A dying maple is replaced by hope and promise

I knew that we should plant another tree as soon as possible.

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    Haircut: A maple tree in Anderson, S.C., gets its branches trimmed in order to let in more sunlight for grass to grow around its trunk.
    Ken Ruinard/Anderson Independent Mail/AP/File
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Twenty-two years ago, my husband and I toured a house we were considering buying in our local historic district. Our first concern was not with the amount of restoration the house required but with the massive tree out front, a towering maple with limbs resembling those of a sumo wrestler. The tree had grown so close to the end of the driveway, I was certain I would hit it with our car whenever I pulled in or out.

"You will never hit that tree," my friend Sandy said. "It's so huge that you'll always be worried when you back out, and therefore you'll never hit it."

She was right. Although I felt a bit of trepidation the first time Duane and I eased in and out of the driveway, the house itself charmed us. We became its proud new owners and soon grew accustomed to maneuvering our driveway, though visitors tended to avoid the tree by parking on the street.

Years passed, along with substantial house restoration. Our house became a home. In pleasant weather, we enjoyed lunches and suppers on the front porch, greeting neighbors as they passed by.

I adored our maple tree for its wide arms that shaded our front lawn each summer; for its glorious shades of yellow leaves in autumn, sunlit against the sky before they cascaded down; and for the artistry of its dark branches that laced the winter clouds.

Then one summer, a storm blew through town and tore one of the muscled limbs from our tree. The giant limb fell along the curb strip, its long branches extending into the street. Traffic stopped to survey the wreckage. Neighbors and passersby volunteered to help my husband and father-in-law clean up the damage.

Although our front curb was no longer shaded, the tree survived and managed to shade the rest of our lawn. Over the years, more branches and limbs fell during storms, but the tree persevered. Because it grew along the curb, the city was responsible for trimming its broken branches. One year, the clean-up crew told me they should probably take down the tree.

"Do you have to?" I pleaded.

"Well, maybe not yet," they relented.

More years passed. More limbs and branches fell, and more pleading and relenting reprieved the tree. Finally last spring, only a few leaves grew in, long after the other trees on our block had turned green. Duane and I surveyed the bare branches in midsummer and knew we had to let our tree go. The city crew came a few weeks later and cut down the remaining branches until all tha twas left was the trunk and two limbs that stuck up in the air as if the tree had surrendered. I thought my heart would break.

I couldn't watch the final removal of the trunk and roots, but later that week as I mourned the empty hole on our front curb and the gaping space in the sky, I knew we should plant another tree as soon as possible. I called our city parks manager.

"I'm getting a shipment of red maples," he said. "Would you like one?"

I was thrilled. The crew came to plant our new tree one bright autumn day. I ran outside with a plate of cookies for them, bubbling with questions about care and maintenance as they planted the six-foot tree a few feet from the end of our driveway.

I touched its slim, silvery trunk and realized how many years it would take before the tree would grow tall enough to shade our lawn. But its sprightly branches claimed my heart immediately, with their promise that the tree would grow.

Our beautiful new maple has grown several inches during these past few months, and I find myself looking not at the wide space in the sky once filled with leaves and limbs but straight ahead at the branches right in front of me.

May the wind blow gently upon them.

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