Our modest yard contains six full-grown multi-trunked silver maples. Recent tempests commenced the process of leaf detachment and denuding and for several months I must hide from my neighbors. The good people on our street have more equipment than a mechanized infantry division. Zero-turn-mowers, giant lawn tractors, blowers, shredders, blower/shredders, edgers, hedge trimmers, string trimmers, chain saws. Today they are all out, like a plague of internal-combustion locusts. By the time I arrive back at home all their yards will be pristine, except mine. We have free leaf pickup so the strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street becomes a walk-of-shame for some of us. My view has always been that we should wait until all the leaves fall before aspiring to remove them. For us, thanks to some beech trees here and there, that’s around March 15th. By then, those that haven’t blown into nearby yards, are slimy and heavy. Clearly, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I have my own technique, eschewing the ‘tarp method’, raking them into piles, pushing them into a garbage can, and dumping the can into the back of my pickup truck which I move to strategic points around the yard. When this process is finished, so is my lower back, and I walk like Quasimodo for a month with my wrists dragging on the ground.
We love our silver maples. It’s as though our ¾ acre lot extends upward by sixty feet creating a giant theater with continuous activity. The first leaves are a harbinger of warmer months. The small whirligigs arrive (double samaras for the horticulturally inclined), take root in all the flower beds and remain impervious to Roundup. They also root in our gutters…my ‘green roof’…(more shame). We’ve tried to limit the indignities that people inflict on their maples. We don’t till the ground or bury the shallow roots at their base. One year they were covered with cottony maple scale and rained nasty goop (technical term) everywhere. I could have sprayed, but didn’t, and the next season it was gone. I’ve added bird houses but no slapped-together tree houses. We had a rope swing for a while, until our older son broke his ankle on it. He also broke his arm falling from a chestnut tree in front of my mother’s house. (Happily, he became an engineer and not an arborist.)
Every tree is a community. In addition to generations of squirrels, we enjoy cardinals, robins, bluejays, downy woodpeckers (that’s about the extent of my bird identification skills). Once a brood of barred owls spent their first season outside my bedroom window, driving our cats crazy and keeping me up at night. Pileated woodpeckers and lots of birds we cannot identify make brief appearances on the stage.
Behind us lives a Capitalist on a 20-acre Lakeshore estate. I like to namedrop and mention that we’re neighbors. In reality, with our tiny lots, we’re more like serfs. He ripped out a peach orchard and his son filled it with nursery stock, then moved out. We like overgrown nurseries around here. I planted a row of hemlocks along the back border and now the Capitalist has planted a row of white pine beyond that. Native evergreens that complement the maples. I used to keep a little path mowed beneath the hemlocks, in case we needed to stop over and borrow a cup of Krugerrands.
Our neighbor on the other side was an Opthalmologist. Suffering from an apparent mid-life crisis, he cut down over thirty trees which were hurting nobody and, prior to this villainy, provided an impenetrable barrier between our driveways. Spruce, sumac, a black walnut that dropped grenades onto his vehicles, more maples. Once he could see how we live on our side he sold his house and moved to North Carolina.
There’s a catalpa over our deck that winds its way upward through the maple canopy competing for a tiny patch of sun. In spring we get little orchid-like flowers on our deck. Now it’s dropping giant leaves and brown cigars. (another technical term for non-horticulture-majors).
We love all our trees, especially those with big leaves that whisper and clap for this pageant of the seasons, even the giant gnarly sycamore in the front. Truth be told…we like our neighbors too!