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Slices of Life: Returning home to the aftermath

It was dead, or nearly so. A massive maple tree that had marked the seasons and passing of time for twice as long as most humans grace the earth. Each spring his buds reminded us of life anew. He'd sheltered us from the intense summer sun and gave a brilliant colorful display each autumn. He stood strong and steady during the frigid winter months.

My boys used to like climbing his branches, going much higher than my comfort zone. One summer one of his limbs served as an anchor for a birdhouse, which provided residence to a mama sparrow and her three chicks. His above-ground surface roots created a formidable sporting hazard during friendly family games of croquet.

The tree was an icon in our yard.

But in the last few years, more and more branches failed to leaf out in the spring. The bark peeled and fell from the massive trunk. Large limbs shivered in the wind, weighed down with years of growth and life and now death. The tree was dying.

It was time for it to come down.

This was a job for professionals. The tree removal guys took off the top branches first, moving downward to the trunk until there was nothing left but a stump. That, in turn, was ground up by another professional and we sprinkled the area with black dirt and grass seed.

The yard looked empty. You don't realize how big a tree is until it is no longer.

I lamented the loss. My husband, who is also a tree enthusiast, agreed.

"But, look on the bright side," he said. "We won't have to navigate over the roots when we play croquet."

The tree had been in the process of dying. We thought we finished the job. But the maple wasn't ready for that just yet.

We'd taken the branches and the trunk. We'd ground the stump. We've disposed of trees in the past and this is how it goes. With most trees.

Not our maple. He had life left to live. Or, better put, lives — as in plural.

Many plurals, as it turns out. The dead tree just keeps growing.

Throughout the yard — all over — the tree is sprouting saplings from its roots. The infant trees stretch far and wide. They disappear after a thorough mowing but then grow back again faster than you can say herbicide. They may even be multiplying. If we aren't careful soon we will be living in a forest, which wouldn't be a bad thing, but then where would be play croquet?

There are measures we can take to deal with the sprouts. And I suppose that's what we'll do — with most of them — but not all. I think maybe we should honor the tree's determination to survive and return to its former glory by keeping one sapling growing in the spot of the original tree.

We can nurture it with tender loving care, water it in the summer and protect it in the winter.

In turn, it will grow and flourish and proclaim the seasons with new life in the spring, shade in the summer, golden splendor in the fall and steadfastness in the winter.

Its sturdy branches will support the weight of another generation of tree-climbing children whose moms fret about slivers and someone putting an eye out. Its limbs will beckon to sparrows and robins, providing nesting spots to hatch their broods.

And, it will likely grow more above-ground roots, which means the croquet hazard will be back, but what's a game without a challenge or two?

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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