Our Tree

Living in Midtown means living in the shadows of the enormous trees in the yards of the  historic homes. We’ve got pines, magnolias, various species of oak, and lots of others that would be obvious to those more well-versed in arboriculture than myself.

For virtually every day out of the year, this brings with it all of the many benefits of having big ol’ trees: shade, friendly squirrels, absorption of carbon dioxide. Trees can reduce your utility bill and provide a place for neighborhood kids to play while helping to save the planet from global warming. And they hold the soil in place, preventing erosion.

Yet life amid majestic trees can also present some challenges. They drop leaves that must be raked, interfering with football consumption. They grow tall into power lines, leading people to dump toxic tree retarding chemicals on them. And, perhaps worst of all, they die.

You see, as it turns out, trees are living things. And like all living things, they die. They get sick. They drop limbs. They fall over.

Our Midtown home is adjacent to a spectacular water oak that is so old that one tree expert didn’t even recognize it at first. He said at a certain age, the leaves begin to change shape — and our tree may be 150 or even 200 years old. That’s Civil War aged, War of 1812-era. Our lovely, historic city was a baby back when our tree was a sapling. There was no neighborhood here. The tree is a connection to generations that predate our grandparents. It has a bench swing hanging from its sturdy lowest branch. It was a major attraction when we decided to buy the house.

Unfortunately, it is also dropping limbs. Big ones. At first we thought it was nice to have a little spare firewood to burn in the chiminea. Then we ended up getting a chainsaw to deal with some of the bigger limbs dropped. And then, with the dropping of some really big ones, we decided to call the urban forester. The what?

The City of Montgomery employs an urban forester. His name is Russell Springer. He’s a tree expert.

Mr. Springer came to our house and pronounced our gigantic tree to be in relatively good health. The shedding of a few limbs was natural, he explained, pointing out some bumps on the tinier branches and explaining that they were the product of some kind of bugs that produce a sap-like resin. He pointed out a wound in the tree, with some dead tissue being covered over by some healthier tissue. It was all very informative and interesting.

Then, about two weeks later, our tree dropped a mammoth limb into our yard, punching a hole in our roof in the process. We actually got to watch it happen, which was simultaneously exhilarating, scary, and sad. While letting the dog out for one last bathroom trip before bed, we heard the cracking and popping and then, after putting the dog back inside, we watched a tree-sized branch come crashing down.

On first glance, we thought the roof was fine. Good news! But the next morning we had a visit from our friends at Tillery Heating and Air Conditioning (we just had a brand new HVAC system put in, long grim story involving flies and all kinds of stuff) to finish up the installation of our new heater. This involved them going into the attic. When they came down, they said: “You know, there’s a hole in your roof.”

Indeed, we could see daylight. And if it hadn’t been for them, we might not have known until there was water coming into the house. Just try to find a roof contractor on a rainy day in Montgomery without paying an arm and a leg. While we were on the phone, our friends from Tillery found a piece of metal in their truck and patched our hole. For free. While we watched. Now that’s great service. And, when it rained just an hour later, we were nice and dry.

Mr. Stringer came back for a follow-up visit and reconfirmed his original diagnosis: that the tree was overall relatively healthy. He suggested that we may want to look into trimming off a limb (even larger than the one that fell) that hangs over our house and, without a doubt, would crush the entire roof, a few windows, and possibly our cat. Since then, we have been in the world of the insurance company. We’ve been dealing with contractors and roofers and power tools. The limb that fell was so large that it took two chainsaws and several hours of a sweltering end-of-June afternoon just to get it into barely-movable logs.

As with all things in life, we’re not sure how much longer our dear tree will be with us. It may fall over tomorrow, crushing us, our house, and our dog. Or it may linger on for another generation or two, dropping a few more massive limbs while sprouting others. Either way, life in Midtown means that we (and our thousands of neighbors with old trees in their yards) are going to be along for the ride.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Heather C says:

    Exciting stuff 🙂 Will the urban forester come and check out trees free of charge? We have an ancient cottonwood in the backyard that is on the dividing line between our property and the neighbors that drops limbs regularly and I am more than a little concerned that we may end up with a similar story to share 🙂

  2. Gabbie says:

    Congratulations on not being the type of people who decide that a tree needs to come down after it drops a limb or two! 🙂

  3. Kate says:

    Heather, we just called Russell and he came on over!

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