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  • The house next door, the one that belonged to neighbor Joe, is now officially sold. It went for $20,000 more than they were asking for it, the day after it went on the market - and we thought they were asking too much. They used the same realtor we used to buy our house 18 years ago - we referred her to them. She's always trying to get us to sell our house, but we just laugh and say, "Kathy, you can sell it when we both die". She'll have to live to a ripe old age, 'cause I'm planning to stick around for another forty years or more, and I'm pushing sixty - I think she has a few years on me.

    We knew the deal when it became clear that Joe was going to sell it. Whoever bought it was just going to tear it down and build a McMansion on the property, which would sell for nearly triple what they bought the house and property for. That's the way it's gone in our town. Despite these perfectly well-constructed older homes, built in 1956, with plenty of room for a small family to live in, today's tastes require lots and lots of space - on the inside, anyway. They sacrifice the large yards that used to exist in these neighborhoods, and still do, for those of us still dwelling in the older houses. I love my yard, love sitting out back like I am right now as I type this story, listening to the birds and the crickets and the variety of sounds of life, and the warm summer breeze, and the squirrels scampering, and the occasional deer shyly creeping on the edge of the property, hoping I go away so they can come eat our acorns, activity of which I heartily approve.

    I've really come to appreciate our yard even more since we installed the swim-in-place spa, a new back yard patio, and landscaped a large portion of the back yard to get some naturally mosquito repelling plants growing around the patio to make it more livable in the hot summer months. We have such wonderful trees on our property, and it's a simple, but most valued, pleasure to sit and bask in their shade, look up at the canopy of leaves, 80 - 100 - 150 feet up in the sky, and just sit and be for awhile. You can have your video games, your electronic whiz-bang gadgetry and what-not - just give me my back yard, a pen and a paper, and I'm jammin' solid for hours.
  • On Monday of this, my second straight week away from work - I took my two week vacation now, since we won't be going on our previously planned two week cruise in September, and I get enough vacation time each year that I have to use, or I will lose it, so I take it when I can - I had a bunch of errands to run, so I was in and out all day. At one point, as I returned home, something seemed different. Radically different. And then, I saw it. The Japanese Maple - was gone! Just like that! I couldn't believe it. I texted Kathy - "Joe's Maple is gone". She texted back - "They probably dug it up and are going to sell it, or replant it somewhere else". I texted back - "No - they just cut it down." "No!!!"

    Yup - they just cut it down. Then, they cut down the 85 foot Oak tree out back of Joe's house, because it was going to be in the way of the new McMansion they will be building after they tear Joe's old house down. I've been in mourning for these two trees all week - but especially for the Maple.

    I remember when we first moved in, Joe told me about the previous owners of our house. "There used to be a beautiful Japanese Maple right there in your front yard" He showed me where, "but they just cut it down, because they didn't like to have to clean up its leaves in the fall. They weren't as easy to gather up with the leaf blower as the Oak Leaves - so they just cut it down", he said, with a shake of his head. "Lazy bastards. You need some kind of a tree or something to provide a little privacy from the front street." Joe had a real appreciation of the yards we have, and of the trees, and the animals that wandered through our properties. He spent many an hour lovingly tending to his trees and yard. He also believed in "natural fences", as opposed to man-made ones. "It's much more friendly and neighborly to have a natural fence - like those "Burning Bushes" right on our property lines in the back. It gives us privacy from each other, but doesn't isolate us from one another." That was Joe. He was so sensible, and so wise, beneath what appeared to be a gruff, stern exterior.
  • Once, when a number of off-shoot saplings from his Maple had grown up near his house, he offered several to us, and to other neighbors around the neighborhood. He had the initial conversation with Kathy, and I thought she told me that he said to just help myself to 2 or 3 of the saplings that he had sitting there, dug up and in their dirt root balls, so I did. I picked out three, dug three holes strategically about my front yard, and planted those saplings - one right where the old Maple that Joe told me about used to be. I thought he would be so pleased with my effort to restore our front yard to its previous glory, with the offspring of his beautiful Japanese Maple.

    He was not. In fact, he was pissed. He was red in the face, looking like steam was coming out of his ears, mad at me, and I had no idea why - until he told me. "I promised that larger one to another neighbor down the street! You should have asked me, first!" I apologized profusely, explained that I thought Kathy had said he wanted me to help myself, he wasn't around, so I did. I offered to dig it back up, and take a different one, or not take another one at all, but he just shook his head and said, "No, no, what's done is done, I don't want to disrupt that tree any more than is necessary. I'll figure something out", and he didn't want to discuss it any further.

    I thought that was the end of it, but would find out, twelve years later from his nephew, after he'd moved back to Austria, that he'd never forgiven me for my transgression. Holy cow, I've heard of holding grudges over silly things, but that one just about took the cake! Really? But, the nephew went on to say how much Joe appreciated us as his neighbors, for all the other things we did for him. We always looked out for Joe, as he was such an old guy, living by himself, and as stubbornly self-sufficient as he was, we could see that he was slowing down and really struggling, especially after his stroke.
  • We sent out the signal, through a friend of Joe's, that got back to his nephew in Austria, that Joe had taken a turn for the worst, when a couple of events caused us to be alarmed at his condition. This eventually led to him going home to his village in Austria, where all reports, and pictures we see of him on facebook, appears to have been a great move for him. Now surrounded by his family, and getting plenty of daily exercise and not having to maintain a house and a yard, he's thriving over there.

    Here, I am grieving the death of a Japanese Maple that meant so much to him, and to me. It's children, the two surviving Maples in my front yard, are probably grieving as well, in their own way. Do trees grieve? Who knows? In my imaginagtion, at least, they do, and are. I can just here the buzz all up and down Park Street, among that Maple's extended family - "Is it true? Did they really just cut it down? That's our parent! Does that mean they could just cut us down, when we no longer meet their needs? Can we move somewhere else?"

    Likewise, I imagine all the giant oaks towering above me whispering, mourning the loss of their oak cousin in Joe's back yard. "Yeah, he put up one hell of fight! It took a crew of six, with lots of heavy machinery, two full days to bring old Wally down", I imagine one saying to the other. "Ayup, he was solid, alright. But not to worry - I overheard Pete telling that realtor lady they plan to stay here 'til they die. Let's do what we can to make sure he lives a long and properous life." "Amen!"

    Ayup - it helps to have friends in high places!

    (Pictured - (1) Joe's Maple in its fall glory, several years ago; (2) Joe's house, naked; (3) Two of the Maple's offspring, in my front yard, grieving; (4) My backyard canopy.
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