In no time we were in love with the backyard. Of all the exciting new things about moving to Downers Grove and having our first single-family house, we were continually drawn to the backyard. Our neighborhood doesn’t allow fencing, so we have a vast open space and lush tree line hiding the block of houses behind us. Deer greeted us the first week here, and since then we have enjoyed years of watching wildlife. Our backyard had one large ash tree that threw wonderful shade and dropped big leaves, enough to make a large pile to play in during our first fall. My memory is still vivid: our five-year old-son laughing, buried in the leaves, while our brand-new puppy was bouncing and crackling leaves around him.
The next fall, with a new baby in arms, I noticed with concern and disappointment that we didn’t have many leaves to play in. The following spring it was clear something was wrong. Our neighborhood regularly checks on the health of our trees, and we got the bad news that ours would have to be taken down, another victim of the plague of the emerald ash borer. My oldest son and I had recently learned the history of that bug and its devastating impact to our ecosystem from the PBS show Wild Kratts.
My toddler and I watched at the window in fascination as the landscapers expertly took that ash apart, piece by piece, then all together pulling the tall trunk at an angle into the common area, away from the house and swingset. It hit the ground and I exhaled, surprised at the amount of sadness I felt, a feeling of such emptiness looking at the area of the yard that large tall tree used to fill.
There was so much sun that summer.
Determined to bring back that enjoyable shade and the time in the leaves with the kids, we began to research when and where to plant a new tree. We chose a red maple, picked our spot, planted in the fall, and crossed our fingers.
Every year since, the whole family has watched the maple and carefully picked up every dropped leaf to ensure it continued to grow healthy and strong.
Now our baby has grown to be the five year old my oldest was, our oldest is almost 12, and we have measured their changes alongside this tree.
The tree has taught us all about the circle of life, the relationships between plants and insects, the care our environment needs, and so much more.
Someday this red maple tree will be tall and lush, providing shade in summer and piles of leaves in fall. Until that day we will continue to care lovingly for this life and these family memories in our vibrant yard.