Branching Out, by Rich Paschall
William was staring up at the giant tree when Mr. Dubois softly approached. “It really is a magnificent tree,” he told William in a consoling tone of voice. William would have none of that. He glared back at the neighbor before speaking.
“It is a horrible tree, sir. It has been for years,” William said frankly. “And now it has killed my mother and it has to go.”
Exactly one week earlier William’s elderly mother was working in the garden when a branch from the large tree fell on top of her. Apparently, no one saw the accident and she was lying there for a long time before help was called. It was too late, however, as the old branch was too big and heavy. It pinned her to the spot and she was unable to cry out.
“Oh no, William, this old tree did not kill anyone. It is quiet and harmless. It was just an accident. That’s all it was. Perhaps some wind knocked a dying branch off the tree.”
“My mother hated that tree and she should have gotten rid of it years ago,” he retorted.
“You must be mistaken. I think she loved the tree. Just look at its stately magnificence. Why there isn’t a finer shade tree in the neighborhood! In the summer, it protects your whole house. In the fall its colors are a joy. It must be twice as tall as the house. I believe it has been there for more than 100 years. It was probably planted when your mother’s nice home was first built.”
“Mr. Dubois,” William began, “that is exactly the problem. In the spring it drops a million seeds. Every fall, it drops tons of leaves. The roots are in everything. The sidewalk is cracked as is the basement floor. We must clear roots from the drain pipes every year. My mother was tired of this thing and planned to take it down.”
Mr. Dubois gasped. He just could not imagine anyone wanting to take down such a grand tree. He begged William to consider the benefits of the tree.
“There are no benefits, Mr. Dubois. The damn thing must go. Period. When I collect my mother’s insurance money, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. It would be a tribute to her if I took her money and removed this threat to my home and my neighbors’ homes.”
William knew a tree that size would cost a fortune to remove. It was twice as tall as the house. Branches went through all the cables that ran to the house from the alley. He could never have afforded the thousands of dollars it would cost to remove a giant tree, but with the windfall from the life insurance money his mother had left him, he could do it.
A month later, Mr. Dubois was passing the estate when he spotted William by the tree behind the house. He was smiling. He walked up to him and said, “I hope now that some time has passed, William, you see what a lovely tree it is.”
“On the contrary, sir, I see what a menace it is. And now, I can afford to get rid of it. I am calling for quotes from trees services. I think rose bushes would look terrific here, don’t you?”
“William, you offend this magnificent living thing.”
“A tree can’t be offended. But I can be … and I am. Soon we’ll have a clear view of the sky.”
Mr. Dubois looked at the tree, shook his head, and walked away.
William remained under the tree and considered how he might make use of the space he’d regain when the tree was gone. Suddenly, there was a loud snapping. A huge branch fell from the tree onto William. He was knocked to the ground gasping for breath. Although it was late summer, some leaves rained down too and covered him.
About an hour later paramedics arrived, took the branch off William, and brushed the leaves from the poor soul. They did their best to revive William, but after working on him a while, they shook their heads. Then, they put him into the ambulance and drove away.
Mr. Dubois had been watching from across the street. He shook his head too, apparently amazed such a thing could happen twice.
Slowly William’s neighbor walked across the quiet city street. The avenue was lined with old homes that had been erected more than 100 years earlier when the neighborhood was first settled by immigrants from Sweden and Norway. A handful of homes still had the giant trees that were planted when their wood-frame houses were built. William’s mother had perhaps the most stately tree of all.
Mr. Dubois walked up to William’s tree and inspected all the branches for any more old and dying limbs. Everything was healthy and blooming. Finally, Mr. Dubois spoke to the tree.
“I warned them,” he explained. “I warned them both, but they would not listen. So I did as you indicated both times. After the loud noise, I waited an hour before calling paramedics. Perhaps the boy will not return either. It would be a shame to have to drop another branch.”
Mr. Dubois took one more look at his beloved tree. And went home.