Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The tree

For ten years we had a scraggly arborvitae tree outside our house, right next to the front door.
At times it looked more dead than alive, but each spring new branches would grow, and the tree continued to climb past the children's bedroom windows, then over the roof.

"I need to cut this thing down," I often said to my wife. The roots were right over a sewer line, and the branches would spread in front of our front door. In winter, snow would push them down over the door making it hard to leave the house. The tree was uneven, and while the outside branches were bright green, those inside were dry and brown. Most of my neighbors have well-trimmed, compact shrubs in front of their homes. Our tree stood out.

But it was alive, and grew every year.

I let it be.

Each spring, a pair of doves would arrive and make a nest in our tree. We would hear their quiet cooing and know that winter was really over. The nests were low enough that we could lean over the porch rail and see the eggs, then watch as the mother sat with her offspring for weeks, until they were ready to fly away.

Some years the doves would go two rounds with the nests. Sometimes we would see another dove, maybe the father, sitting on a high utility wire nearby, his gaze fixed on the nest and the humans that walked so near to it many times a day.

Once or twice the baby birds fell from the nest. Using a towel, we would gently pick them up and return them. I don't know if that old tale about touching baby birds is true, but their mother never left them.

Now it's been ten years since we moved into our house. The tree grew well over the roof, needles fell into the gutter. The roots spread toward the foundation of the house. The branches had to be constantly trimmed. It was an eyesore in a mostly neat neighborhood.

"I have to cut this thing down," I thought.

With some reluctance, I finally took the electric chainsaw out one Saturday early this spring, and cut the tree down, five feet at a time, starting at the top. I had to cut carefully, as one of the branches had grown over a cable TV wire.

As I cut, the needles piled up so thick that I had to use a shovel to scoop them up from the sidewalk.

The whole job took about an hour.

I left about four feet of stump, and attached our house numbers to it to make it look like I meant to do it that way. In reality I just need to hire a service to remove the stump, another project for a later time.

The house looked brighter, neater. Light poured into the window on our front door. We all agreed, this was a huge improvement. Way overdue.

Weeks went by.

One morning, just a few days ago, I walked out the front door early in the morning, the time when the birds in our neighborhood are the loudest. A flash of motion caugt the corner of my eye, in the ground next to the stump of our old tree.

I leaned over the porch rail and six small, round, brown eyes stared back at me. There, sitting next to the stump in a patch of overgrown weeds was a mother dove and her two babies. I don't know where they nested, or how long they had been sitting there. But for the next few days, they stayed at that spot, leaving only to find food or to practice flying.

We could walk right up to them, and could have touched them if we wanted. They trusted us - what else could they do? They had no choice.

I placed a large rock near the site to shelter them; my kids cut an empty orange juice carton and put it next to the stump as a birdhouse.

A couple of days later, the doves were gone.

Today I am looking out the window of my office, and a dove is sitting on the utility wire outside my window, facing away from our house but with his head turned toward the tree stump.


There is no nest there. No baby birds. Just a stump and some weeds.

What are you looking for? Scouting a new location, perhaps? Looking for something that was lost that won't be found again? There are hundreds of trees and shrubs in our neighborhood good for nests. Surely there must be someplace else to go.

Some place just as good as that old tree.


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