Radio Diaries: Catalpa

Jul 21, 2017

The tree was already huge when we bought the house many years ago, a handsome catalpa that stood beside the back door with an eye bolt sticking out where previous owners might have hooked one end of a hammock.

Two enormous limbs reached high above our house and the neighbor’s house, and its broad leaves provided blessed shade. As the seasons passed, the eye bolt disappeared into the trunk and then bark started falling off.

“But it leaves out beautifully,” I said to the forester who came to look.

“Its vascular system is healthy,” he said, “but structurally, it’s failing.” He pointed out where lightning had struck one of the main branches long ago. “There’s rot inside, and that big canopy is very heavy.”

Hearing this verdict, I couldn’t speak. “If the tree was standing in a field,” he said, “we could let it live out its normal life.” Now our neighbor’s house was at risk, our house too.  But oh, this living tree that had hurt no one, that was my friend.

A crew came to take it down at the end of May. The chain saws screamed all day and finally the enormous trunk lay on its side, ten feet around, a hundred rings. Our back yard was a tangle of branches and every one held tiny green leaves.

I left the house to escape the noise and ran into a friend. She asked how I was doing. “Not so well,” I said. “We had to take our catalpa tree down today.”

“And you loved it,” she said. I stood there crying.