Our stately sycamore is well worth the leaf labor

Twenty-six years ago, my wise neighbor, who had many years' experience dealing with autumn leaves in Connecticut, advised me to cut down the young sycamore.

We had just moved into the neighborhood, 30-somethings with a new baby girl. What did we know about sycamores?

Not much. But it seemed wrong to kill a healthy tree. We declined.

Last week, as the same neighbor once again loaned me his extension ladder and leaf blower, he reminded me of that early advice. "I like you folks,'' he reiterated, "but I hate your tree.''

Today, of course, it's too late to turn back. Over the years, the sycamore grew more like a sunflower, benefitting from its proximity to our back yard creek. Its trunk and branches thickened, welcoming my daughters and their friends to explore above the rooftops. Each December, the girls squealed with joy as they dived into piles of the crackling brown and yellow leaves with our schnauzer running in circles and barking.

We replaced the swing set one year with a pool. The construction crew offered to remove the sycamore, but we declined. And a few days after workers secured the vaulted screen just beneath the lower branches, the infamous No Name Storm blew in from the gulf. My girls slept through the gale, but I paced the house for hours, expecting to gather them up for an emergency evacuation. It seemed a miracle when the next morning both tree and screen had survived — especially after I drove through the neighborhood, where massive pines had toppled onto roofs.

Fifteen years have passed since the storm. The sycamore has survived several more big blows, including a few hurricanes. It has provided a perch for hawks and even a bald eagle. Lately, a wood stork has taken to circling the trunk and poking his beak against the pool screen. He can't be expecting food. Rather, he seems to enjoy visiting my wife, who talks to him like he's some long lost relative.

But that's another column.

I'm convinced that without the giant sycamore, the wildlife we value so much would settle elsewhere. And for most of the year, the tree shades the yard and cools the house. It's good to remember that when you're on the 10th bag and the rake handle is causing your hands to blister.

My neighbor will be pleased to know that the tree is still considered a youngster, at least according to what I read. Sycamores occasionally reach 130 feet tall, and the oldest on record is in Buffalo, N.Y., dating back to 1700.

Our family will gather for Christmas in a few weeks. The girls enjoy coming back to the home where they grew up. It's their refuge. They're thankful that we resisted the temptation to move into a larger, more modern house. We thought about it a few times, but concluded we would miss our neighbors and our back yard. Our big tree.

It's good to have roots.

American sycamore

(Platanus occidentalis)

65 Maximum height, in feet, at 20 years old.

100 Maximum height, in feet, at full maturity.

30 Minimum depth, in inches, of root system.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Our stately sycamore is well worth the leaf labor 12/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 10:24am]

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