By Rusty Walton
Brenda and I are having some trees removed from our yard. One of the big pine trees out back is infested with beetles. A couple of pileated woodpeckers (those big Woody Woodpecker types) have pecked off most of the tree’s bark in their never-ending search for insects and nesting sites. Dead limbs, pinecones and chips of decaying wood lie in a thickening mat over our usually well-manicured St. Augustine lawn. This tree is in the "dangerous" stage of deterioration, so hiring a professional to carefully remove it has become a necessity.
A smaller pine in the backyard and a little sweetgum tree next to our driveway also need to be removed. The pine tree is growing too close to the house. Its falling needles clog the gutters and downspouts, and in a few years any limbs that fall will likely drop onto the roof. Pine trees also are notorious lightning rods, and Mrs. Preacher says I attract enough lightning already.
The sweetgum tree is too close to the driveway. Sweetgum roots grow close to the surface, and in a couple of years, these roots will crack the concrete, causing extensive damage, demanding costly repairs. A wise homeowner will remove a sweetgum next to a driveway.
When we lived in North Texas, I never would have dreamed of cutting down even one tree, much less three. We built our house in Dallas in a pasture, and I planted the only trees on the lot. I watered those twigs every-other day for three months. I mulched and manicured and nurtured my baby trees for as long as we lived in our little house in the Windmill Hill subdivision, a bald knob void of any vegetation except Johnson grass and buffalo burr. We did not cut down trees on Windmill Hill. We venerated them.
You can imagine my emotions now as the chainsaws are roaring and the sawdust is flying. I keep thinking about our little house on the prairie and wondering what sort of sacrilege I am committing by removing these trees.
I think my feelings of uneasiness spring from something my father said to me 40 years ago.
We had been hunting all morning in a thickly wooded area near his old family home and decided to stop and rest and have a little lunch. Sitting on an aged log and snacking on Vienna sausage and saltine crackers, we could hear the distant sounds of a logging crew as they chewed up the woods.
For years, these Tunica Hills had been safe from loggers. The winding sandy creeks and step ravines were simply inaccessible. But new and better ways of logging had been discovered. We did not know it at the time, but this would be one of our last hunts in this beautiful place my dad loved so much. The loggers were scheduled here next.
Dad took a long drink from his favorite water bottle, an old hip flask once filled with something my father no longer drank. Almost in a sacred moment, in the softness of that forest cathedral, Dad whispered, "One day there won’t be any trees." Forty years ago, but I still remember.
Some things penetrate our souls more deeply than others, and I suppose my soul was touched that day in a way a 17-year-old could not fully comprehend. I saw in my father’s face the anguish of losing something he deeply loved.
Until that moment, I thought I loved those beautiful, wooded hills as much as my father loved them. Or perhaps I had never before really thought about my father’s love. But having seen it, even for that brief moment, I have never forgotten it.
In this unusual moment of personal reflection, I am increasingly aware that it is another Father’s love that, once seen, also can never be forgotten.
Rusty Walton is pastor of First Baptist Church in Conroe, Texas.