Opening Letters

Deciduous Loss

a botanical tragedy reveals local arbor issues

Eric Rasmussen |

have some bad news. Maybe I should have talked about it when the leaves of this tragedy were newly fallen, but the sap was still too fresh. At this point, we’ve raked away the remaining twigs of our pain, and new bark has overgrown our wounds. We are ready to turn our faces skyward and let the chlorophyll of our grief mix with the sun of hope and the carbon dioxide of the future to create the glucose of recovery.

This past winter, we lost two trees. As little time as I spend thinking about trees, shrubs, and other plant-life, I was really surprised at how upset I was. The first actually happened late last fall. In our backyard we had a huge, tri-pronged white birch tree. It was a cool-looking tree. I would sit under it and write songs, including one entitled “The Cool Looking Birch Tree Where I Write My Songs.” I vividly remember reclining under the tree one summer morning when I figured out my true passion in life, which I had previously thought was teaching or my marriage. No, tucked into the gentle comfort of that birch I understood that true happiness for me meant writing letters in mid-sized market entertainment publications using extended tree metaphors. Okay, actually, I never really communed with the tree, or had any experiences with it that were more significant than picking up the branches it was constantly shedding. One whole prong was really dead, and that prong just happened to be hanging over the power lines, so the grand old birch’s fate was unavoidable.

Then, early this Spring, I woke up one morning from a terrible dream about getting a hickey from a frantic kazoo to the sound of cacophonic chain-sawing. I was confused, so I peeked through the blinds and saw four city employees flitting through our boulevard trees taking down branches. As I yawned and scratched my butt, I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s just the city guys chopping down our trees.” Then, like a cartoon, my eyes widened and I said, “Oh my gosh! The city guys are cutting down our trees!” and my legs started moving so fast they made those motion-circles with funny percussion noises. I threw on some pants and ran outside, where the very informative city guy explained they were just pruning, which was actually healthy for the trees. Just as I was about to wipe the sweat from my forehead, he said, “Except for the maple. He’s not long for the world.” But the maple was coolest of our boulevard trees! It was the one in front of the living room window. It had this huge knot where I kept stuff I needed to hide from my wife. All the cute animals loved that tree. But, it was dying of old age. As the giant tree murdering truck pulled up and started gutting the maple, six squirrels, two rabbits, and several dozen birds lined up and bowed their heads, hiding their tears with their paws/wings.


After all the carnage, I started researching trees for replacements and came across an unsettling fact. Many of Eau Claire’s neighborhoods are 50-60 years old – the East Hill, Putnam Heights, and other residential areas. I assume many of these neighborhoods’ trees were planted when the houses were built, and my research revealed the life span of many of the popular neighborhood trees around Eau Claire is 50-60 years. Do you know what that means? Look at the numbers – they’re the same! We are on our way to a major tree crisis.

Okay, this may not be the most root-shaking problem ever addressed in a V1 letter, but, think about it … how much will the Chippewa Valley’s landscapes suffer if we don’t replant the next generation of greenery? As much as this community can become upset over the loss of green space outside the city, we homeowners could probably be doing a better job of maximizing our green space within the city. Why not throw some trees in Clairemont Avenue’s median, or around all of our shiny new parking lots?

So plant a tree, John Denver, Arbor Day, etc., etc. It takes some effort and some money, but if you have the means and the space, this letter can be your motivation. There are plenty of places to buy all sorts of baby trees, from The Potting Shed in Eau Claire to Lowes Creek Tree Farm in the fields south of Eau Claire to über-retailer Menards. Also, check the city’s website, under the Forestry Department - they’ll even pay you to plant boulevard trees. Leaf on.