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Commentary: Red Wing loses one of its oldest residents

I grew up in Red Wing. I was not born in the city. In fact, I was born far north of there, in Grand Rapids, a town close enough to the Mississippi to be a kindred spirit.

My parents moved south to Red Wing with the promise of viable work and a comfort of living, as well as a safe and industrious little town in which to raise their two children.

We moved into an old farmhouse on Norwood Street – a one-and-a-half story building built in the late 1800s. The house showed its age in creaks and moans as if reacting to a severe case of arthritis.

The floors were covered in a tattered forest of orange shag that had collected the dust and reflected the traffic of those who had lived there before us. It was soon removed to reveal hardwood floors that had a knack for donating shiv-sized slivers to one’s feet in the night and pushing up nails in the flex of seasons as if they were finished with them.

There was water damage in the ceilings that caused them to sink down as if reaching to be closer to the new residents. The siding was wooden and the white paint had peeled enough so as to display the wood, grain and all, cheekily.

The roof was old and needed new shingles. The heater was near enough to retiring and would cough and sputter the dust of the years into the house when first turned on in the late autumn.

One could say that this meant the house needed repairs, but to me, all these things were the signs of home.

Amongst all these unique elements this new home had to offer were two trees, an elm and a maple, likely older than the house itself. They each stood at least three or four stories high and towered over the neighborhood, sharing their seeds and brightly colored leaves in the fall with all the neighboring houses.

These trees became a play area for my brother and me. They were planted close to one another, within 20 or 30 feet, and we liked to imagine it was a fort that we could play inside.

In the hot summer sun, they provided enough shade to spare so that we could imagine and play in our yard with friends without worry of sunburn or heat exhaustion. In the fall, they provided leaves in near-perpetuity for us to bound through and leap into.

In the 1990s, we lost the elm to Dutch elm disease. It was sudden and seemingly came out of nowhere to my young mind. The day the city came to take it down was an event for the neighborhood, everyone watching and interested in the process as it happened as if nothing truly interesting could occur in our small corner of the city.

My brother and I stood in awe at the loss of one of our great friends. My mother watched in sadness.

Years followed and the now lonely maple stood sentry over our changing home. Modernity took hold as the roof was fixed, the floors were replaced, the siding was covered with vinyl, the deck replaced, the furnace updated. Still, the maple continued to weather the years and the seasons, silently shifting from red to bare to green and back again.

My brother and I grew up, and moved away from playing in the yard to playing video games to greater education to careers. Still, the tree was there.

Now, nearly 25 years after we moved into the house, the maple has reached the end of its life. It is slowly dying and is marked for removal.

Mourning a tree may seem an odd thing to do, considering the lack of actual intellectual connection one can have with a plant.

However, this tree was part of my home. It was part of my childhood. It was part of the extensive narrative of my entire youth. It was a friend and companion. It was strength and it was love. It was reality and it was fantasy. It was truth and it was joy.

Mourning a tree may seem odd, but I do not feel odd. I feel justified in my feelings of loss. I feel right. I will hold onto these feelings until it seems it is time that they be sent away. And I will say a toast to the Mighty Maple of Norwood Street that it be never forgotten.