I returned to my parents’ home after my first year of college righteously appalled by the criminal
insensitivity loose in our society. At the time, apparently by means unknown, I had become awash in
profound feelings for all living things. So when I heard that Dad was planning to cut limbs off of the old
tree out in the front yard I felt compelled to put a stop to it. He was in the garage with a stepladder,
poking around looking for a limb saw, when the maneuvering began.
“You know,” I said, “as someone who is studying art, I must tell you, aesthetically speaking, that that tree
looks very nice just the way it is.”
He looked at me, then ran the blade of a saw lightly between his fingers testing its sharpness.
“Really,” I said, “I wouldn’t touch a thing.”
“Well,” he said, while hoisting the ladder onto his shoulder and handing me the saw, “As someone who
has never even pretended to study art, but as someone who has just read an article about trimming
trees, I must tell you that that tree is in for some limbing.”
We walked up the gravel driveway and circled around the front of the house and stopped off at a
distance where we could see the tree as it stood in its full magnificence. As he marked each limb that had
to come off in his mind, I admired the perfection of the thing uncropped and un-messed-with.
“Why?” I asked as we made our way across the lawn.
“Why what?” he asked as he propped the ladder against the trunk.
“Why are you going to cut branches off this wonderful old tree?” He stepped back to cast a cold eye on
the problem from that angle.
“Because it needs it.”
“Why do you think it needs it?
“It’ll be healthier for it.”
“Why do you say that?
“Trees need trimming from time to time. It’s something that has to be done.”
“And what about all those trees out there in nature; how do they survive without some middle-class guy
with a rusty old saw giving them what they need?”
“They are pruned by nature; the winds and the rains take care of it.” At this point Dad set his foot on the
first rung of the ladder.
“Oh, and this tree here, this particular tree, this one in our yard, is somehow excluded from such natural
He was still looking up into the tree and, as he placed his foot on the first limb, he said, “Hand me that
One day, later, while we were discussing what he had done, my father told me this story:
That reminds me of when I was a kid. The guy who lived across the street—a man named Schoeb--had
an old poplar in his yard. It was 75 foot tall and must have been three foot wide at the bottom, a huge
One day after work, Schoeb stopped in at a tavern somewhere along the way home—he liked
schnapps—and when he stepped off the streetcar at the end of the street he was clearly drunk because
he was singing loudly in German. When he was drunk, he did that.
For some reason, while navigating the length of the street, in a generally homeward direction, he fixed on
that tree and decided that it needed limbing. He also decided that now would be the perfect time to do it.
Upon arrival, he went into his garage, procured a saw, came back and shinnied up to the top of that old
poplar. He went right up to the very top, far as he could get, with a saw in one hand and a sense of duty
in his otherwise muddled mind. Somebody in the neighborhood spotted him up there and before long a
crowd had gathered across the street. They watched as he made his way down, cutting off every branch
along the way. He spared none. Every branch from top to bottom slowly fell victim to his saw.
The neighbors were watching to see if he was going to fall off. Some bets may have been placed. And, it
took him quite a while of course, but, he didn’t fall. He made it back safely to the ground, and after
cutting off the last remaining branch, he studied his work for a bit, dropped the saw and, singing loudly in
German, stumbled into his house . When he was done, it looked like a 75 foot tall telephone pole.
On that evening, my father and I talked on into the night. When I realized that it was well after midnight--
he had to get up and go off to work at 7:15, as he had heroically for years-- I said, “I’m sorry, Dad, I had
no idea what time it was.” My father replied, “There is nothing more important to me right now than talking