It's a mighty elm, planted sometime shortly after the turn of the last century, on one of Colorado Springs' old east-west avenues, just north of downtown. Its branches hover high above the tallest point of my two-story Victorian cottage, waving in the wind, shedding seeds, collecting snowflakes, sheltering squirrels and birds, and offering up blessed shade to the south-facing side of the house during hot summer months. It is an air conditioner, a habitat, a monument that has stood witness to most of this city's relatively short history.
The tree has fared better than many of the man-made objects around it. The street's row of houses, built as quarters for laborers, stand in various states of repair and disrepair. The boards of their slightly tilted front porches have rotted and been replaced again and again. Their roofs have peeled, their gutters rusted and fallen, their occupants' fortunes have fluctuated and disappeared over the last hundred years while the tree has simply flourished and grown.
The tree was here when the street was still unpaved, packed with dirt, wide enough for a horse and buggy to do a U-turn.
When I wake up in the morning, the tree's trembling branches are the first thing I see, backlit by pink streaks of sunrise. Usually I watch the tree for a while -- gauging the wind, the condition of the sky, saying hello -- before rising. I have often tried to imagine the entire cast of occupants who have watched the tree sway since the house's and the tree's infancy. A baby in a cradle, placed in the center of the front bay window. A grandmother, old and frail, napping in the late afternoon. A newlywed couple, tired from a day of moving furniture in and out. They have all lived and rested here at one time or another, only to move on while the tree remained.
I bought the house from a family who rescued both it and the tree. A young couple just married, they bought the house for a song in its most dilapidated condition. For years, it had been a Colorado College flophouse, broken into three small apartments with patched-in walls and doors placed at odd intervals. College kids had crammed the house's rooms with their cast-off furniture and wild energy. A neighbor reported that at one point, a wide plank connected the upstairs side window with the facing side window of the house next door and partying students frequently walked the plank between houses or just sat there, legs dangling, drinking beer on Saturday nights.
The couple before me lived in a small section of the house for six years while they methodically put the house back together. They added tasteful light fixtures, remodeled the kitchen, replaced the warped floors, trimmed, repaired, caulked and restored the house. They painted the walls in yellows and blues and sold the house to me while the paint was still wet.
We stood on the front porch the day I decided to buy the house, the three of us staring at the tree, lush and thick in late summer. A few years back, they told me, the tree had been sick with a fungus that took out a section of leaves and branches. The city came and marked it for cutting, but the couple talked them out of it. "Why not just take out the sick part?" they asked. The tree was big and strong. It would recover. At least give it a chance. The city foresters relented and let the tree stay. It healed; the empty spot filled in with new branches and leaves.
Yesterday, I came home in the middle of the day to pick up mail, and found the tree's massive roots cut up and piled beside it in a huge stack. Workers had been digging around, repairing the sidewalk and the street, and had determined that the tree and its roots would have to make way for new pavement. The tree's amazing roots, like a bodybuilder's magnificent biceps, had flexed and twisted and pressed against the cement slab of the sidewalk until it rose and cracked, buckled and crumbled.
This morning, I watched the tree at sunrise, wondering how long it would stand with its roots severed. The workers told me the city would come to cut it down and remove the stump shortly after they finished their paving job. I want to be there when it goes, to tell it goodbye for everyone who has passed it, sat under it, watched it from the upstairs window.
The tree will be gone and I will remain, but not long enough to see another tree grow old in its place.