Poets love willow trees. Johnny Cash “taught the weeping willow how to cry,” and Lorine Niedecker wrote, “I’m not young, and I’m not free, but I’ve a house of my own, by a willow tree.” I love the poetry, but sadly I cannot love a willow tree.
This summer I told my wife Breja that it was time to axe the enormous willow growing in our yard.
Breja objected, as I knew she would: “But you love trees.”
“Not all trees are created free and equal,” I said. I was quoting Aldo Leopold.
Not only was the willow growing in the wrong place — we live on a bluff and not by the river — but it dwarfed two pretty white pines who would never grow to their full glory in its shade.
“Fine,” Breja said. "But you have to plant two trees to replace it."
“Deal,” I said.
The willow was impressive. More than four feet around and taller than any of our hardwoods. When the trunk was finally horizontal, I saw by the growth rings that the old tree had been putting on an inch of new wood every year.
But I was not sad to see it go. Favoring the pines over the willow, I had just exercised what Leopold called species bias. With an axe, Leopold said, we write our signature on the face of the land.
Leopold was unapologetic for exercising such bias. He would cut a birch to favor a pine, for instance. But why? “I love all trees,” he wrote. “But I am in love with pines.”
I’m Chris Fink and that’s my perspective.