What’s a Million Zillion or Two Between Friends?

When we arrived in the lovely town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, not very long ago, we inherited an enormous honey locust tree, faithfully standing guard over us in the front yard. A tree to be adored. Of all the trees on our property, it was the last to leaf out in the spring, as if to make us appreciate it more, and the first to drop its leaves in the fall, like a petulant movie star going reclusive on her fans. But for those few bright weeks of the Massachusetts summer, our honey locust was magnificent. Sprawling, preening, regal.

A honey locust has the teeniest of leaves. You might expect such minuscule leaves to let plenty of sunlight through, casting a jittery shadow, if any at all, like a scrawny lace doily held up to a window by an ancient dowager. But no. I would conservatively estimate that our honey locust had about a million zillion leaves. Maybe two million zillion. So even with such microscopic leaves, it was a huge, fluffy tree, effectively blocking the sun from shining on the front of our roof.

Which turned out to be a problem, when we got our solar panels. Solar panels need sunlight — I got low marks in science class, but I believe this has something to do with photosynthesis — and honey locust plunging our roof into gloomy darkness would render the solar panels pointless.

The honey locust would have to come down.

This species of tree typically lives only 120 years or thereabouts, so I tried to tell myself that, at a century old, this tree was practically a goner anyway. Any day now, it might have a fatal heart attack and crash into our house. Since our house is twice as old as the tree, this was likely to be a lose-lose encounter. It would be a mercy to take the tree out — a mercy to the tree and to the house.

But still, it was a lump-in-the-throat experience to see those tree guys out there with their savage power-saws and that massive mulching machine, hacking our elegant honey locust into bits and pieces.

I thought my neighbors would sympathize with my loss. I thought wrong. The wind around here is mostly north-westerly, which blows stuff from my property onto the property of my neighbor directly to the south and east. He’s a lovely person; he has consistently come to my aid over the years, whenever I’ve had some urgent household problem or another. But now he came over and surveyed the devastation — a century’s worth of branch amputations, a blanket of twigs and splinters, all splattered across the war zone of my front yard. He was smiling.

“Thank God!” he chuckled. “I’ve hated that tree for 25 years!”

Well, yeah, I can see why. When those two million zillion leaves come down every autumn, they wind up mostly into his yard, with his house serving as a backstop, so they have no way of moving on to the next neighbor down the line. Think about it: Two million zillion leaves per year, over the course of 25 years, is something in the range of 50 million zillion leaves. That’s a lot of leaves, regardless of whether you intend to rake, blow, or ignore.

The horror ended. The scraps were scooped up. At our request, the big chunks were left in the side yard to be cut up later for firewood. At least our treasured honey locust would lie in state for a season, and then warm us for another year.

And we left the stump, rather than having it excised. The proud, round stump, on display in the middle of the front yard, could perhaps serve as a kind of memorial to the wonderful tree who gave her life for the sake of our solar-powered environment-consciousness. We looked out at our front yard and saw the stump and sighed. This was a Monty Python scene. It was a former tree. It had ceased to be. Expired. Gone to its maker. A stiff. Bereft of life. Resting in peace. Pushing up the daisies. It had kicked the bucket. Shuffled off its mortal coil. Run down the curtain. Joined the bleedin’ choir. This was an ex-tree.

But we missed one detail, I think.

The tree was listening, maybe.

In that moment when my neighbor revealed his animosity toward the zillion-leafed honey locust, he may have sown the seeds of a whole new nightmare.

After months of grieving, knowing that we had overseen the demise of our cherished front-yard friend, we noticed something strange happening out in the grass between the house and the street. Around the stump of the former ex-tree, little shoots were shooting up. Tiny honey locust trees were springing up — from the remaining roots of the mother tree, I presume. And wow: Have you ever seen a baby honey locust tree? They are absolutely furry with those tiny leaves. This is not a sugar maple situation, where you spend five or six years waiting to get the first seven or eight timid leaves. Apparently, baby honey locusts are born with all their clothes on.

You know what this means. Look around. It’s New England. The leaves are turning. Before very long, they won’t just be turning. They’ll be falling. A bit of a November gust will come puffing through Ipswich, and 14 million zillion little honey locust leaves will explode off of these tiny shoots, and my neighbor will try to open the door of his house, and find that he’s barricaded inside.

Because he is such a fine neighbor, however — and the 14 million zillion leaves are, ultimately, my fault — I will dig him out.

Doug Brendel lives behind the stump and the seven little trees on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Click follow here at DougBrendel.com.

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