Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Like losing a family member

Like losing a family member

March 27, 2014

I came home late that night, after dark, and couldn’t see much. The tree removal crews were there all day; when I left for work, there were men climbing all over, their orange hard hats bright spots in the bare winter thicket of branches. It would be an expensive day of work, with the crew of a half dozen men and three trucks removing the dead and dying trees that were taking over the yard.

The next morning, I walked to the sidewalk to have a look. And I cried.

My pretty yellow Victorian house was scalped, shorn on its left side. Our dog looks like this after he’s been groomed, all skinny and vulnerable. And now the house looked just as cold and bare.

We had the workers remove two huge spruce trees from the front corner of the house. The smaller of the two was dying for years, and now it was a tall version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

Its partner was larger, and still vibrant. But it had to go, too.

“It’s eating the house,” said Patrick, my significant other and farmer who knows about these things. The branches enveloped the corner of the house, keeping air from circulating and causing wood to soften. The branches were on-ramps for insects, too.

“Trees aren’t supposed to touch houses,” he said, “much less strangle them.”

Patrick looked into trimming the big spruce, but the trees don’t tolerate that, and it eventually would have died. Removing the tree was the only way to save that side of the house.

Looking at the house that morning, none of those facts mattered. My pretty house got a bad haircut; but unlike the bad haircuts I’ve endured, this one won’t grow out.

My porch swing is on that side, and with the tree there, I had shade and privacy. I couldn’t see up the street to the intersection, so my version of the neighborhood was only the part that was walking up the street toward me. On my swing, reading a book, I was in a private cove. I’m thinking about hanging a blind behind the swing now.

“What can we plant over there to soften things?” I asked Patrick. He’s thinking a tall row of bamboo, which grows fast and thick, like a natural fence. I was thinking more along the lines of a couple of dogwoods or Japanese maples. He can make anything grow, so I’m hopeful.

I’ve written a lot about our trees over the years. There’s a huge pin oak in the front yard that’s in decline. Patrick’s been doctoring it, and we’re hopeful it will have a good summer.

Maybe it’s because there are so many windows in this house, or maybe it’s because I’m always on the swing – but I spend a lot of time looking at trees. Patrick’s planted a peach and a few apples in the side yard. The yard has more trees now than it did before the trimmers came – if anyone’s keeping count, and I guess I am.

Returning from my walk yesterday, I got a good look at the left side of my house. There’s architectural detail I’d never noticed before, with window wells jutting out and slanting gables. The house is beautiful, in a way I hadn’t fully noticed before.

Now that the weather’s finally warming, I’ll be on the swing a lot, and I know I’ll miss the tree. It had to go, but it was part of the house, part of the landscape, part of us.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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