Read The Article Below
My Life as a Birch
by Patricia F. Goldblatt
If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
They’re cutting down the birch tree outside my window. Men in orange hard hats with poles and chain saws are pulling the branches away from the base. The home of cardinals, woodpeckers and chickadees will be no more. We knew it would happen one day, but that birch tree has been with us since the beginning.
Thirty years ago when we purchased our house one fall night, we had no idea what was in the backyard. Later I joked there might have been a pit at the back of the property. The people selling the house were in the midst of a dark divorce and so we were never allowed to return to see the backyard which was hidden by a tall fence. When they departed, even removing naked lightbulbs from sockets, we feared the worst. Although their years of marital squabbling made for an entangled overgrown and weed-filled garden, we were delighted to discover a beautiful birch tree, practically cradling the house. Composed of two main trunks and possibly 35 feet tall, the tree possessed many spreading branches: some of which reached over to our neighbors' driveway.
It was truly a marvel, wide and flowering, lovely covered with clumps of snow, or in the spring, when leaves sprouted. It was always attractive to all forms of domestic wildlife. At the base, we cleared the weeds and every summer planted petunias or impatients.
We took important pictures beneath that tree. When our oldest daughter had her bat mitzvah, she sparkling in her white and blue dress,beamed beneath it. The tree seemed particularly proud almost assumed a personality. One Mother's Day one year when the children were small, I proudly posed with my girls ,leaning up against the tree wearing a tee-shirt made by mu older girl. We were framed by the branches that seemed to embrace us. Our birch was more than a backdrop, a real presence.in the photos Arrangements of friends at parties, family on special events, we'd always shepherd folks towards the birch for an iconic shot. Everyone always remarked on the beauty of that tree.
I'm watching them attach wires to the limbs now and the workmen are yanking the branches down. They are that brittle. We're watching sadly as each part comes tumbling down. They say with no leaves, the wind can pass though it, be aerodynamic and the branches that are dead will not land on our heads. The process looks pretty gentle now, just wires with small attached metal weights and burly men at the base, obviously knowledgeable in the ways of trees. The truncated stumps are ugly like the gangrous legs of old men that must be removed. Still the operation saddens me.
For weddings too, beneath the tree was the ideal spot for photos. The dappled white and grays of the branches a soft backdrop for the radiant brides and bashful grooms squinting in the sun. We never covered our kitchen windows because of that tree. We ate breakfast with it every morning, as much a part of our routine as cereal and coffee.
At night, it was a quiet presence. When the kids went to university or my husband was away working, the birch kept me company. And when the grandkids came, we pointed out the bluejays who magically descended to find an errant bug. “Let's add a bird feeder,” our grandson said. And so we did beneath that tree.
I hear the buzzing of the saw and it cuts into my heart. They are throwing heavier ropes towards the neighbor’s driveway now. Maybe they are afraid the overhanging branches will land on the driveway or fall on the house. The head guy has put on a white cowboy hat. I wonder what the tree thinks as it is being whittled away by this alien group of people, not the family it has known and grown with.
Soon that magnificent tree is a pile of branches and little sticks. The workers tell us they will leave two stumps and we can put pots on them.
Barbara Walters once queried Katherine Hepburn, “IF you were a tree, what kind would you be?”I know which tree I would be.