The Sad End to an Affair with an Old (Green) Friend

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

Is it possible to fall in love with a tree?  Yes, it happened to me, and the end of the affair, while necessary, was very sad.

Having come to upper Westchester from a block in New York City with only two sickly looking gingko trees, I knew I wanted a home with a lot of mature trees.  And, I found such a property that was anchored with two magnificent sugar maples, planted purposefully some time in the late 19th century, one in the middle of the front lawn and the other in back centered no more than 20 feet from the house.

My family and I developed a closer relationship with the one in back which protected our home from the sun, heat and lightning for many years. My wife and I hung a collection of wind chimes from its lowest branches and, with the help of summer breezes, our tree would serenade us to sleep at night. And having built a brick and stone patio around it, the tree served as an immense umbrella for many memorable outdoor events with family and friends.

But our easy living together was seriously compromised in 1990 when my big green friend fell victim to the assault of the gypsy moth that attacked much of the east coast that year and the next. 

I hired an arborist who did everything he could to save it, and indeed he did prolong its life considerably, spraying it regularly for the next fifteen years with insecticides and injecting it with nutrients, while I watered it during periods of drought.  Together, we treated it like a patient.

The tree struggled valiantly, but each summer some branches would develop brown leaves before their time. By the next season those limbs would have no leaves and eventually they would rot and fall to the ground during a rainstorm or in high winds.

At its base, a large gap opened in the bark of the northern side of the tree, exposing a slowly decaying core, and a woodpecker did his damage on an uppermost dead limb.  I was so distressed by the tree’s failing health that I once wrapped my arms around half of its girth and talked to it, asking it to hang in there. Yes, the tree had become a family member.

It was that summer of incredible rains when my wife and I noticed that the decaying tree was starting to list toward the house. With some dread, I knew the time had come.

A few days later, three nice guys from a tree cutting service arrived, not knowing I was having a separation problem, and within minutes the bucket truck was in position, with a loud shredder stationed nearby.

The fellow in the bucket limberly began his task.  With each main limb, he would cut a three or four foot length with his chain saw held by only one hand. With his other hand, he would cradle the section of limb into his arm and swing it effortlessly away from the patio below before letting it fall.

When I found myself interpreting the man’s gentle grace in performing that task as honoring a long life being taken away from me, I knew it was time to go inside and not watch anymore. With the sound of a thundering crash, I looked out the window and saw that the upper half of the remaining tree had been cut and, guided by strong rope, had come crashing down against the side of the remaining portion of the trunk. The next time I looked out, the very bottom of the trunk was being sawed almost to ground level.

When one of the workers demonstrated that he could stick his finger into the pulpy decayed core of the tree, we knew that, had it not been removed, the tree would have paid us an unwelcomed visit through our roof.  So we did the right thing when it had to be done.

Now in its place is a smallish weeping cherry and, thinking positively, it does provide a nice burst of color in the spring. My living area there has turned from shaded comfort to bright sunlight, affording us the opportunity to surround ourselves with many bright annuals, but there’s now only a table umbrella shielding us from old man sun. I frequently think of and miss the big, natural umbrella we enjoyed for many years.

Only recently did my town, the last holdout in the county, enact a tree ordinance into its code that protects against private destruction of trees like the unbridled actions of a certain utility company. But there are those among us who will do anything to save trees when we can because, yes, it is possible to fall in love with them.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.