Ashes to Ashes: Requiem for a Tree

We moved into our brand new house on a block of other brand new houses in October 1984. Within a few weeks after we moved in, the city of Kansas City, Missouri, planted trees in the parkway up and down our street.

My husband and I were both at work the day that the trees were planted. That evening our next door neighbor came over to make sure we knew that he had selected the best trees the city had on its truck for his house and ours.

The tree in the parkway in front of our house was an ash tree. Ours grew to be the biggest ash on the street—even bigger than our neighbor’s, though I bet he had taken the best tree for his lot and given us second best. I certainly didn’t mind—we had a fine tree.

I believe the reason our tree grew to be so tall and strong was that my husband fertilized it regularly in the years before we hired TruGreen Chem Lawn to care for our trees and shrubs. My husband carried buckets of water mixed with carefully measured tree food down to the curb every few weeks through the growing season. It may have been a city-owned tree, but we provided its care for decades.

house w trees marked

The ash tree in the parkway overshadows our house and the magnolia

Soon the tree provided shade to the west side of our two-story house. In the three seasons of the year when the ash tree had leaves, the foliage grew so thick I could not see the houses across the street from my second-story office window.

ash tree canopy marked

The ash tree canopy spread from the street to our house.

emerald ash borerUnfortunately, the Midwest has been hit by the emerald ash borer, a beetle native to Asia that destroys North American ash trees. The larvae chew through the bark and disrupt the tree’s ability to transport nutrients and water. About two years ago, the city tagged our ash tree and all the others up and down the street. The trees were treated, but the treatments do not always stave off the bugs.

In November of this year, a large slab of bark fell off our ash tree. I don’t know if the emerald ash borer had attacked the tree or not, but we worried about the health of the tree. So we contacted the city. After a couple of weeks, they sent a crew to inspect it. Their remedy—they would cut down the tree.

On Saturday, December 5, a contractor’s truck showed up, and they sawed away at our ash. Chainsaws roaring, first they sawed off the small branches on top, then the larger limbs, and finally the trunk, until all that remained of our lovely ash was a pile of sawdust.

House without the ash tree

House without the ash

All that's left of our ash tree

All that’s left of our ash tree

The city says they will plant another tree. But we don’t know when. And we don’t know what. And it will be years before the shade of any new tree will be of benefit to the west side of our home. We probably won’t live in this house by the time the shade reaches the second story windows.

Perhaps the only benefit of losing the ash will be that the magnolia tree, which I also love and which grew in the shadow of the ash, can now receive more sun, spread its branches, and bloom more brightly.

What plants have you lost that you loved?

Posted in Family, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Our sycamore was 46 years old. My husband felt it was too big and posed danger to the house. In the milder months I wrote on the patio under the shade of that wonderful tree. I’m still mourning the death of it, even though it has been several months. Maybe in another twenty years I’ll adjust to a new writing spot.

  2. So sorry about your Ash Tree! And about all of them falling to that ash borer. Waaaaa. Oddly enough, the lack of ash trees means that bats are no longer made from ash and so, break and split. And that’s the sad baseball story to add to your sad house, happy magnolia story.

  3. Ah, too bad about the Ash, but hopefully the magnolia will love the new exposure. When we moved to our house twenty-five years ago, there were two huge, gorgeous spruce trees at the end of our driveway, one on each side. They sheltered the house from a very busy street, and gave us an obvious landmark to point out to people looking for our house. Unfortunately, a few years ago, we had to have them cut down. It was very sad, as we had paid a tree service several hundred dollars to save them. Never did find out what the problem was. Today, the landscape looks very different! Two river birch have replaced them, but it will be a very long time before they reach/replace the mass of the spruce. For a while, the house felt very exposed, but I’ve gotten used to it. Change . . .

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