It’s a Siberian Elm. If you live with one, you are probably groaning when you read this. The tree’s likenesses are those that create a sort of benign chaos – snowdrift-sized piles of white fluff from cottonwoods, purple stains from elderberries, and others. Michael Dirr, a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, in Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, said that the Siberian Elm is “one of, if not the, world’s worst trees . . . a poor ornamental that does not deserve to be planted anywhere.”
I have written before about our tree, Tweed. The name is a combination of tree and weed. In summer it wilts, dropping twigs and leaves. In winter it loses ice-covered small limbs. In spring sticky little seeds drop and glue themselves to siding and screens. Then comes a crop of small leaves, which almost immediately drop off, so the tree starts a second batch. The mildest of winds can bring a shower of tiny twigs. Big winds bring down extremely large twigs, called branches.
On a recent morning our cat, Rogue, and I were sitting in our morning room, so called because the morning sun pours in (when Mother Nature is in the mood). It shines through two large windows that are closest to Tweed. Those would be the windows with the most sticky seeds sticking to their screens.
A loud crash sent Rogue racing for safety in the kitchen and it elevated my pulse considerably. A chunk of dead limb had landed on the deck outside the windows with a force that punctured a hole in the vinyl decking. A human head would have incurred grave damage.
It was time to discipline Tweed. Again. About ten years ago our neighbors, the ones in the intimidated house next door which is on a corner, decided to install a hot tub in their back yard. When it was completed they sunk gratefully into delicious luxury only to discover that Tweed’s body parts were all over them and the spa’s filtering system. A large limb loomed directly over the spa. They asked if it would be okay if they had that limb removed. Of course it would, the less the merrier.
The surgery involved bringing in a truck with a bucket. No way to get that rig into our back yard, so they removed their fence and the surgeons laid a deck of thick plywood so that the truck with bucket could drive onto their yard.
The show was wonderful! We watched from lawn chairs, sipping coffee and evaluating the chainsaw technique of the man in the bucket. Husband, Jack, recorded the historical event, wielding his camera with equal skill.
A week or two ago, after the dead chunk hit the deck, we knew something further had to be done. We called Sean, who had tended many of our trees over the years. He was nice about it, but said no. He has very little to give in the knee department, collateral damage from years of grooming and loving trees. Call a big company, he said, recommending one where he used to work.
Since a bucket truck was out of the question, our job involved men far younger than Sean, and as it turned out, it was quite possible that they also had a death wish.
Have you been to Cirque du Soleil? Nothing to it. Those acrobats can do all kinds of dips, flips, leaps, and drops, but can they do them with a chainsaw in their hands?
The bucket performance 10 years ago had been entertaining, but this was suspense-filled glory. It was difficult to miss a moment of watching the climber make minute adjustments in the ropes from which he dangled. After establishing tentative footing – or not – he’d start the saw and narrowly miss severing a limb – his, not the tree’s.
On the ground stood his partner, the more experienced of the two, calling advice like a gymnastics coach at the Olympics. At one point when Tree Man called down saying something in a tremulous voice, the coach, in steely tones, replied, “No choice. You gotta learn it, man. Get going!” − or words to that effect. I thought he sounded a bit heartless, but when the crisis had passed, he yelled, “You nailed it! You’re golden!” I don’t know if they’re that generous with praise at Cirque de Soleil.
Tweed is roughly 84 feet tall, with a circumference of 24 feet at the roots, and a somewhat more svelte 14-foot waist. From the waist, five imposing limbs rise almost vertically to house colonies of squirrels and many birds with their extended families.
Before the trim, Tweed was a tangled mass of dead, dying, and live branches. A huge bed head of a tree.
Today, almost a week after the styling, Tweed has a panache rarely seen in a Siberian Elm. Oh, he has a scar or two around the bottom, but of course he is of age.
I am of age too, and my life experiences have told me that scars are definitely part of the picture. So we have that in common. I’ll never make Cirque du Soleil, and Tweed will never become an oak.
Oaks drop acorns on roofs and wake people up. No tree is without fault.
But if Joyce Kilmer could overlook the negatives to see a lovely poem, so can we − in both people and trees.