To Whom It May Concern -
I am not well. Today it’s mostly because my neighbor across the alley had a small fleet of trucks block our driveway all day while a team of men chopped one of the oldest oak trees in Minneapolis. As old as our house, I’m guessing. Probably older. I imagine it was planted by a squirrel so many years before any of us were born.
Maybe planted by the greatest of great grandparents of the squirrels that live on this hill now. Their greatest great grandchildren eat our cherry tomatoes in the summer, and in the longest days of the year, when the yellow light of the evening sun shines between the apartment buildings, these grandchildren run along the top of our fence. Their squirrel shadows slide down the side of our house, larger than dogs.
My husband had to go into his salon, and the kids and I couldn’t leave, blocked by the trucks and the crane and the men with their chainsaws. (Where would we go, anyway?) So all morning long I felt compelled to leave the kids in the playroom and walk outside to watch, peeking over the top of our fence. Were they really chopping this giant down? How was it changing the skyline? Where would all the squirrels live now?
I watched as they tied thick rope around branches and trunks, cutting the tree apart in sections. The youngest parts went first, the highest branches. Bit by bit they cut away the decades. The crane then lifted each section into the air, each bit of the tree body dangling across the sky, over the neighbor’s garage, and into a truck bed with tall rectangular sides. I couldn’t see the pile of pieces. I could hear, though, each time a piece dropped inside.
By mid-morning, the air in the alley was tinted yellow as the young branches were fed into a wood chipper. I walked out of the fence and caught the eye of a bearded man in a dusty blue t-shirt and yellow hard-hat. He walked up to me, and as he got closer, I backed away. A minimum of 6 feet apart. That’s a Covid-19 rule. And he wasn’t following it. He was maybe three feet away, and I decided simply to talk fast.
“Any chance I could have the wood chips for our garden?” I pointed to the truck full with fresh trimmings.
Someone shouted incoherently from far above us. The man in the blue t-shirt looked up at the cab of the crane high above. “They’re already claimed?” He shouted up.
“Yeah!” A man shouted down.
The blue-shirted man looked at me and shrugged.
I pointed to the chunks of tree by the neighbor’s garage. “What about those stumps?” I asked him. “I have a couple little kids and they would love playing on those.”
“Oh yeah, sure,” he said. “If you can roll it over, you can have it.”
Later, my husband came home from running to his hair salon. It’s been closed now for almost two months. They’re working on reopening it. He had to take in a box of clear, face shields. I heard the door open and his footsteps going down the basement stairs. I heard the sound of the washing machine opening and then shutting. We change our clothes when we get home now. Every time we go anywhere.
I got up to spray the door handles with bleach water to disinfect them. Just the ones my husband had touched. Then, I saw a man walk by our kitchen window. Is he looking for me? I thought. Is it about the wood chips? The stumps? I ran quickly outside. The blue-shirted man was there. It was starting to rain, and he was carrying the stumps I’d pointed to and laying them at the edge of our house.
“I saw a guy,” I told him, “He walked out of the gate just now. Was he looking for me?”
“No,” the blue-shirted man smirked. “I think he was just sneaking through your yard.” Instead of going all the way around the block and back up the alley, I thought.
“Ok,” I said. Godammit, I thought. I turned round. Sprayed the gate with bleach water. Sprayed my hands.
I went back inside and into the bathroom where my husband was taking a shower to wash off the outside world.
“You, ok?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “One of the guys outside told me you asked him why they’re cutting down the tree. He told you he didn’t know, but then he asked the owner. He said that the tree’s roots were drawing water into the neighbor’s basement. Flooding it during heavy rain. Damaging the foundation.”
Then from inside the shower, steam pouring over the door, “They might have to rebuild the entire foundation.”
But the tree, then? Who rebuilds the tree?