Why are the leaves on my tree turning color and starting to fall off the tree before any other tree in the neighborhood?
I asked myself that question for three years before I did anything about it. It looked perfectly healthy except for the leaves thing that seemed to be happening earlier each year. My big beautiful sugar maple tree was not on the list of things I was going to discuss with our landscaping guy when he was at the house on a visit, but since we were standing right there next to it, I decided to bring it up. His answer was that the problem with my tree was likely an underground issue, and that it would take a special procedure to check things out.
This tree was 20 years old and when she flamed red in the fall it was a sight to behold. You could see the red glow as soon as you turned the corner to drive down our street. So, even though it was an expensive procedure, I was willing to spend the money because she was worth it.
How did they diagnose what was wrong with her? They very carefully loosened and pulled back the sod that was growing up near her trunk. This exposed her root system, which is kind of like a human’s nervous system. It is a complicated web that tells the tree what to do – drink, grow, wait, go to sleep – you get the picture, right? Once they are down to dirt, they use something that is similar to a big blow dryer and gently blow the dirt away from the root system so they can take a closer look at its structure. This nervous or root system is very delicate, so they take their time and are very gentle.
What they found made me very sad! My lovely tree had slowly been strangling herself. YES! Beneath the surface out of sight she had been tying herself up in knots. Her root system had decided to stop reaching out into the yard where she could get nourishment, and instead had closed in on herself and as a result, she was dying.
The day that the crew came to dig her up and take her away was a hard day for me. I cried when they drove up. I asked them to wait until I could take one more picture of her even though she was just a stick – not her beautiful self. I couldn’t watch them take her down – it was too hard to think about how long it had taken for her to grow into this work of beauty. Not only had she been beautiful, but she had given shade to us as we played in the yard. She provided a great adventure for young grandsons to climb. She was a home for many birds that had raised their families there. And, now just like that she was gone. It left an empty hole in our yard all that winter, and even though we planted a new tree in her place the next spring, I was sad. I knew that I would not be living in this home in 20 years. I would never see this tree provide the same beauty, shelter, shade and joy that my lovely red one did.
What does my story have to do with life? I think it teaches us a lesson about people – about relationships – about how we interact with each other. It might be others, or it might be us who are like the tree. On the surface we appear to be fine, but underground we are slowly dying. That is a dramatic statement, but a statement I believe to be true. If the changes on the surface are subtle, no one may notice. If we are the ones that are slowly changing, we may not even notice it ourselves. What made me most sad about my tree was that I DID NOTICE something, but I didn’t do anything about it. I could have saved the tree if I had called in the experts when I first noticed a problem, but I didn’t. I ignored it. It didn’t make my list of priorities.
Every time I see a picture of my old tree or see the spot where the new sapling is trying to grow, I think about what is going on below the surface. I ask myself if I am keeping things to myself – things that could be addressed if I surfaced them. I also think of others I am close to and wonder how I can check in to see if they are doing okay. It doesn’t take much time to let someone know that we care about them and wonder how they are doing – sincerely. I am pretty sure if my tree could have talked, and I stopped long enough to ask about its health, it would have told me that it wasn’t feeling so good.
Sadly, I lost a beautiful tree, but as with most hard things, there is a great lesson to be learned if we will just look. If you are one of those individuals that are starting to draw in on yourself, please don’t. Reach out – let someone know you need a little attention. If you are someone that really doesn’t notice others, please take the time to look below the surface occasionally. We might be able to save a tree!