A few feet from the window, halfway to the lake, stand two distinguished trees. The balsam and the spruce have been growing together, ten feet apart, for many years.
The balsam is as fine a specimen as a person could hope for in a Christmas tree. Plenty tall, maybe 20 feet, uniform, symmetrical, full, deep green.
The spruce has two trunks, starting about halfway up its 20 foot height, the result, probably, of a wind blown tree crashing down years ago and taking with it the top of its neighbor. Two upper limbs have been fighting it out ever since to become the dominant trunk.
The spruce wouldn’t make a splash in a fashion show. Besides its two heads, it has grown with an irregularity of limbs and an imbalance in stance. I like that. I think it adds character.
Our whole yard is a symphony in progress. When we bought the camp property five years ago it was grown over so thick that walking through the jungle of green was a challenge, a fairly miserable undertaking.
Over the past few years I have done some thinning, keeping as many of the small birch trees as possible, maintaining a fair sprinkling of spruce and balsam, planting a few small white pines, and eliminating many of the dominant poplars and most of the tangled underbrush in the immediate vicinity of our little woodland castle. I’ve left lots of trees, knowing that more will need to be culled as the years go on, but leaving them for now.
The spruce and the balsam, growing side by side, have piqued my imagination for the past few years. One is destined to go sometime soon. The two are growing into each other as they mature.
Some sunny afternoons I perch at the lakeside bar on my deck. A hint of soft, gentle breeze wafts up from the lake and I am lost to the world as the symphony begins.
My spruce and my balsam, side by side, partners, one too perfect, the other deformed into absolute beauty, sway together as young lovers waltzing in a slow enchantment.
A little to my left are gorgeous young birch trees, fluttering their leaves in dances of delight. They are all shaped differently, products of their environment, some scarred by accidents, others smothered by more powerful, overbearing vegetation, some lush and reaching for the sun.
Yesterday, a bright, cold winter morning I set out to cut down four big poplar trees beside the cabin. The danger of them being blown over onto the roof outweighed the glory of the shade they provided on hot summer days. I told Mary I’d cut them off three or four feet above the ground, approximately the same height as the snow they were sprouting from, and put small flower planters on the stumps for the next couple summers as a way to add some beauty to the yard and to commemorate those old friends who had so faithfully shaded us in the summer.
My trusty Stihl started up immediately and bit the first poplar. It was leaning mightily in the general direction I wanted it to fall so I just let ‘er rip, a bit too casually, maybe, without even cutting a small guiding notch.
Tiiiimberrrr, it crashed, almost where I had intended. It was the first swipe of the barber’s razor down the ol’ lumberjack’s cheek on his first visit to town. That poplar skimmed down the whole left side of my homely spruce. Took every limb off all the way from the tip top to the bottom of the tree.
I had to smile, once recovered from the surprise. “Wow. That was harsh!” I told the dog, who didn’t understand what I’d just done either. “Oh, well,” I sighed. “That’s the side beside the path. I was planning to trim it up a little bit, anyway.”
Next poplar. Right beside the one I’d just cut. Leaning the same way. “What are the chances?” I muttered as I fired up my saw and started the cut, again somewhat casually, no notch.
Tiiimberrr! Kabam! That poplar cut down the right side of my little spruce like a Lady Gillette down a hairy leg. I could only shake my head in disbelief. Every branch on the whole tree was now on the ground. I had a pole with two heads standing 20 feet high.
“Well, Rosie,” I said with the confidence of a guy who has just executed a complicated plan to perfection, “that makes our decision as to which tree to keep pretty easy.”
I said that as I started into tree three, which fell as straight as William Tell’s arrow into the apple, lopping off the top half of my little balsam.
No words were necessary. I quickly cut down the fourth poplar tree, which landed harmlessly right about where I imagined it should. Then I put away my Stihl and hid it in the bedroom.
A symphony is a beautiful piece of art, providing continuing pleasure. This morning two ravens who I have observed at a distance over the last two weekends collecting sticks for this year’s nest were happily picking through my little hurricane site, plucking twigs.
On a summer night two or three months from now I will sit at my lakeside bar in the glow of the moon, swirling Shiraz in a large glass, enveloped in the slight haze of a good cigar, massaged by a light cool breeze, and the sound of a loon will begin that night’s symphony. In a trance I will float, seeing the night dancers performing just for me, and I’ll marvel most at the two stemmed pole, the headless balsam, and the freshly planted little white pine between them.
It’ll be a performance like no other in an ongoing symphony.