I like trees a lot, although Joyce Kilmer really said it much more poetically and memorably, which might mean we had to memorize “Trees” in grade school, not that memory serves me well.
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
Kilmer doesn’t mention God planting trees, or God moving trees, and then God moving them again.
Our subdivided paradise looks large, but that is deceptive because we live on a corner with no sidewalks, so the lawn is expansive. Our lot looks bigger than it really is, which I found out by accident. It was a back-breaking accident.
But I like trees a lot, so I do what needs to be done, God be with me.
First, though, my favorite spot in McHenry County is Mount Auburn Cemetery, which is just outside of Harvard, and it is older than the city itself, judging by tombstone inscriptions. The cemetery cozies up to the northwest line railroad tracks, and its perimeter is a mile around.
In the older half of the cemetery are thousands of grave markers, from simple, flat-to-the-ground limestone to ornate granite monuments that reach for the sky. Among the thousands of graves are hundreds of graceful deciduous trees of every kind, creating a tremendous canopy with no underbrush.
Being a cemetery off the beaten path, not many people go there, so it is not unusual to have the entire place to yourself to wander, wondering about the people who might have been born nearly 200 years ago, and standing in wonder at the trees, many of which must be more than 100 or 200 years old. Without the trees, it’s just another cemetery, but these trees create a park.
After wandering through the cemetery, you can sit in a folding chair and read or relax as if you are in your own private sanctuary. It’s blissful.
It’s not quite like home, where the trees are young and a canopy has not been created, but they do create a tidy pile of fallen leaves seasonally.
I’ve planted or moved 13 of the 15 trees on our lot, which had none for more than 40 years, and my wife began populating the yard with trees before we met and married. There’s a maple, an oak and a willow, and the rest are evergreens, and the only ones I can name are the two blue spruce, a name that contradicts “evergreen” and the two arborvitaes, which we try to hide. The others are kind of wild, starting out as wisps of trees a foot tall.
We made full use of our paradise.
Then I came across a subdivision map, and the deception became apparent. The city has right of way for something like 35 feet from the center of the street. Which is a lot of grass. Where a number of trees were planted. Paradise does not include right of way, although we have to mow it.
And not being ours, the city can do what it wants in the right of way.
My theory was this: We live on a quiet street, with a sidewalk on the other side, and sections of sidewalk here and there on our side. Not anytime soon, but I am guessing that within 25 years, if we did not move trees now, the city was going to require sidewalks in front of our house.
In the city’s right of way. In the way of the trees I had planted, a few of which I had even moved. Some three times.
When the city decides to make sidewalks mandatory to beautify the neighborhoods, our mature, large trees will be in the way. And we will have to cut them down. And we will be angry. I moved them. So there. Which sounds so simple.
But they had grown, and they resisted moving. The ground I dug holes into is heavy clay and stone that fights shovels, a few of which snapped until I bought a model guaranteed to stand the test of hole-diggers. Just to make sure, I bought a nasty pick ax to break the clay.
Moving growing trees is not easy. Having moved them – just to show the city we weren’t going to play its games 25 years hence – was satisfying, but you just never know. Did I dig too close? Did I damage the roots? Did I kill the trees? Those answers wouldn’t be answered for a growing season.
Happily, they lived after being moved, sometimes, multiple times. And they close in on our house in some spots, and eventually they will provide much-needed shade. They are at a distance, in a quiet corner of the yard that is meant to be a peaceful sanctuary, or in another corner to provide privacy.
By moving the trees, I have assured that the city never will require sidewalks.
Joyce Kilmer concludes:
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.