I took this photograph a week ago. It’s a branch on our Red Maple tree. I could be mistaken, but it seems this tree is changing color a bit early this year. I don’t recall it dropping leaves until December, not entirely unusual for Southeast Texas. So, it seems like something of a miracle to have it change in time for Thanksgiving, and that one branch is extra special. It has the reddest leaves, right at eye level as you traverse the crushed granite walk to our front door. In fact, it hasn’t dropped any leaves yet, making me hopeful they will stay there through the holiday weekend.
The maple tree which produced these leaves is a miracle itself. We planted it in 2009, when it was about 6 feet tall. It took us half a day to dig a hole big enough for the root ball. Then, in early May 2012, we thought we lost it. I was out of town, having traveled to South Dakota. (Our younger daughter, who was a student at USD, was driving home for the summer.) The next morning, after I arrived in Sioux Falls, my husband called to inform me a storm with high winds snapped the tree trunk completely. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Besides the hours it took us to plant it, it was a much nicer tree than the two pines which were originally in the yard. (One tree lost half its canopy during Hurricane Ike in 2008.)
However, the maple did have one naughty habit which ended up saving it. It had a tendency to produce suckers at the base of the trunk. I told my husband to leave it be until I got home to look at it. There was no way I was going to remove the base of that tree until I knew for certain it was dead. In fact, it still had a few suckers I had not removed before leaving town. We cut as much of the old trunk to the ground as we could, thinned the suckers out to the two which looked most likely to grow straight trunks and observed for a bit. Before the weather grew too much hotter, I made my final choice.
Our maple tree is now as tall as our house. Periodically, it needs pruning to nudge it toward a more symmetrical shape. Our dormancy period is sometimes less than 3 months here, meaning I need to do it shortly after the last leaf falls if I’m removing larger branches. Last year, the tree needed to have a big branch cut from the trunk. It was only 1-2 feet above the ground. It made the tree look like a giant shrub and prevented branches higher up in the canopy from growing longer. Now that it’s gone, it does make the tree look a bit one-sided at the moment; but little by little, it’s balancing itself. With a bit of patience and care it will eventually be one of the most beautiful trees in our neighborhood, since it is the only Red Maple in our vicinity.
While our maple has ascetic value, it’s even more important for another reason. It’s a survivor who has lived through at least two years of drought shortly after it was planted, not to mention torrential rain storms which caused flood events, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. At this time of year, when the leaves begin to change, we have the most stunning example of resiliency just outside our front door.
On a day when we’re taking time to give thanks for our blessings, I challenge you to look beyond the obvious ones like family, friends, a good meal and home. While those things are important, they’re also easy. We need to learn to look deeper sometimes, in order to understand how truly blessed we really are.