The Maple Tree

His wonted sleep under a fresh tree's shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,
Is far beyond a prince's delicates...

~Henry VI, Part III, Act 4, scene 5

So today we had a consult with some company that wants to sign up everyone in Newburyport for solar. This is something we've always been interested in but haven't managed to get around to, so when a couple of college kids came knocking on our door because our house was on the list of good, sunny prospects, I signed up for a consult.

Our southwest-facing roof was deemed ideal by the consultant, who was planning to check out the roof and electric panel to make sure our house could support the system. 

"Just one question before we start. How do you feel about that tree?"


Um, we love this tree. Non-negotiable.

And that was the end of that. No solar for us. 

Unless, as the consultant helpfully suggested, a storm ever knocks out that tree — then we should give him a call back.

He didn't try too hard to convince me to cut down the tree, beyond pointing out that the solar system would be worth five trees compared to just the one maple we'd be cutting down.

Maybe, but this is our tree. And here's why we're keeping it. 

1. Shade. This tree keeps the western half of the second story bearable in the summer, for starters. It also shades the screened-in porch making it an oasis on days like this:


Finally, I was standing on the patio at 3 p.m. when I took this photo. The only reason I could stand to do it is because this tree shades the patio from the late afternoon sun, which is particularly intense this time of year.

2. History. This is closely related to my previous point, but people knew what they were doing when they built this house back in 1914. Is it an accident that every room in the house (as originally laid out) has at least two walls of windows, and that every window in the house has one exactly opposite it to create cross-ventilation? Is it an accident that there is a big, traditional shade tree on the hot southwest corner or the house? One that loses its leaves to let the sun shine down on the house in the winter months? I think not. That's some good planning, and it still holds up well enough that we have not yet felt the need to retrofit for central air.

3. Autumn Color. Your should see it, all red and gold and glowing in the October sun. And eventually that leads us to ...

4. Compost. Literally piles and piles of dry material to add to our compost ins every fall. So much so that I think this fall we will keep a separate leaf corral to have dry material on hand throughout the year to layer with the green waste that we have a lot of in spring and summer. The tree gives back by keeping the garden fertile, and providing lots and lots of winter mulch.

5. Syrup. We haven't tapped any of our trees yet, but I swear we'll get to it in the spring and boil our own maple syrup. We have at least one other maple in the back, and maybe more on the hill behind the fence, so this should be a fun project next spring. 

So on balance, I think it's hard to argue in favor of losing a perfectly healthy, mature tree to save a few bucks a month on our electric bill. I'm in favor of solar and sustainable energy, but not at the cost of the type of tree that not many people have in their back yards anymore. I mean, have you looked at the landscaping plans in new housing developments? Lots of cute ornamental stuff, but not a whole lot of planning ahead for the future insofar as shade trees are concerned. We're lucky to have the kind of tree that takes decades to reach this stature, and we plan to keep ours around for decades to come.

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