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Mr. Deen and the Maple Tree
by Richard Rupnarain
Guyana Journal, August 2006


It was coming on to ten months since Deen Jamaludeen had purchased his first home in Canada, a detached three-bedroom house in the town of Markham. He had seen the end of his first summer, survived his first winter in Canada and, was now, according to the dubious prognostication of Willie, the woodchuck, on the cusp of spring.

Accustomed to life in the tropics, where temperatures averaged ninety degrees year round and where he could roam barefooted and half naked both day and night without catching a chill, Deen could not wait for winter to blow over. For Canadian people, winter was just another season, a time to change gears and pastimes. They cleaned and packed away their grills and outdoor equipment and brought out their winter stuff – Christmas trees, fairy lights, nativity scenes, hollies, decorations, skates, skis, snowboards, and skidoos. For them, the beat never stopped. It just changed rhythm. But all this was new to Deen and with each day he grew more bored and depressed. There was nothing for him to do after work. Canadian people, out on their skates, hit the slopes and rinks and frozen lakes. They played hockey and curling and seemed to be having more fun in the cold than in the summer. And their gaiety was not feigned. It was as real as he had determined from the scenes on Christmas cards and movies that he received from abroad when he was back in Guyana. But pictures of children in sleds and sleighs, laughing all the way down virgin snow covered hills lined with evergreen pines and enchanted onlookers betrayed how cold it was. It was way much colder than he could ever have imagined and having to bulk up with thermals, shirt, sweater, scarf, coat, mitts, took, earmuffs and boots every day was finally getting to him. But he dared not complain because he was the one who insisted to his wife that they should leave Guyana and move to Canada. Nevertheless, when February approached and he heard the news that a special groundhog was about to arise from the abyss and cause meteorologists to marvel with his forecast, he, like many Canadians, was glued to the television set.

On the second day of February, Willie emerged from his subterranean burrow and looked around and then scampered back into his hole. Several hands went up in the air as the groundhog scuttled back into the safety of his lair, and the crowd became visibly disappointed at what they had seen or not seen. According to the lanky old man – who with his top hat, van dyke, and long black coat looked like a younger version of Abraham Lincoln – and chief interpreter of woodchuck lingo and mannerisms, Willie ran back into his hole because he saw his shadow and that meant winter will continue for another six weeks. “See that, Nazreen!” Deen muttered, evidently depressed at the bad news, “the groundhog ran back into his hole. Spring will not be here for another six weeks.” Nazreen was getting dressed for work and appeared completely indifferent to the commotion on the television. “What did you expect the groundhog to do? If you were hibernating for three months and then one day you came out and found hundreds of people standing at your door, what would you do? See you later. Your lunch is on the counter.”

As far as Deen was concerned Nazreen was always a spoilsport, always taking everything too seriously and, over the years, he had come to accept that that was whom she was and he had learnt to insulate himself from her discouraging remarks. Had he listened to her they would still be suffering in Guyana. But that morning her insouciance did put a damper on his enthusiasm. Now he did not know what to make of this marmot and its predictions. Worse, as he would later learn, not many of his Guyanese friends and family seemed too excited or knowledgeable about the non-verbal predictions of the groundhog, mostly because they deemed the whole thing unscientific, or superstitious, or just plain foolishness. But this being his first winter, and a harsh one at that, he was looking for any signs of hope that winter will soon be over and while he hated to admit it, the rodent seer had caught his interest. Besides, he reasoned, if native Canadians believed so fervently in the rodent’s ability to give them some insight into the future, who was he, a newcomer from a tropical climate, to say otherwise.

And so, fascinated by it all, he did some research and was somewhat relieved to lean that Willie was not a novice at this profession. On the contrary, Willie was the descendant of a great line of groundhogs who were reputed to be blessed with the gift of telling humans – scientists, meteorologists, psychics and geologists included – when winter will come to an end. He also discovered that Willie was not an aberration, a one of a kind freak whose testimony should be taken with a pinch of soil, but that there were similarly gifted woodchucks around the continent. As such, Willie did not have a monopoly on forecasting the weather all over North America but only in Canada, his native land. Weather forecasting in neighboring America was left to his counterpart, Punxsutawney Phil who lived in a climate-controlled habitat next to the Punxsutawney Library. Like Willie, Phil had become a local celebrity. But unlike Willie, Phil had garnered a cameo role in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day and that made him as famous for the Americans as Willie was for the Canadians. To no one’s surprise, the Americans had capitalized on Phil’s Hollywood celebrity status and, in a short time, the woodchuck’s predictions were entered into the Congressional Records of America’s National Archive. According to the records, Phil had seen his shadow about 85% of the time. Evidently, Phil hated winter. Either that or he was an optimist. Willie, on the other hand, did not have the luxury of statistics and quite frankly, like a true laidback Canadian, did not seem to care. In any event he had come to accept that the Americans had the money and the clout to elevate Phil’s status above everyone else and reasoned that Phil only knew he saw his shadow 85% percent of the time because he lived next door to a library and had become literate. Besides, he, Willie, was still more popular than New York City's groundhog, Pothole Pete, Vermont’s Peewee, Louisiana’s Claude the Crawfish or Alabama’s Birmingham Bill. In Fact, Willie’s legacy in his home country was so strong that even his local rivals, Balzac Billy and Shubenacadie Sam were lost in his shadow.

The groundhog formula is simple: If when he emerges he sees his shadow it means that it is bright and therefore winter will be protracted, for another six weeks at least. But if it is cloudy, which means he will not be able to see his shadow, then old man winter’s days were numbered, less than six weeks or just around the corner, whichever was shorter in meteorological lingo. Willie had seen his shadow, though he never publicly confessed having done so, but so said his self-appointed PR man, the Lincoln look-alike in top hat and tails. Why the man in the top hat or one of the curious onlookers could not look for their own shadow was one of the unexplained mysteries of North American life. Nevertheless, Deen hoped that the woodchuck was wrong and that the predictions of the lesser qualified meteorologists on TV were correct, and that is, that winter will be over by the middle of March. Unable to find anything constructive to do in winter or any sporting interest he wound up lazing for hours in the sofa, watching television and eating junk food, and had put on almost fifteen pounds, mostly in his mid-section. Nazreen had encouraged him to buy a pair of skates and learn to skate but he dismissed the idea saying he was too old to go and fall down and break something.

Springtime finally arrived but not in the manner he expected. For him, it still felt like winter. Snowfall had defied the seasonal boundary lines and dropped two inches of powder the day after clocks were adjusted for daylight saving. Mounds of ice, now dirty with grime and grease, still sat defiantly on sidewalks, parapets and parking lots. Commuters and school children were still hooded in parkas and downs. And save for a few hardy trees most of the vegetation were still brown. Despite it all, however, there were signs of hope that spring was different from winter. When he woke up in the morning it was to the sound of robins, just like back home. When he stepped outside into the brisk morning air he could smell the arrival of newness, just like it was in the dew covered pastures and ball fields back home. The days were beginning to get longer and it was like the earth was coming out of hibernation. The plants and trees in his yard that appeared to have surrendered to winter’s blast suddenly began to turn green again, with buds beginning to form on limbs and branches. Well, not all the trees. Deen noticed that the maple in his backyard looked like it did not know winter was over. He figured at the time that the tree was old and, like old people, took longer to rouse itself from slumber.

The days passed and presently spring was in full bloom. The last bastion of snow had disappeared completely. Puddles from melted snow had all but dried up and children came out to play and ride their bicycles. They all seemed taller, bigger and different from before their winter hibernation. The white kids were paler and the colored children were fairer but they all looked fresher, cleaner and smoother and they had a sparkle in their eyes. Adventurous young men with long hair brought out their Yamahas and revved them unnecessarily loud. The rich brought out their toys, summer-only classic cars and expensive sport sedans. They were mostly middle-aged white men who had a lot of money and wanted to impress and perhaps attract the attention of younger women. The elderly also came out for walks. The Punjabi woman across the street was decked out with sari and Nike boots. She walked a couple of strides behind her husband, who with his white kurta and ceremonial dagger, looked like a Burmese Gurkha. Young couples took to their bicycles with kids in tow. Homeowners came out to do yard work. Some were fertilizing their lawns. Others were planting flowers, clearing out junk, and removing Christmas lights from gutters and eaves. There was a glow on their faces as they trekked back and forth to the garden centers and home building supplies stores with merchandise to beautify their lawns and backyards. Spring-cleaning was also in full swing. Furniture and appliances, still in good condition, were hauled to parapets and trucks from The Brick and Sears were delivering replacements. The neighbor to Deen’s left was having a delivery of materials to build a deck and the neighbor to his right was assembling a new Bar-B-Q grill next to a shed. Everyone was doing something. They must all have had nice tax refunds, he thought. Having not worked for a full year, his first year in the country, he too had a handsome tax refund. But he was not as exuberant as his neighbors. With each passing day he became more anxious about his maple tree that would not bud.

The red maple, planted almost twenty years ago by the first owners of the house, had grown to almost forty feet in height and with pruning, was half as wide. With the back of his house facing the evening sun, the tree provided welcome shade when the family wanted to make use of the deck in the afternoons. His kids played under its foliage and Deen even had a swing chained to one of its branches. The tree also shaded the kitchen and the living room from the hot afternoon sun and for his wife that was a welcome benefit. So it was understandable why he was so concerned that the tree was either dead or dying. Besides, the previous owners had it for twenty years and it was well in all those years. What would neighbors say if the tree were to die in less than a year since he took ownership of the property?

As luck would have it, the very next week, while mowing his lawn for the first time that spring, he noticed that the resident three doors down and across the street from him had a similar tree on his front lawn and that the tree looked just like his – dead. To his pleasant surprise, the man was East Indian and from his mannerisms – the way he hawked and spat a chunk of mucus unto the sidewalk, and the way he picked his teeth and wrung his index finger in his ears – appeared to be from the islands, either Trinidad or Guyana. More importantly, the man seemed equally concerned about the tree. He stood like a supervisor in front of its root, feet astride and hands in his pockets, while looking at the trees along the street that were already in full bloom. Deen felt like going over to the man and asking him if he knew what the problem was but then changed his mind as the man did not emanate a friendly vibe. He decided he was going to watch and see what action the man would take in the next day or two.

He did not have to wait for long. He arrived home from work the next day only to see a funny looking truck parked in front of the man’s house. Not wanting to appear presumptuous or inquisitive he ran up to his bedroom and peeked through the window for a better look at what was going on. He soon realized that the truck was outfitted with tree pruning and removal equipment and that the operator was cutting down the tree. “So it died,” he muttered and then withdrew from the window blind. A feeling of sadness came over him and he back-peddled to the bed and just sat there like someone who was shocked to the core with grievous news. His tree was dead. Was he the cause of its demise? Did the previous owners know the tree was terminally ill and that is why they sold the property? He went back to the window and wrote down the telephone number from the side of the truck. He might need the tree morticians next. As he was scribbling down the telephone number, Nazreen entered the room. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I think our tree is dead,” he replied.

“How do you know that?”

“Look across the street. That man has the same kind of tree and he is having it removed.”

“You mean the tree is dead?”

“Seems that way, else why would he remove it?”

“Gosh, we are not yet here for a year and the tree is dead! What will people say?”

“That’s exactly what went through my mind.”

“Well, I guess you have to call the tree company and have them take a look. If it is dead it is dead. What can we do? Anyways, I am off to work. See you later.” He just came from work!!!

The tree was on his mind all day. He tried to find answers from his colleagues at work but most of them either did not have trees in their yards or were of the opinion that the tree might be dead. That evening, immediately upon his arrival home from work, he picked up the phone and called the number he had taken from the side of the tree pruning truck.

“Hello, Maple Pruning,” a girl answered, “how can I help you?”

“Oh, yes, my name is Deen, and I have a tree that appears to be dead,” he replied. She interrupted.

“Dead? How do you know it is dead?”

“Well, the bark is gray and there are no leaves, whereas trees just like it in the neighborhood are all in full bloom. Besides, my neighbor across the street has one just like it and just had it removed.”

“Well, sir, we are not arborists, we are just tree removers. If you want us to remove the tree we can do that. Would you like us to do that, sir?”

“Well, how much will it cost?”

“How big is the tree, sir?”

“About forty feet tall.”

“Sir, do you know what kind of tree it is?”

“I think it is a red maple.”

“Is it in the backyard or out on the front lawn?”

“The backyard?”

“Are there any encumbrances at the side of the house?”

“What do you mean?”

“We will have to get our equipment to the back so we will need clearance along the side of the house. Is your yard fenced?”

“Yes.”

“On which side is the gate?”

“The right side.”

“Coming into your driveway is that the left or right side of the house?”

“The left.”

“How wide is the area to the left between your house and the next?”

“About eight feet.”

“And is it clear?”

“Well, except for the AC.”

“That’s ok. We can work with that. When would you like to book the appointment?”

“As soon as possible. But first, how much will it cost?”

“Well, sir, it depends on how many branches we have to remove, how close it is to your neighbors fence, power lines, underground cables, how much work has to be done to get the equipment in and out of the yard, and then of course the equipment and tree removal costs.”

“At least give me a ball park figure, the minimum cost.”

“Let’s see! For a forty-foot maple you might need one of the bigger machines. At a minimum you are looking at anywhere between five to seven thousand dollars.”

At the sound of the quote his bowels immediately felt loose. He had braced himself for something like five hundred dollars. He was just cutting down and removing a tree. How can it be that expensive? Not wanting to appear naïve or to betray his shock he composed himself and replied, “Is there anything I could do to reduce the cost?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like removing some of the limbs and branches.”

“Do you have a chain saw?”

“Not, but I could buy one.”

“Do you know how much a chain saw cost?”

“Not really.”

“You could pay up to seven hundred dollars for one. And what are you going to do with it when you are done pruning the branches. Besides, it is dangerous work. Listen, sir, how close is the tree to your neighbor’s house?”

“About three feet from the fence and about twenty feet from his house. But he has a shed in the backyard and it is about ten feet from the shed. Why do you ask?”

“Well, if the tree or branches fall into your neighbors property someone could get hurt or killed, and you don’t want to face property and personal injury liability suits. It's worth spending a little money and time to ensure that isn't likely to happen.”

“I understand but I will have to talk it over with my wife before I make a decision.”

“Remember, sir, if that tree is dead and it falls you could be in serious trouble.”

That night, troubled even more with the thought of extensive personal liability if the tree fell, Deen discussed the matter with his wife. “I called the tree people and they said they can remove it. Then when I asked them the cost the girl said it could be up to five thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand?” Nazreen cried.

“Yes! So I said I need to discuss it with my wife.”

“That’s a lot of money to remove a tree but then we don’t have the equipment so what option do we have? Obviously the man across the street checked out the companies before he gave the job to them. I think you should just go ahead and give them the job. Who knows, they might even be able to save the tree.”

Deen took to the phone, calling everyone he knew in search of a cheaper solution to the problem. Finally, he found one. Following a reference he received from his uncle he wound up talking to a East Indian man from Guyana who made his living doing odds and ends landscaping and snow removal work. His name was Pratap Singh. Mr. Singh spoke softly and matter-of-factly and in less than two minutes into the phone conversation Deen found that the fear that had gripped him all day had begun to dissipate.

“Boy, don’t sweat nothing,” Mr. Singh assured him, “the tree can’t fall down just like that. Them white people only telling you that to frighten you so that you will give them the work right away. Even if that tree done dead it could still live more long than you and me. I could start this weekend if you really scared.”

“That would be great! How much will it cost me?”

“Don’t worry about that yet.”

“But I need to know. At least give me an idea.”

“Well, for a tree like you described to me I would say anything between two to three thousand dollars. Is a lot of work you know?”

Two thousand was still four times more than he had budgeted. But it was half the quote he received from the Maple people. Besides, he would help cut and remove branches and so be in a position to negotiate a reduction in the bill. “Well, I will help you,” he suggested. “So I hope you can do something about the price.”

“We will see. Don’t let that bother you. I should be there about 7 am.”

“See you then.”

Mr. Singh arrived bright and early that Saturday morning. The loud rattling sound of a loose muffler on his GMC Safari drew Deen to the door before Singh could press the button for the bell. Strangely, Mr. Singh was just as Deen had imagined from their phone conversation. He was a middle aged man, haggard looking but not unexpected for a man of his profession, sinewy and unshaven. He wore a dirty blue cap with the logo of a Diesel company emblazoned across the peak. Under his plaid black and blue construction-type jacket he wore a tee shirt that appeared to be as badly stained as his teeth. All said and done he looked no different from the landscapers Deen had seen working for the city and more importantly he had come to get a job done. He got down straight to business. “Open the gate,” he said. Deen complied.

“Are you alone?” Deen asked.

“Yes, my other work men have some other jobs. But don’t worry. You said you would help, didn’t you?”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

“Well, then, here, help me unload some equipment. Take the chainsaw. I will get the ladder.”

“Don’t you have a tree pruning machine?”

“Tree what?” he interrupted, seemingly incensed that his method was being questioned. “I don’t need that stuff. These white men are too lazy. They make machines for every blasted thing. No wonder everybody over here getting so fat. Look, bring that ladder.”

Singh placed the ladder against the truck of the tree, tossed a roll of rope around his shoulder and made his ascent to about twenty feet up into the tree. Then he let down the rope. “Tie the chainsaw to the rope,” he instructed Deen. After much struggle Singh finally had the chainsaw in his hands. But the struggle to get it started was even greater. He braced himself between the trunk and a branch and began to pull at the starter cable. A minute and fifteen cranks later he looked like a man who had completed an entire day’s work. “I think this thing out of gas,” he murmured. Then he checked and confirmed that the gas tank was empty. “I will have to go and get some gas,” he concluded as he began to let the saw down to the ground. Deen shook his head. Just like back home, he thought.

Singh returned from the gas station an hour later. He did not seem to be in a hurry to make up lost time. “Okay, tie the saw back to the rope,” he said, as began to his re-ascent. Deen was becoming agitated. Not only did the man come to work unprepared but also he was clearly not bothered about time and that Deen knew would ultimately translate into higher costs.

“You took a long time at the gas station, man. Had a long line up?” Deen asked with noticeable sarcasm in his voice.

“No, hardly anybody was there but I meet this chap who said he was from Corentyne and when we started talking I realize that we related through my mother’s side. He said he came here since 1972 and since then he driving tractor-trailer. I didn’t know those people made so much money driving trucks. He told me that he makes up to twelve thousand some months depending on how many trips he makes to California and back. And he said he could hook me up if I get a truck license. Now he got me thinking seriously about it. Is that what hold me up. Can you get me a glass of water?” Deen wanted to get him a glass of poison. Two hours had passed and nothing was accomplished. Besides, the sun was coming up and the temperature was expected to climb almost to forty degrees. Finally, the motor whirred and little pieces of limbs and branches began to tumble to the ground. “Okay, watch yourself!” Singh shouted above the sound of the chainsaw. “The big limb coming down now!”

The big limb came down all right, ten minutes later, and with a loud crashing sound. It landed smack on top of the fence and on the neighbor’s backyard shed and then flattened his brand new BBQ grill. The fence collapsed like cheap suit and tiles from the roof of the shed began to fly in every direction. The neighbor’s grandmother ran out of the kitchen from where she was observing the procedures for the past hour. “Hey bai,” she shouted, “look you bruk me daughter’s shed and that Bar-B-Cue thing they buy only last week!” And just as rapidly as she ran out of the house she scampered back inside to call her son-in-law. “Singh!” Deen shouted in anger, “what is going on, man? You are causing more damage, man. Why you didn’t cut the limb in small pieces? Now look at the expense you putting me in!”

“Look, don’t fret man. I will take care of it.”

Before Singh could get down from the tree to survey the damage the next-door neighbor pulled into his driveway and charged to the scene with without closing the car door. “Excuse me,” he called out to Deen. “Do you guys know what you are doing? Who will remove this tree from my yard, fix the fence, repair my shed and replace my BBQ grill?” Then he pulled out his cell phone and, before Deen could assure him he will take care of the matter, he was speaking to the police. “Yes, I would like to report a damage to my property.” Apparently the police asked him if anything was stolen from his property and when he said no they advised him to speak to his insurance broker. The man instead turned to Deen and told him that he needs to inform his insurance broker about the problem failing which he would do the repair work and hand Deen the bill. Not wanting to create animosity with his neighbor he quickly agreed to look after the matter.

The work was delayed another two hours, the time it took the two men to remove the limb from the neighbor’s shed and cut it up into pieces. Singh returned the next day with two workmen and they completed the removal of the tree and repairing of the fence. All told, it cost Deen about five hundred dollars for materials to repair the damage to the fence and shed and just short of three hundred to replace the grill.

As the sun began to set, Singh called out to his men that they could leave after cleaning up the yard. The men cleaned up, washed themselves at the garden hose, changed their clothes and left in a Safari van just as Deen was returning home from the ATM where he went to withdraw the money for the contractor. Nazreen was beside him. She went to the 7-11 store to pick up a few items. “All done?” he asked.

“Yes, man,” replied the one who took the driver’s seat.

“Where is Singh?”

“At the back, cleaning up.”

Deen left the grocery for his wife to fetch into the kitchen. “Hold on, girl, let me see if these men finish the job properly.” When he got to the back he saw Singh cleaning his chainsaw. “You done?” he asked, looking at the tree stump jutting out over two feet from the ground.

“Yes, man, what you expect?”

“You left the stump?”

“You never asked me to remove the stump. You asked me to cut down the tree. Stump removal is different business. You have to get machine to move that and I don’t have that machine. It is very expensive”

Deen was too angry to argue with him. “Okay, how much is the bill?”

“Am, let me see, I had to get some extra workmen and do some extra repairs. Give me twenty-eight hundred. I am taking two hundred off the price.”

Deen interrupted. “What do you mean extra work?” he screamed, “It was you who broke the fence and damaged the shed because of your carelessness. Why should I pay for that? And you said the cost would be between two and three thousand. How come it ended up at three thousand?”

“All right, look, I am a reasonable man. Twenty-five hundred and we call it square.”

Deen became so upset he unwittingly began to raise his voice and the noise drew Nazreen from the kitchen. “What’s going on?” she asked. Deen drew closer to her and explained the problem. “Look, pay him the twenty-five hundred dollars and let him get out of here. It’s done! The stump is not in anybody’s way.”

As the days went by, however, the stump became an eyesore in the backyard and Nazreen began to fret that it was better if they had called the tree removal company in the first instance. Deen ignored her pleas until one afternoon when one of the kids ran into the stump and suffered a three-inch gash above his right eye that required eight stitches. He reluctantly called the number he had taken from the side of the truck. Again! This time he was ashamed to identify himself. “Hello,” he said, feigning an accent of sorts, “I would like to have a tree stump removed from my back yard and would like to have a quote on the cost.”

“Where do you live, sir?” the girl asked.

“In Markham.”

“How big is the stump?”

“About two feet high.”

“And the diameter?”

“About a foot.”

“Are there a lot of roots?”

“Yes, plenty.”

“Do you know what kind of tree it was?”

“I think it was red maple.”

“Say, I remember your voice. Didn’t you call about a month ago to remove a maple tree?”

“Yes, but I decided to do it myself.”

“You cut down the tree by yourself?”

“Yes, but I couldn’t get the stump out.”

“Sir, we can remove the stump. When would you like this to be done?”

“As soon as you can. But first, I would like to have an idea of the cost.”

“Well, we will still have to remove the fence, get the tree removing equipment in your yard, and dispose of the waste. The cost would be about three thousand dollars plus tax.”

His bowels felt loose, again. “Three thousand! Just to remove a stump? Am, well I have to discuss it with my wife first and then I will call back.”

“Ok, sir. Thanks for calling. But don’t wait too late. This special rate is only for the next two weeks.”

Deen replaced the receiver and back-peddled to the sofa. Nazreen entered the room with a basket of freshly laundered clothes. “What happened? What did they say? Can they do it and for how much?” she rattled off.

“Yes, they can do it but they want three thousand plus tax.”

“To remove a tree stump? That is daylight robbery! Look, get some of your friends to come and help you. How long it would take to knock out a few roots?”

“I will call Frankie and the boys.”

So Deen called Frankie and the boys, and with the lure of beer and chicken curry they wasted no time in getting to the root of the problem. Armed with borrowed axes and chisels and saws they began to work away at the massive dark brown roots. There were at least a dozen thick roots visible above ground and the men felt that if they were able to sever those roots they would be able to shake loose the stump from the ground. Two cases of beer, a break for chicken curry, several expletives and six hours later, they had completed the task of severing the roots. “Alright,” Deen shouted, “let’s put some muscle on this thing and get it out of here.” One by one they encircled the tree stump, grabbed hold of it with bear hugs, and at Frankie’s command they began to rock it back and forth to loosen it from the severed roots. After five minutes had elapsed they discovered, much to their shock, that they were the ones who were rocking back and forth. The tree stump did not move as much as a millimeter. They then looked for any rogue roots that might still be chocking it but found none. Then they began to dig down about a foot into the soil only to discover that the trunk kept getting fatter the further down they drilled. “Deen,” Frankie sighed, “I think you better call the tree removal people. This thing needs a small bulldozer to get it out. Who knows how far down it has gone? I know the chap who does landscaping for our company. He has small equipment. I could give him a call.” Deen took a seat on the grass, beside the other men, all soaked to the skin with sweat, and for a while they just sat and stared at the stump.

“Okay, do that!” Deen capitulated. “Guys, well, thanks anyways. We tried.”

A week later the landscaping chap from Frankie’s place called and said he could do the job for a thousand dollars. It was five hundred cheaper than the tree removal people so he accepted. The man brought in a small bulldozer and cleared out the roots above ground. Then he attacked the stump. The bulldozer strained at the target, backed up several times and charged it like a mad bull, and finally uprooted the stump from the base. After much maneuverings in the small backyard space he finally succeeded in getting most of the root out. When he was done the entire backyard looked like an excavation site. Deen looked around him and when he thought about how much it would cost him to restore the lawn he felt loose in his bowels, again. The operator, on the other hand, stood next to the stump, like a conqueror over a vanquished foe, with a sheepish grin on his lips, and he sighed, “Whew! That was a big root, at least eight feet deep into the ground. Then he looked querulously at Deen and asked, “Say, why did you cut down this tree?”

“Oh, it was dead?”

“Dead? This tree wasn’t dead, at least not yet. Who told you it was dead?”

“What do you mean?”

“This tree just had some fungus on the bark. Look at the roots that you cut and the bark of this tree. Sap is still flowing. It was still alive. If you had taken a small pocketknife and scraped off some of the bark you would have seen there was still life in the tree. I am surprised that the tree removal people didn’t tell you that.”

Deen did not want to confess that he did not have professionals do the job but that he had Mr. Singh because his cost was lower than the tree removal company “But I saw the man across the street with a similar tree in similar condition and he had his cut down.”

“Did you ask him why he removed the tree?”

“Not really but I assumed that is why he had it removed.”

“You assumed, eh? These maples last a long time. They are very sturdy trees and even if they are infected with butt rot fungus they can still live for quite a few more years.”

“So why do you think the tree became infected?”

“Could be for a lot of reasons: Repeated defoliation from insects or diseases, adverse weather conditions, flooding or changes in the water table, damage from lawn mower injury, frost cracks, animal feeding, soil fertility problems, herbicides, restricted root development, or even just bruising the bark from hanging swings and building tree houses.”

Hanging swings? Deen had hung a swing for his kids and the chains had severely bruised the limbs but it never occurred to him that he was mortally wounding the tree. He brushed aside the topic. “Anyway, it is too late for that now.”

“Yes, too late, but in future when you have projects like this one you call the professionals, my friend. They may charge a little more but will save you a ton of headaches. I will remove the rubble and clean up. You will have a deep hole left here. You might as well put down another tree in its place.”

“That’s a good idea. I might just do that!”

That weekend Deen and Nazreen paid a visit to various garden centers to find a replacement maple. The prices ranged from five hundred to fifteen hundred dollars depending on the size of the tree. He finally settled on a ten-foot maple that cost him, delivery and planting included, seven hundred and fifty dollars. When the tree planting was completed he then had the back and front lawns sod to repair the damage caused by the heavy equipment. That cost him another three hundred dollars.

He was glad when it was finally over. That night after supper he stood on the deck and watched the newest addition to his property as its leaves rustled in the cold evening breeze. Nazreen joined him moments later and she too began to watch the tree. After minutes of silence she finally spoke. “So tell me, all told, with the cost of the tree removal, fence and shed repairs, stump removal, replacement tree and sod, how much did we spend?”

“Seven thousand dollars!” he replied.

Nazreen remained silent. She had said enough. Besides, she knew she had gotten across her message. Or at least she hoped she had.

Across the street, the man who had his tree removed was busy setting interlocking bricks over the area where his maple tree once grew. His wife stood over him and watched. “It’s a pity we had to cut down that maple. Now the front of the house looks so bare.” The man continued to lay the bricks in a crisscross pattern and without lifting up his head he said, “Well, you wanted to widen the driveway to accommodate the children cars. You can’t want to suck cane and blow whistle too, you know.”

Email Richard

Note: This story contains names of people, places and events. Any resemblance to actual persons – living or dead – places, things or events is unintentional and purely coincidental, or intended as a parody.
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