An Old Pecan Tree is Cut Down

Tallahassee, Florida

Photos and text by Gerald Grow

This pecan tree stood on the edge of our lot, right at the road, before the house was built in 1955.

Pecan tree, fullIt was already big enough at the time that the road had to make a slight curve to get past it.

In the last decade, like many of the trees in this former pecan grove, it began to drop limbs.

Big limbs.

Occasionally in the neighborhood a limb the size of a tree would crash into the street with thump you could hear for blocks, taking with it power lines, phone lines, and TV cable.

Storms brought down more limbs. Or whole trees. A few years ago, one of the four huge pecan trees in our back yard snapped off at the trunk, about ten feet up, and the tree laid down its vast spread of limbs all the way up to our desk -- barely missing the house.

The tree out front stood next to one of the high-voltage lines that feeds the neighborhood, and, seeing that it would sooner or later fall across that line, the utility company marked our tree for removal.

A man in a bucket truck began taking off the limbs. Here he works on the long side-limb that arched over the spot where our driveway meets the street. The resurrection ferns covering the limb may look dry and dead, but as soon as it rains, they spring back to life with a lush and lively green.

The tree is actually stubbier than this picture suggests, because some of the healthy branches in the background belong to a pecan tree across the street.

Pecan tree, cutting the limbs

After the main limbs were off, the crew attached a guide cable, and one man with an 18-inch chainsaw girdled the tree.

You wouldn't think that was enough of a saw to bring down a tree this big.

Pecan tree, cutting the trunk

But it did. The tree came down spraying sawdust and hit with thud that shook everyone who was watching.

Pecan tree falling

The trunk lay across the road like a dead animal. Standing there, you could feel the weight of its dying as it lay on the asphalt. Even the men on the crew, so accustomed to taking down trees, seemed moved. For a moment, no one spoke.

Pecan tree down

After they trimmed and loaded and hauled the trunk away, I went to look at the stump. Now you could see how such a small saw brought down such a big tree. Most of the trunk was only 8 to 12 inches thick.One area was only 4 inches. The tree had been approaching the point where it would no longer be able to hold up its own weight.

Pecan tree trunk

There was a hole at the bottom of the stump the squirrels had used to travel up and down the inside of the tree. Late afternoon sun shined through the open stump. Tiny oxalis bloomed in it, next to some Virginia creeper leaves.

Pecan stump, leaves

This is a city with lots of trees, and in this neighborhood, you can look around and see 15 large pecan trees from almost any place you stop.

But I had known this particular tree for 54 years -- since my family moved into this house when I was 12. I've lived in this same house with my own family now for 21 years.

Looking for other pictures, I found this slide from the early '60s -- which I took from our driveway of the sunset, with light reflecting off the rain-washed road. The pecan tree stands in the shadows on the right.

Pecan tree sunset

Even Google Maps knew this tree, where you could see it with the street passing in front of it and the driveway sloping down behind it to our house. That's our mailbox standing next to the trunk, still tilting from when pranksters batted the mailboxes on our side of the street last year.The pines in the background aren't really falling -- that's an effect of Google's lens.

Pecan tree on Google maps

In the days after the tree was cut down, we sometimes missed the turn to our own house because that tree had been our landmark, showing us where the driveway was. Neighbors missed the tree and told us so. A colleague who commutes to work down our street asked me what happened to the big pecan tree that reminded him where our house was.

The bare stump looked too much like an open grave, so we filled it with good dirt, and my wife planted pansies in it.

Pecan stump pansies

They are blooming now.

Text and photos (except for the photo from Google Maps) copyright 2010 by Gerald Grow.