I love trees. Maybe ever since my grandmother recited Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees” when I was a little girl. There are simply too many reasons to love trees… they give shade, they are lovely to look at, they offer shelter from storms for birds and small animals, birds nest in their branches, they provide food for insects which provides food for birds, they respire and cool the air and maybe most importantly they convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. Trees are kind of essential to survival of many species.
So when my neighbor, whom I had not met after nearly a year, rang my doorbell I had no idea what I was in for.
Let me digress for a moment… I live alone (well, with 2 rescue dogs, Lily and Lulu) and am very happy this way. My son is grown and off on his own successful life and our paths cross in the occasional text, phone call, birthday. I see my brother’s family once or twice a year. I have a few friends with whom I stay in touch, get together with for coffee, lunch, and I do some volunteer work. So otherwise I am completely unobtrusive. Invisible almost. Well, except for this blog and walking all over, I try to stay out of other people’s way. You know, things are so busy and fast-paced now. Not so much that I can’t keep up… well maybe I can’t but the truth is I don’t want to anymore, I’ve done that.
So people basically know I live here but that’s about it.
Until this neighbor.
At the time I had no idea the history here. He bought his house with his wife 20 years ago when the house was built. Evidently the person who bought the house I live in also loved trees. And planted 3 river birch trees. This is a lovely tree with peeling, papery bark and lush foliage. This foliage grew quickly over my neighbor’s garage. He said he’d pleaded with the initial homeowner to not plant the trees where he did but was ignored. So the enmity for these trees goes way back. At the time of our encounter I did not know this. I only saw an angry gentleman, personally angry with me over this tree that I inherited. When I did ultimately get the whole story out of him I learned the subsequent 2 or 3 residents up to me had ignored him as well. I explained what I knew: that he could cut any portion of this tree that hung over his property, but that I would really like the tree to live. I asked that he please let me know when someone would be cutting the tree. That is where we left it.
Nothing happened for weeks.
One day another knock at my door. The landscaper is explaining he is there to trim the tree. But my neighbor was not at home. I called him. Learned he is at hospital with his wife and no, he now has someone different in mind to cut the tree, do not allow the people who are there to do anything. I asked him to speak to them himself and handed over the phone.
A few weeks later a strange gentleman is at my door. Says he is the cousin of my neighbor and will be cutting the tree. I ask if my neighbor is there? No. So now I realize I will also be paying for this. In addition, I found myself bracing their rickety ladder and praying at the bottom that nobody fall off my neighbor’s garage roof. They cut the offending limbs. The tree is, for the most part, still all there and everybody except my wallet is happy.
My neighbor’s wife returned home, some better. A week or two later, on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon I hear chainsaws, very nearby. I look out my back window and see a large limb, trembling precariously over my newly planted shrubs and plants. I ran outside, too late to stop anything but in time to watch the limb fall with a sickening thud on my small garden. To make matters worse one of the men started yanking on the sawed off end of the limb tearing up my plants in the process. Uncharacteristically I started yelling for him to stop. Either he did not hear or in his fervor to remove the offending limb simply chose to ignore me so I grabbed the branches on my side and, finally realizing I was the reason the limb was stuck he stopped pulling. So I explained how I would heave the limb over the fence and try to salvage my plants.
I stayed on my porch the rest of the afternoon until they finished hacking at trees lining the perimeter of my neighbor’s yard.
A few days later I joined my family for a week’s vacation at the beach, wondering occasionally what I would find left of my trees when I returned. I found them just as I had left them, however my neighbor’s wife had taken seriously ill this time. It turned out she did not recover and passed away a few days ago.
So I learned something very important in all of this. When someone comes at you with anger disproportionate to whatever it is they are complaining about there is likely a backstory. In my neighbor’s case it was 20 years of being ignored by residents of this house and, more recently an emotionally upending roller coaster ride with his wife’s sudden and dramatic illness. While I feared he hated me because of a long history with these trees it actually had nothing to do with me at all.
You just never know.
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14