Reflections on a life of planting trees
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Apr 28, 2013 | 538 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

— Chinese Proverb


Word on the street that Cleveland Utilities had again earned Tree Line USA status reminded me I am the epitome of poor habits in tree planting.

Truth be told, my mug is probably tacked to BOLO bulletin boards at CU, the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters as a poster child for bad placement.

Some of the posters probably even read, “WANTED.” I can’t be certain as I am not welcome in the offices nor halls of any organization priding itself on the nurture of a peaceful co-existence between energy-bearing power lines and their vast array of bark-coated neighbors that stand near or underneath.

The way I hear it, TVA wants my landscaping rights revoked and even the Volunteer Energy Cooperative board of directors is finalizing a written decree banning me from their 17-county service territory.

Cleveland Utilities pondered a similar act, but they figure I’m more valuable to them as a warning in work gloves and dirty jeans to new and existing customers not to let this happen to them.

And to think, it’s all just because of a few bad decisions made long ago as a careless young man whose zeal for trees overshadowed all foresight into the consequences of their growth.

Here’s my story, sad but true. Likely, it has been told by countless others long before my entry into home ownership.

First, and with little equivocation, I blame my Realtor. He’s the one who told me trees add value to property. Because I adore a cool shade on a midsummer afternoon and a rainbow canopy on an October morn, I set about my task with a vigor most would equate with the much-beloved clan of Appleseeds.

My wife and I were late bloomers in buying our first home. It didn’t happen until November ’92. So our first home is our current home. But the itsy-bitsy trees we planted then are green towers today.

Our little house came with a big yard and no trees other than those that bordered the back property line. In our way of thinking, and because of what that Realtor said, an empty yard was not an option. Besides, we had never before owned our own yard, nor the grass. So we enhanced. We used trees.

Always a fan of maples, I knew where I was putting a couple of these, especially the ones that turned vibrant yellow and blushed deep crimson in the crisp autumn air. I didn’t know their real names. I just called them Yellow Maples and Red Maples.

My wife liked oaks.

“Those things get big,” I warned, my limited sense of arboriculture rising like cream.

“Then we’ll get two,” she replied.

Looking back on that conversation, I’m pretty sure she missed my point. Nonetheless, we settled on Scarlet Oaks. I guess some folks call them Red Oaks. I can’t be sure. But everyone agreed. They grow big. Really, really big.

“Exactly how big?” I asked the nurseryman, my arboreal instincts again clicking in.

His gaze shifted to ... up.

“So which cloud are you looking at?” I inquired.

“It don’t matter,” he answered. “You’re plantin’ a rainmaker.”

Two rainmakers in tow, plus a pair of maples — one red and one yellow — we set about for home where we eyeballed physical distance between simulated location of trees and CU power lines. Confident beyond my inexperienced years, and feeling empowered to plant whatever I wanted wherever I wanted because this was my yard and my trees, I selected spots for all four.

The two maples fronted the house and ran parallel to the high utility wires. The oaks lined one side yard, separating our property from the neighbor’s. The neighbor even asked that we plant close to the property line so he also could reap the benefits of shade in years to come.

Not certain beyond reasonable doubt that the maples would eventually infringe upon the power lines’ space, I felt at least it would be years and years and years in the coming.

Right about the infringement. Wrong about the years.

Those maples grew like Aunt Betty’s moustache.

Whether it happened overnight I can’t say. But seems like I was watering those trees one day, and raking leaves the next. Good water. Furnished by Cleveland Utilities.

Over the next few years I watched and watched. The limbs of the maples slowly reached for the power lines. The oaks punctured heaven. And finally one had to come down. I feared its root system was about to buckle the neighbor’s cement driveway.

The surviving oak has thrived. It isn’t “Big Tree Contest” big, but it is big. At night I get glimpses of cloud-to-ground angels climbing to and fro.

Much to my alarm, the maples overtook the lines a couple of years ago. At CU’s bequest, the orange trucks of Asplundh have already visited. One maple was reshaped. The other is probably due the next makeover.

The new look isn’t awful, but the new look could have been avoided had I taken a better look about 20 years ago. Lessons best learned are sometimes the most painful.

But that’s OK. The lights are still on. And the trees are still a beauty come the invigorating air of another autumn season.

One day they too might have to go. Or, they could outlive me.

Either way, to borrow from the quill of Alfred Joyce Kilmer, “Only God can make a tree.” But man still needs to make the right decisions.