I have written before about the moment on my route when I daily walk beneath a spreading beech tree. It is broad and sweeping, its branches touching the ground. On a hot day the temperature is five or ten degrees cooler there and the light is transformed by the translucent leaves light green in spring, darker in the summer, and copper in the fall.
One day last month, just before the baby was born, I rounded the corner, began the slight descent, and was shocked to see that all the branches of the tree had been trimmed to around ten feet off the ground, and were stacked around the trunk.
It took a minute to take it in.
I am on good terms with Matt and Kristin, who own the house on the tree’s lot. Matt, in high school, worked in the same coffee shop where my bride worked, which is where I met her. He is now in his forties and graying, a professor at the local college.
Matt answered the door. I asked him why he had cut the tree. He explained that the guys who mow his lawn, using one of those stand-up mowers, had complained that the branches got in their way. Also, he said that because the shade was so thick that grass would not grow there.
Trying to be friendly, I acknowledged that those were practical reasons for cutting it back, but inside I was thinking “practical but bourgeois”, that they did not trump the glory of a beech tree spreading out to its fullness.
Trees in the forest, of course, rise thin and straight, their leaves high up, stretching for the light. It is only when planted in a field or a yard that a tree assumes the fullness of its being, reaching its peak.
This, to me, reflects humanity’s natural vocation as the steward of creation, bringing what God has made to perfection.
Of course homeowners do not generally approach their yards theologically, and most of the large trees on my route have had the lower branches cut off. I don’t know why they do this; I hope it is not to deny children the great joy of climbing trees.
There are quite a few beech trees on my route, and the one in Matt and Kristin’s yard was the only one that had been allowed to spread wide and sweep low.
I always felt a little rush of joy, walking under that beech’s shadow.
Now I mourn its mutilation.