When I was young, one of my favorite books was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It still ranks up there as one of my top five children’s books. It was different than all the other books I was reading back then (or my mom would read to me). It used extremely basic black/white drawings, a unique flow, great character development and a powerful message of selfless love (although some translate the book differently).
The Giving Tree, released in the mid-’60s, was about an apple tree and a boy. The boy and tree spent a lot of time together when the boy was young. He would climb her trunk, swing from her branches, eat her apples and rest in her shade. As the boy got older, he would come back to the tree at different stages of life, and the tree would help him out. She would offer her apples to get more money, branches to build a house, and her trunk to built a boat. The tree was always willing to help, despite the fact that all the giving turned her into a lonely stump. At the end of the story, the “boy” returns as an old man. The tree apologizes for having nothing left to offer him. But the boy says, “I don’t need much now. Just a quiet place to sit and rest.” And that is exactly what the tree can offer — a stump just the right size to sit and rest. The book ends like it started, with the tree and the boy both being happy.
I was reminded of this book last month, not because I have an apple tree in my yard that is dying and I need to chop down (which I do), but because an old tree in front of my office was recently cut down.
My office building is located in Glenwood, and the downtown area of the city is about to undergo a major street reconstruction project. All the utilities are going to be replaced, and the street is going to be completely rebuilt with a new lane configuration, bike paths and cosmetic improvements (benches, green spaces, light poles, etc.). The project is just starting as I write this.
To prepare the large project, several trees were taken down throughout the downtown area. I don’t think any of the trees cut down were older or nicer than the one sitting right in front of our office. It was a classic elm tree.
The downtown streets of Glenwood were once lined with many elm trees, but nearly all of them died from Dutch elm disease. My tree, and a couple more on our block, survived.
Every July, our city has a festival called Waterama. It is one of the biggest city festivals in outstate Minnesota. And every year, thousands and thousands of people come to watch the big parade on Sunday afternoon. The day before the parade, without exception, a few families will leave blankets, chairs and tarps to reserve the area directly in front of our office building. The reason it has been a hot spot for the parade is because it is one of the cool spots on the parade route… because of the shade from the tree.
After the tree came down, I was doing some work for Waterama and was looking at some photos of the festival through the years. One photo in particular caught my eye. It was a picture of the parade, and my building was in the photo. So was the tree. The date on the photo was from the late 1950s. The tree was full and strong, and there were dozens of people using it for its shade.
The next day, I counted the rings on the stump to see how old it really was. I counted 64 rings, which puts it back to the mid-’50s.
It was kinda hard to watch as the crews took down the tree. Just like the book, the tree’s branches were taken off first. Then the trunk. By the time they were done, all that was left was a stump.
In the months ahead, crews will rip up the road and install a new sidewalk and bike trail where the tree used to be. According to the plans, a couple of new trees will be planted near our building. I’m sure those trees will be nice, and eventually provide similar shade, but I’m going to miss that old tree. It was a giving tree… and it gave us a lot.
Included in this edition of the Sr. Perspective is the “Heroes Remembered” special section. This special section honors those who have served our country in some capacity and are no longer with us. Thanks for your service and sacrifice. I hope you enjoy the special section. Our next one will come out with the November edition and will honor living veterans in conjunction with Veterans Day.