By Jennifer Fliss
They say that when you become a parent, you either copy your own parents or go in the exact opposite direction. Instead of vodka bottles and guns and anger, I would fill my family’s house with crafts and dinner and warmth. Instead of skittering cockroaches, an occasional errant spider, which we would gently catch in a jar and release outside.
Our cat would be a part of the family and not casually thrown against the wall. I would have a cat to begin with. I would allow a small creature, and later a larger more dependent creature into my house, knowing I have never experienced living in a reliable and safe environment. Would I know how to do it?
Our doors would not have holes the size of fists. We would not have CPS and the police at our door night after night. We would not have to watch the volume of our screams because we would not be screaming. Neighbors would not look askance at us in the morning.
My husband and I are taking down a great big poplar tree in our yard. Well, we aren’t; we are hiring professionals. It is a tall specimen, probably one hundred feet tall. It stands sentinel over the neighborhood, watching guard over our house huddled beneath it. When we moved in, the inspector said it had to go.
Poplars have an extensive and shallow root system. The roots can grow outwards to a distance of two or three times the tree’s height. It could fall and take out our neighbor’s garage at the very thought of a storm. In a gust, its branches could shoot to the ground and impale someone walking by. It could creak and moan and then crash down into our daughter’s bedroom. It had to go. Of course taking down a great tree such as this one is not cheap, nor easy. After every wind storm we would look up at the beast and marvel that it was still upright. Its trunk and upward facing branches, nearly as tall as the tree itself seemingly too scrawny to uphold anything, no less act as protection.
This yellow leafed menace stands in a corner behind our house, not five feet away. Its roots surely have spread under our house. Surely there is some support it is providing. It is not only a danger. Right?
The tree people come. Do you want us to grind it all down or leave the stump? they ask. I don’t know the answer. It is more expensive to grind it down. There is no guarantee that it won’t begin to grow again, at first small hints and then potentially and eventually growing to its full size again. They call those newly sprung arms, suckers.
They bring a few cars and a specialized truck. They haul up the tree trunk; rope, pulleys, and gumption. Branches begin to drop. I am in the house and I hear them on the roof. They scramble and jump. I hear a thud. Rawr, rawr, rawr, the beast’s limbs are being fed to the chipper. Our protective barrier being intentionally brought down, masticated into unrecognizable pieces. We will beat the beast. We will not allow for the element of surprise. We will protect our family by destroying the thing.
But the wind. The project is abandoned on account of some blowsy gusts. It is not safe. The monster has spoken. The men must return another day.
These trees grow quickly. Who knows how tall the poplar will be when they return? It has been stripped of its own protective barrier, a vulnerable and naked body over the neighborhood now. Only the branches that graze the sky are left. The yellow leaves almost white in a display of beautiful surrender.
Elsewhere in the city I see the truncated brothers of our tree. In a particularly bad storm, hundreds of trees fall in the area. Cars are wrecked. Homes are damaged. Some people, including a child, die. Ours still stands. A neighbor says they had eight of the poplars removed when they moved in. For safety, you see. Five stumps of them lined up at the park, gravestones of the powerful behemoths.
Another windy day, gusts up to sixty miles an hour are predicted. Out the window, I see a small portion of the poplar; a white brown section of trunk with fragments of bark peeling away. From here it looks harmless. I would not need to throw my body on top of my child’s and run for cover. It couldn’t possibly fall and cause such damage. The damage they talk about. The damage you see on TV. The damage that curdles you from the inside. When it is finally cut down, what then? Who will watch over my family? The maple that brushes our porch with its leaves, all Canadian and symmetry, peaceful signals of autumn? The evergreens that are either stoic soldiers or boozy holiday reminders?
My father would never have cut down such a tree. Far too great an expense. Take the risk. What could happen? An open roof would allow who knows what in via its gaping maw? Frigid little toes would, no doubt, make you stronger. The body of the tree then acting as a nurse log with which to nurse the family back to health? Not my responsibility, he would say. Not my problem. The tree would be protection and danger all at once, that was the theme of my life before. It would not be the theme of my life now.
This great poplar waves in the breeze. It is saying hello. It is saying goodbye. Its leaves flutter to the ground, stir in the air, and collect at its base. It is both beautiful and menacing; as family can be. I will take away the danger, there is enough risk in life as it is. I will create a home that is safe from the outside and from the inside. The tree will be gone, but we’ve chosen to keep the stump.
Jennifer Fliss is a New York raised, Wisconsin schooled, Seattle based writer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in diverse publications including, The Citron Review, Brain Child Magazine, Zelle/Runner’s World, and The Establishment. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com