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24 June 2009

Maple the Magnificent and the Secret Art of a Sculptor

When we bought our small little bungalow of a house, exactly 4 years ago tomorrow, we
inherited Maple. Maple is the mother of all japanese maple trees. Her canopy spans 400 feet across the south side front yard sheltering us from the scorching hot July and August sun and keeps the inside of our house at least 10-15 degrees cooler because of the colossal shade she provides. Underneath her she nutures a miniature forest of shade loving plants.

She engages herself fully in every season, not missing a chance for us to notice her. In the spring, her bare branches begin to produce buds that grow into a gazillion tiny green leaves. Then tiny little dried flowers fall in masses all over ground. Of course, our living room begins to look like the front yard as we track those in. The summer finds her reaching towards the heavens, soaking in the hot sun and providing us with a comforting shade of coolness. She turns amazing colors in the fall as little seedlings begin to flutter off her branches in droves. Winter arrives and she drops her leaves like flies, leaving us with a thick carpet of green, red, orange, yellow and brown wet leaves. Finally, her branches are bare and she closes her eyes to settle in for a long winter's rest. You know spring is here when the seedlings begin to sprout up in millions in every nook and cranny in the ground.

When you approach our house from down the street, Maple can look pretty overbearing. She is magnificent in size. I have heard her being compared to a slightly off-kilter frizzy 'fro. She was in need of a serious haircut. In the world of certain skilled gardeners, you never prune a maple. Instead, you sculpt a maple. There is an art to sculpting. I won't go into what sculpting is all about but let me just say it takes at least 3 people, one of whom must be the master sculptor. You never just get up in a maple and start willy nilly cutting branches. In our situation, the goal was to lighten her load, maintain the shade yet allow little filtered light to come in. She also had a lot of untamed branches that if let to their own devices, would definitely shorten her lifespan and diminish her quality of life - not to mention saving our power lines and our roof!

"My Warren, The Master Sculptor"

So the first year we got together with Debbie, our soulmate of a friend and of course, an accomplished Master Sculptor. Over a bottle of wine and homecooked meal, we sat out in the front yard to strategize. We presented cases to eachother like divorce lawyers, vying for our idea to be agreed to by all parties. As our heads got lighter from the wine, our excitement was building. I'm telling you, it is incredibly entertaining to engage in a pursuit of the perfect scultping job.

After we agree to disagree and came to a consensus, our tools came out and we assumed our positions. I walked down the street, Debbie placed herself underneath the canopy and Warren began to scale Miss Maple. Debbie gave the single and Warren wiggled the branch we had decided to cut. Down the street, I was able to easily see which branch was coming down and visualize how the tree would look if that branch was gone. I'd give the OK and Debbie and I would run underneath the branch to catch it as Warren sawed it off. It would go on like this for a couple of hours during which time we would swap posts every so often. Neighbors would sometimes gather to watch our production.

Finally, Maple's appearance began to approve as she let in a little sunlight for the first time. Her remaining branches lightly bounced upwards towards the sky. We could still feel her protective presence but it was like she was refreshed and and enlivened. Walking up and down the street, we viewed her from all angles. Satisfied with a job well done, we commenced a gardener's eternal past-time - clean up. Gathering the branches, we cut them into pieces which would be piled into the back of my truck for a future trip to the yard debris composting site. Pictures would be taken, and we'd take note of certain remaining branches to be carefully watched for future sculpting sessions.

Every spring, Maple get's her spa treatment. It has become an annual tradition that we fondly look forward to. We take care of her, and she takes care of us. We have a deep friendship and committment with her. It's a special relationship to the natural world we are so a part of. If Maple was not a city tree, we'd let her grow wild, in any direction she wished and sprout branches from here to the moon. But in the city, it is her right to be sculpted and cared for as well as it is for us to act as her curators to preserve her well-being. If you sit out next to her really late at night, she will talk to you. Her voice is soft but she speaks of strength, determination, hope and beauty, inspiring your spirit to be like hers. She likes to be noticed so next time you come by, gently lay your hand on her trunk or one of her branches and wish her well. She will thank you for your kindess.


  1. I wish I could find it in me to love my cherry tree that same way... perhaps it is due to my hatrid of this tree that it dumps billions of cherries on my deck and in my yard that sprout trillions of little blooms in my yard, half of which find their way into my house. I just don't have it in me to find love for such nature that spews it's offspring all over yard leaving it all up to me to clean up for months each year.

  2. What a lovely tribute to dear Maple, the natural air-conditioner and caretaker of the peaceful Guenther realm.