A few weeks ago, I wrote a story for the Maine Sunday Telegram about a difficult decision I made this winter to cut down a beautiful red maple tree that had stood by my home for a century. The outpouring of kind letters from readers that I got in response was heartening. What was especially striking was how many of you have your own often deeply felt and moving stories about trees you’ve loved. We’ve excerpted a few of those letters here, editing them for length.

ARDIS CAMERON, South Portland

We too had to cut down a century-old maple that my partner’s grandfather planted at the turn of the 20th century. In every storm we watched it sway, and we listened to it squeal on frigid January nights. It was the last tree standing in an allée of maples that lined the long driveway. When the first section slammed down, I noticed a bright red burst of color down the heart. So, this being Maine, the guy up the street had a saw mill, and a master furniture maker lived a mile away. That tree is now our dining room table. Still, we left a high stump now covered in honeysuckle, and when I smell it I think of all of those past lives, and now, sadly, including my partner.

ELLEN RIDLEY, Scarborough

I loved your story about the tree. It reminds me of the old birch tree that my grandfather had in the backyard. He would pick raspberries and then sit under the tree, with the quiet summer breeze and a glass of iced tea on the table, separating the good ones from the not-so-perfect. He would then go door to door with the raspberries in little wooden pint boxes carefully placed in his wooden carrier and sell them to the neighbors. He used the garden money for gas during the annual drive to their Florida home.

When my parents moved into the house and put on an addition years later, my mother couldn’t stand the way the tree dropped its messy seeds all over the skylight, and she started talking about having it cut down. I must have been about 22 at the time, and I effectively stopped that discussion (for a while, anyway) by bursting into tears, sobbing until my face was a mess, and asking how they could consider doing such a thing.


Eventually my mother had her way though.

CONNIE BOND, Westbrook

One reason I bought my wee house here in Westbrook, after living many years in Portland, was that it had five maples in the front and side and one out back. Recently, I had some of the branches pruned that were threatening power lines and roof and perhaps didn’t get the best folks to do it. I feel as though I maimed the two trees they worked on, and it only took 15 minutes! Very scary. I had gone inside for a moment and thank God I went out when I did. I had given careful instructions, but they went by-the-by pretty quickly! I feel as though I sent my kids to a quack doctor! I look at my trees now and feel that I am looking at war-torn amputees in a field hospital.

I know that unlike people, tree amputees can grow new limbs, maybe even healthier limbs, and I know that Mother Nature regularly trims them with wind and ice storms. But I still blanch every time I look at them.


I, too, had to make the decision to remove a big, old tree.


When we moved into our 1910 bungalow in South Portland, we consulted an arborist regarding a gigantic ash very close to the house. Its trunk was about 13 feet in diameter. They cabled some branches and removed some damaged by that horrific ice storm. Our neighbors loved that tree, and we did what we could to prolong its life. Approximately five years later, we were planning an addition and called in that same arborist. Sadly, he said, the foundation would cause too much disruption to the roots and it would die.

Elizabeth Giroux’s pups (and their pals) love the remains of a big ash tree that the sawyer left behind. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Giroux

On that fateful day they came to drop it, I cried. It was too hard to watch, and the big old guy didn’t even put up a fight. As it turned out, the trunk had been rotting on the inside from the base going up about 20 feet. Perhaps the tree thanked us? A friend had cleared a house lot and referred us to a sawyer. He arrived with his sons and portable mill and turned our Big Ash Tree into amazing planks. We had him cut it into two-inch thick slabs leaving the raw edges. Three of the pieces were simply too big to fit in his mill. Our excavator moved them to the back of the yard, where they remain a popular hangout for my dogs. And those planks? They became the bar top in our kitchen as well as three stools, two counter tops, the dining table top, open shelving and other miscellaneous shelves in our new addition. So, despite the sadness and seeming cruelty of removing our Big Ash Tree, it lives on, raw edges and beautiful grain.


Our Three Tree Murders:

My parents moved us to Yarmouth in 1954, home of Herbie, and when I left for college in 1969, the entire town was lined with majestic elms, mostly gone now. When my Mom died in 2010, I bought the family home, and when my Unitarian Universalist minister husband retired, we decided to move back to Maine to age in place. A house addition and renovation were necessary to make way for possible future (dreaded) wheelchair lives.

Before moving back to Yarmouth, we needed to fix up our Scituate (Massachusetts) home for sale and get it reshingled. I ordered an ugly yew tree hugging the corner to come down to make room for the shingle work. The tree crew arrived in a one-hour gap when both my husband and I were gone. I got home at noon, and when I drove up to my house, saw that instead of the yew, the #$%^&^%^**& idiot crew had taken down my beloved gorgeous blue spruce – the tree that had caused me to buy the house. The screams and swears coming out of the mouth of the wife of a minister are still legend in my old Scituate neighborhood.


Anyway, back to Yarmouth:

The backyard maple I planted with my Dad back around 1960 had to come down to ensure the new addition to our house wasn’t squashed in the first windstorm as the tree’s historic fixes by my Dad probably sped its demise. In 2016, it left our lives. I used to read books as a child under its branches. It gave shade to our back deck. When I read “The Giving Tree” to my son in the 1980s, my heart would go to that tree, and I would be happy that it would never have to die.

The sickly front yard maple tree, rotten to the core, also had to come down. We kept some disks of the trunk to use as trivets, but they make me so sad I just keep them in the cupboard.

Then came the Gift: My best friend from 1954 through the present bought me a new maple for the front yard, and we contributed to upgrade it to a larger tree, so that maybe, just maybe, it will be “big” before we die.


My own experience involved a cherished, huge and beautiful silver maple right in front of my family’s house for many years.


The third floor bedroom looked right into its top section so it felt like a treehouse from that vantage point. Our children and their friends created many stories about adventures in the tree, and we all loved the shade and seeming protection it provided our home. My brother Ken, a writer and social/political activist once said, “One great thing about a tree, you always know where it stands.”

Kathryn Stead’s new maple seemed spindly its first few years, but put on quite a show this fall. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Stead

We all really loved that tree.

When our son and oldest child Jeffrey died suddenly in a bicycle accident at 12 years, the tree seemed to be able to listen and grieve deeply with us. It was an unexpected and yet a perfect silent gift of sympathy. When it was time to have the special tree cut down years later (having avoided it as long as possible), my husband and I watched from the third floor windows where our son had had his bedroom… and both heartily cried with memory and gratefulness for all our years together.

Sort of like coming full circle in the cycles of precious life and inevitable death.

We still miss this tree and so do some of our neighbors, but it has been a poignant lesson for us as we have welcomed our new maple tree planted by the city of Portland. The first two to three years, it seemed so little and vulnerable, but this fall it had the most beautiful red-orange leaves that lasted for weeks! We all loved the show of vibrant color and health. We are falling in love with her (our former tree seemed male).

This writing just poured out of me, so I am certain that your story touched more deep places than I had thought about for a while.

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