Horse chestnut trees are considered a nuisance. Ask anyone who’s had one, and they can tell you why. Tell all about the seasons of fallen leaves, spike balls (conkers), sticky pollen pods and flowers smelling of slightly distant poopy diapers.
Many of you have heard me tell stories of our tree (or, more accurately, mini grove of trees) that towers nearly 100 feet high over our 113-year-old home and the profound amount of tree “garbage” that creates in a small city yard.
You might have heard us laugh about the year Mike tried roasting the nuts, thinking them true chestnuts and the needed ingredient in a Christmas soup. The way they tasted like cleanser and could have left us blind, I suppose, had we not spit them out for their grossness. You might know about the hardhats our kids have worn to play in the backyard during October and November or of the super glue-like potpourri of tree pollen carried in on so many bare feet, shoes and dog paws.
Or you may have experienced with us the magical two months in the summer when the tree is leafy and stink-flower free, those days when we enjoy its shade and lush spring green canopy while swinging on the swingset or eating dinner around the outdoor table and think, wow, this tree is incredible. What’s the problem with it again?
Horse chestnut trees are intended to stay small, but we’ve never known her like that. She’s always had a mind, and many trunks, of her own. For ten years, and many before we moved in, the tree(s) loomed large, choking out the light of nearly anything we tried to grow. (Even shade lovers have not loved her shade.)
We’ve wanted to remove the tree for a long time, and, as life would have it, the day is today. We finally received a bid for her removal that we could live with — one we’re able to share with the neighbors just on the other side of our fence (one of whom is a city planner with an amazing grasp of site plans and the chugging machinery of the city).
The family had been feeling sadly nostalgic about the change until Sunday, when our lab Clementine scarfed up piles of pollen pods and flowers, leading to profuse vomiting and a four plus hour visit to Dove Lewis Emergency Medical Hospital. And, though Clem’s fine on her bland diet of rice and boiled chicken and gratefully very much on the mend, the crisis averted caused us to look at the toxic tree as something that’s time has most certainly come.
The horse chestnut will be replaced with a coral bark maple for beauty and an apple tree for eating (and climbing?), and we’ll be able to grow vegetables in the new light and welcome chickens and not worry for the safety of living things.
We’ll be able to enjoy a backyard that’s part urban farm for the love of a daughter who wants nothing more than to live on one, and for two other children who love the feel of bare feet in grass and the sight of pretty flowers.
I woke early this morning and remembered year upon year in relative harmony with this ol’ girl. I opened up the back door and breathed in the oxygen and think of all she’s heard — all the giggles on the trampoline and meals in the shade, all the pretend trips to Africa and digs in the dirt, all the lean-to forts and chestnut washing stations.
And I consider her language of air and leaves, stink flowers and hummingbird visits — all these messages from another world, and I say thank you.