dead-ology. And through it all, there is hope.

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