Wood Work

Sometime around 2003 — I’m pretty sure it was 2003 — our still-young family left our little house in a wooded suburb of northern Atlanta looking for a little more space, a little better neighborhood and a little more tree cover.

Trees are one of the best things about the Atlanta area. Really. Anyone who flies into the city for the first time can’t help but be awed by the vast, flat sea of green in this metro area of some 6 million people. As recently as a few years ago, some 48 percent of the 134 square miles of the city proper was comprised of trees. And it’s probably a lot higher than that in the suburbs.

Our first house here, 20 miles or so from downtown, was tucked in the middle of a stand of regal Georgia pines. We would sit at the windows in our kitchen and feel as if we were in the middle of some medieval forest. And there was a Target just a few miles away!

Coming from the uninspired flatland suburban hell of Columbus, Ohio — we spent a decade there one year, before our son was born — we were enthralled.

But then our neighbors, fearing what happens with trees — they all fall, eventually — decided to spend thousands of dollars to get 30 of them removed from their back yard, opening up a gaping hole in our little canopy and a mud pit that reminded us way too much of Columbus.

So we searched and we searched and, a little over a year later, we found our new home sweet suburbia home, with its own stand of proud pines in the back.

house-tree
The crib, circa 2003.

That’s so quaint now, that picture. The driveway’s clean. The cedar shakes on the second story are not all washed out. The little baby hedges along the front walkway are darling. Look: We still have the little PRIVATE RESIDENCE sign up at the corner to keep nosy house hunters from peering into our front windows.

And in the middle of that absolutely useless, tiny front yard: a little Charlie Brown tree, basically a stick with a couple of pimple-like branches. Just precious.

What a difference 16 years makes. Look how little Charlie has grown:

house2019
November 2019

Words can hardly describe now how much I hate that damn tree.

I tried to work the same angle on those two pictures, and in doing so cut off the top 75 percent of that sonofagum tree. It has grown to at least 30 feet tall, with a grass-killing canopy that stretches from one side of my lawn to the other. (The magnolia tree on the corner of the porch, at left, barely visible in that 2003 shot, has grown to be a monster, too. But it shoots straight up.)

That tree — I don’t even know what kind it is — has obliterated the view of the second floor. It’s done wonders for our cooling costs, I’m sure, and it’s saved us a few hundred dollars on paint jobs, too, considering the front of our house doesn’t get much sunshine anymore.

Of course, that useless lawn of ours needs sun, so that sonofapine tree just cost us a bunch this fall in switching our yard from Bermudagrass to more shade-tolerant fescue. (The new stuff is just now growing in. It hasn’t had its first cut yet, and the straw that held down the grass seed has not yet completely decomposed. That’s why everything is a little yellow in that second photo.)

The worst part of that Hulk of a hardwood, though, is something else that’s inevitable with trees. Or most of them, anyway. Just spitballing here, but I’m fairly certain that our 30-foot-tall front-yard monstrosity has somewhere around 3 million little pin leaves on it, every one of which will be an absolute pain in my trunk for the next three or four months.

They blanket the grass. They clog up the drains. They get tracked through our house. They congregate in big concrete-staining clumps on the driveway.

They laugh at rakes. They’re resistant to my blower. My neighbors look at our place in the fall and simply shake their heads.

God, I hate that tree.

I thought hard, for a month or so, about whacking down that big baby and giving my lawn, and my blower, a second chance at life. Sawing that teen off at the knees, grinding its stump down to lawn level and installing a new Charlie Brown sapling would not be all bad.

Instead, reluctantly, we planted a new lawn and decided to leave the tree alone. (I said leave it alone; I’m in no mood for puns right now.)

We don’t plan to be in our house too much longer. Sixteen years in one place is plenty. Soon, if we can ever find another place, that tree will be someone else’s problem.

Still, I’d love to roll around here in five years to see if that branch reaching toward Luke’s bedroom will make it. I want to see if the grass we’ve planted will thrive. I want to see if that gloriously out of control piece of wood will warp the front sidewalk (^) just a little more

And come some cool, sunny day in October 2024, I want to stop by just to see all those leaves fluttering everywhere. Everywhere.

Fall really is a beautiful time of year in Atlanta. Especially when someone else is doing the raking.

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