Muffled thuds sounded in her ears, prodding her awake. It was early morning and a thin light, like the blue cast of skim milk filtered into the bedroom. Another thud and a faint whine brought her upright. She put on her slippers and, snatching up her robe, hurried into the living room to look out the window. A truck was parked in front of the house. Three men, swaddled in heavy parkas and wearing hard hats, were busy taking down the poplar tree in the mini park next door. One stood in an elevated bucket, his shrieking saw savaging large limbs that quivered, then spiralled with curious grace to the ground while another man waved, orchestrating directions. A third gathered the broken boughs and lifted them into a growling wood chipper that disgorged a coarse wood gravel into the maw of the truck.
It was late fall and the tree was bare, the ground covered by its fallen leaves. As the day wore on, the empty crown harbouring the summer canopy disappeared, a shady secret lost. The trunk shrank and finally a broad stump sat naked in the quilt of its own brown foliage. It was a city tree. During its long life it received sporadic attention for pruning, spraying, the frequency of these visits waxing and waning depending on the budget allotted to the urban forest. Over time, the tree's trunk had grown thick and gnarled with scars left by severed limbs weakened with age.
She hated that tree. For more than forty summers, for as long as she had lived there, it spewed its pale cotton spores over her yard. They clung to the roses and delivered new sprouts to the lawn
which she attacked every season with such force that her hands ached and black wounds were left in the grass. No longer. Her joints would cheer.
The sun set early and the crew hurried to clear the site of bole slices, sawdust and twigs before night fell. When they left, she peered out to see the stump's raw face, like a pinwheel stalled mid swirl, weeping with sap. It was cold. The sap thickened and grew opaque in a futile struggle to protect its host as the temperature dropped.
She stood at the window studying the barren stump. Snow began to fall, large soft flakes collapsing on the stump's tender surface. She remembered the landscape as it was in a long ago spring, when she was young and the tree a sapling rising green and strong, when the white promise of new growth covered the yard. Soon the snow would hide the stump completely, as though the tree had never been. Leaning in, her face almost touching the pane, she narrowed her eyes, trying to imprint the memory before all testimony disappeared.
A wind whipped in, spinning the flakes like popcorn across the dark screen of the sky, sweeping skeins of snow in a drunken reel, hiding the stump, then stripping it naked again - faster and thicker, coalescing into white sheets, shrouding the glass, blotting out her view of the yard. Robbed of the moment, she stepped back from the window, yanked down the shade and walked away.