I’ve been pondering change these days. It is, of course, one of the few constants we have in our lives.

Recently our family held a joint 80th birthday party for my folks. Dad turned 80 in December, and Mom turns 80 in early February. It was a good time to celebrate a milestone event.

Tree

This tree stood in front of the house for six decades.

All the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there. With spouses and significant others there were 21 of us who posed for a photo. What started as a union of two in 1959 became many, not to mention the dozens of other relatives who came to celebrate.

That change is subtle, like the face in the mirror every morning. We don’t notice the graying hair or the spreading wrinkles because incremental change is sneaky. A little at a time does not set off the alarms.

But sometimes subtle change leads to dramatic change.

For as long as I can remember, a towering spruce tree has been a sentinel in our front yard. I suspect it was planted by either my great-grandparents or by my great-aunt and great-uncle who lived in the house after them. The tip of the conifer was visible even before you rounded the last bend on Claire Road leading to the house.

The tree survived the great wind storm of 1998, when hurricane-force straight-line winds devastated miles of forests in western Wisconsin. Several maple trees around my parent’s house were blown down. We spent days cutting branches and clearing the mess, waiting for power to be restored.

While spruce trees look pretty in the winter, they’re also messy. The cleanup of pine needles and pine cones is constant; they tend to acidify the soil, restricting what can be grown around them.

Several generations of lawn mowers — including my son and me — struggled with the scraggly branches that covered the cylindrical base of the tree. We kept trimming up from the base so we could mow under the branches without gouging an eye.

The tree was a favorite hangout for wildlife, especially birds and squirrels. We kept a bird feeder nearby; many species nested and perched in the branches. You could see the critters close-up from a second-story window.

We kept the tree even when we embarked on two construction projects that brought our house closer to it. We had plans to cut it down in 2006 when we doubled the size of the house to open our bed and breakfast, but Dad implored us to let it stay. We had concerns that the tree was too close to the house, but it stayed.

In 2013, we added to the house again with the winery expansion. Additional digging for the foundation and the extension of sewer pipes across the yard severed some roots and left others exposed for a few days. It was perhaps the result of construction or some disease or both, but during the past few years the tree has been slowly dying. The once-thick needles have thinned and dead branches are prominent. Being only a few feet away from the house, the tree had become a potential hazard.

I’m not a stranger to a chainsaw, and I’ve cut down lots of trees. But not when one is this close to — and leaning toward — our house. It was a job for a professional with a bucket truck.

The day arrived. Working from the bucket with a chainsaw, the tree trimmer started at the bottom of the trunk trimming branches. Working with the same efficiency as an experienced hair stylist, the trimmer quickly worked up the tree until all that was left was the trunk — which split into two main branches and looked like a 50-foot two-pronged fork.

With the aid of a rope, the tree came down in several sections. In about an hour, some 60 years of time was reduced to a stump, a few logs and pile of branches. As soon as the ground thaws, we will grind the stump and there will be no evidence that the tree was ever there.

I’m not sad the tree is gone. I certainly will not miss needing to remove fallen pine cones and needles. The wildlife will find another nearby tree.

Sometimes we fight change. Sometimes we embrace change. Sometimes we must be the agent of change.

Former Tribune editor Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise sheep and cattle on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm.

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